Guest reviewer Lee Broughton returns to shine a critical light on a double bill Spaghetti Western disc, two features starring the world’s favorite acting fiend, Klaus Kinski. The prolific German actor racked up credits in more than twenty Euro-Westerns, some of which amounted to brief-if-worthy guest spots. These two Italian productions feature the German actor up front in starring position, and both are pretty good genre entries to boot.
And God Said to Cain & Twice a Judas
Double Bill DVD
Spaghetti Western Collection Volume 45
1970 & 1968 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / Street Date August 26, 2013 / 19.95
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Antonio Sabato.
Directed by Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti), Nando Cicero
Anthony Dawson’s And God Said to Cain (1970) is a decidedly gothic affair distinguished by the fact that Kinski is cast against type as a sympathetic vengeance seeker who holds the film’s moral high ground.
The actor is back on more familiar ground playing a morally ambiguous character in Nando Cicero’s Twice a Judas (1968), a film which cleverly spins its compelling plot around a well-realised amnesia-driven mystery.
And God Said to Cain
1970 / 100 min. / E Dio disse a Caino
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Peter Carsten, Marcella Michelangeli, Antonio Cantafora, Giuliano Raffaelli, Lucio De Santis, Guido Lollobrigida, Luciano Pigozzi, Maria Luisa Sala.
Cinematography: Luciano Trasatti and Riccardo Pallottini
Film Editor: Nella Nannuzzi
Art Director: Mario Giorsi
Original Music: Carlo Savina
Produced by Giovanni Addessi
Written by Giovanni Addessi and Antonio Margheriti
Directed by Anthony Dawson (aka Antonio Margheriti)
Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski) unexpectedly receives a pardon and is released from a labour camp after serving ten back-breaking years. He was innocent of any crime and he immediately catches a stagecoach south in search of the men who framed him. He discovers that a young military cadet called Dick (Antonio Cantafora) who is sharing the stagecoach with him is the son of his main target, Acombar (Peter Carsten), and he duly advises him to tell his father that Gary Hamilton is back in town and that he’ll be seeing him at sundown.
To authenticate the message, Hamilton gives Dick the distinctive looking water canteen that was planted as evidence to secure his conviction. It transpires that Acombar framed Hamilton so that he could steal his woman Mary (Marcella Michelangeli), his grand house and his mining business. The brazen villain has since amassed an army of violent underlings and he remains unworried by Hamilton’s reported return. However, Acombar appears to have seriously underestimated Hamilton’s determination to exact his revenge at any cost.
And God Said to Cain opens with a dramatic ballad being expertly delivered by Don Powell (one of the Spaghetti Western genre’s busiest title song vocalists) while the show’s front credits roll over shots of Hamilton and his fellow prisoners breaking rocks. Powell’s song is reintroduced later on when Hamilton has been pardoned and the rest of the prisoners have been ordered to stand down for the day. The way that director Anthony Dawson underscores long shots of the departing chain gang hobbling and swaying as they struggle to walk in unison — and close-ups of their shackled ankles and mournful faces — with Powell’s insistent and emotion-drenched Western ballad might mark the scene out as a possible inspiration for the staging of the opening sequence from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). It’s an un-rushed, detailed and thoughtfully shot introduction and Dawson employs a similarly considered approach for the rest of the film.
A distinctly gothic air hangs over the grand house that Acombar stole from Hamilton and the powerful tornado that is forecast to hit the area at sundown becomes a metaphor for Hamilton’s vengeful intent: when Dick casually tells his father that Hamilton will be dropping by, strange sounds invade the soundtrack and Acombar observes that the noise is being made by “birds of prey fleeing from the tornado — animals sense trouble and avoid it.” Acombar and his three lieutenants — the Santa-Maria brothers Jim (Lucio De Santis), Miguel (Guido Lollobrigida) and Francesco (Luciano Pigozzi) — are hawkish predators just like the birds of prey but their cocksure belief in their ability to deal with Hamilton means that they foolishly elect to meet him head on rather than flee.
By contrast, Mary is genuinely afraid. She regards Hamilton to be a ghost and the stronger the wind becomes — and the more windows and doors that it blows open with seemingly supernatural effect — the closer Hamilton gets to infiltrating Acombar’s palatial refuge. When one of Acombar’s men, Pedro (Osiride Pevarello), has an encounter with him he observes that “It wasn’t Hamilton, it was a monster from hell.” In this regard Hamilton is a little reminiscent of the ghostly eponymous character played by Anthony Steffen in Sergio Garrone’s Django the Bastard (1969). In addition, a genuinely eerie atmosphere is created whenever Hamilton sets the church bell tolling and Acombar’s worried men hear its muted peels cutting through the noise of the storm with ominous effect. Every bell ringing session is a sign — or a prediction — of a particularly nasty occurrence.
And God Said to Cain’s phantom avenger theme is further encouraged by Hamilton’s clever game plan. He uses a series of long-forgotten trapdoors to access the Indian cemetery and mining tunnels that run under much of the town and this allows him to speedily get around unseen and to appear and disappear with seemingly supernatural ease. He’s also able to become an invisible assailant when he picks his enemies off by shooting at them through the tunnels’ ground-level air grates and such like. A similar but smaller scale scenario to this is played out during the finale of Gerald Thomas’ British Western parody Carry On Cowboy (1965) wherein a sanitation worker (Jim Dale) uses a town’s sewage tunnels and their ground level grates in much the same way.
When Dick learns the truth about his father’s past actions, he becomes conflicted internally and somewhat unsure where his loyalties should lie. And when Hamilton sees Mary, old feelings come to the surface and appear to cloud his judgement. As such, Dawson is able to successfully imbue the show’s final reels with an effective and wholly appropriate sense of melodrama that allows for a tragedy of near Shakespearian proportions to unfold. The show’s quite brilliant finale, which is set in Acombar’s large mirror-panelled drawing room, is a well-executed bit of business that was surely influenced by the iconic ‘hall of mirrors’ sequence from Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai (1947).
This is a great little genre entry that possesses a tone and feel all of its own. A succession of stylish camera angles and slick camera moves, some interesting costumes and some impressive set designs make this a really good looking show. And the film also boasts lots of excellently lit nighttime scenes — that are set within realistic looking wind storm conditions — that add plenty of atmosphere to the proceedings. Genre stalwart Carlo Savina also contributes to the show’s atmosphere by providing a fine and wide-ranging soundtrack score that takes in typical Italo Western sounds as well as cues that more readily fit the film’s gothic horror and melodrama-like sections. Acombar’s private army boasts in excess of thirty men, so there’s plenty of well-staged action and a reasonably big body count to be had here too.
The acting on display is uniformly good but it goes without saying that an on form Klaus Kinski inevitably steals the show. This was a particularly physical assignment for Kinski which involved a lot of running around, jumping and climbing as well as a fair few stunts that the actor clearly performed himself. Hamilton’s sheer determination, the amount of time that he spends on foot and his preference for rifles over revolvers put me in mind of Kinski’s eponymous character from Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde (1987). In spite of his past experiences, Hamilton is extremely good at controlling his anger and this relatively calm, collected and rational protagonist thus remains an atypical but interesting Kinski characterisation.
Wild East’s DVD presentation of And God Said to Cain is very good. As far as picture quality goes, colours are rendered nicely and there’s nothing in the way of print damage present here. The show’s sound quality is excellent for the most part. The producers of Kinski’s major European films tended to use the same English voice artist for dubbing purposes much of the time but an unfamiliar voice artist — with a much deeper and gruffer voice — was employed for this particular show’s English language dub track.
Twice a Judas
1968 / 97 min. / Due volte Giuda
Starring: Antonio Sabato, Klaus Kinski, Pepe Calvo, Franco Leo, Cristina Galbo, Narciso Ibanez Menta.
Cinematography: Francisco Marin
Film Editor: Renato Cinquini
Art Director: Juan Alberto Soler
Original Music: Carlos Pes
Produced by Luis Marin
Written by Jaime Jesus Balcazar
Directed by Nando Cicero
When a bullet grazes his head during an ambush, Luke Barrett (Antonio Sabato) is left with amnesia. When he enters the saloon at a nearby town a man in black called Charlie (Franco Leo) indicates that the pair are to carry out a hit the following morning. As he sleeps, a saloon girl (Cristina Galbo) leaves a locket on his bedside cabinet that contains photographs of Luke and an unidentified woman. Elsewhere it becomes apparent that the town’s banker, Murphy (Narciso Ibanez Menta), is intent on repatriating Mexican workers by fair means or foul so that a lack of labourers in the region will result in local farmers selling their land to him.
However, it seems that an enigmatic community leader, Victor Barrett (Klaus Kinski), has become the Mexicans’ protector in the hope that their continued presence will prevent the farmers from selling up. But the farmers evidently pay dearly for Victor’s work as an intermediary and he’s been snapping up swathes of their land for himself in exchange for his services. It soon transpires that Luke and Charlie have been contracted to kill Victor while he is hosting a public meeting but, having been informed that Victor is his brother, Luke elects to save his life instead.
Luke is welcomed back into the family fold by Victor and his confidante, Doctor Russell (Pepe Calvo), who figure that he’ll be an asset in the range war that’s about to erupt between their men and Murphy’s hired guns. But Luke is more concerned with regaining his memory and his efforts in this regard lead him to investigate the meaning of the words that are engraved on the mysterious locket. As more information comes to light, Luke slowly uncovers a dark and disturbing secret from the past.
Land-grabbing and range war themed Spaghetti Westerns can be a little dry and wordy and they tend to feature stories and scenarios that are more reminiscent of older American Westerns. Those criticisms can be levelled at Twice a Judas to some extent but the show does feature a number of elements that serve to distinguish it and confirm its Italian origins. For starters, the film’s amnesia-driven narrative does add an unusual and rewarding element of interest to the usual land grabber-range war formula.
There are also some novel weapons on display here: Charlie has a high-powered self-assembled hitman’s rifle with telescopic sights and Luke makes use of a customised blunderbuss that can fell several men at once. A personal effect — in this case the locket — is of great significance to the show’s narrative and it’s the tinkle of a jewellery box’s musical chimes that eventually brings Luke’s memory back. When the power of recall hits him, Luke experiences a series of clue-laden flashbacks. These flashbacks are set within three different time frames but they are presented in a non-linear way. Furthermore, the flashbacks are edited together using hard cuts which means that a succession of jumps to different temporal points are not formally announced. Ultimately, the quite striking manner in which these flashbacks unfold can’t help but make us wonder whether Twice a Judas is another genre flick that had a tangible influence on Quentin Tarantino’s work.
The first hour of the show — during which Luke attempts to remember his former life while trying to settle into his new life — is quite short on action and plays more like a period drama than a bona fide Western at times. But this approach does allow director Nando Cicero to give his cast the time and space that they need to develop their characters and he, in turn, gets to tease some good performances out of them.
Antonio Sabato made a handful of Spaghetti Westerns and — in terms of the genre — he is perhaps best known for his role as the honest and hardworking young immigrant who helped to reform Lee Van Cleef’s petty criminal character in Georgio Stegani’s Beyond the Law (1968). He plays a much tougher individual here and he’s a convincing action hero when the bullets start flying during the show’s final third. Luke is involved in two separate ‘one-against-many’ running shootouts towards the film’s end: one takes place at a remote ranch house and the other takes place high up in the rocky countryside. Both shootouts feature some good action routines and some very good stunt work.
Klaus Kinski acquits himself well but we get the impression that the actor was able to conjure up the essence of morally dubious characters like Victor Barrett with relative ease by this stage in his career. He’s particularly effective early on in the show when he’s acting as the Mexican migrants’ saviour — we’re not sure of his motivations at that point and he projects the aura of a sage mystic or some kind of enigmatic cult leader. But Pepe Calvo (Silvanito from Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars ) pretty much steals the show here with his great turn as the alcoholic Doctor Russell. Russell is a character who suffers much internal conflict and Calvo’s expressive face is able to telegraph the rumpled physician’s inner turmoil perfectly.
Twice a Judas’ costumes and sets are stylish enough to notice, as is Francisco Marin’s cinematography for the most part. And some of Almeria, Spain’s most iconic vistas are pleasingly employed here. The more generic aspects of Carlos Pes’ soundtrack score amount to fairly standard stuff but there are one or two interesting cues present that work well with Cicero and Marin’s visuals: cues with a mildly psychedelic vibe underscore Victor’s ‘cult leader’ scenes while some slightly more off kilter cues assist in communicating Luke’s amnesia induced state of disorientation. The most remarkable thing about this intriguing little show is perhaps the fact that, when Victor gives the reason for his desire to land-grab, it turns out to be entirely legitimate. His methods may be wrong but his reasoning kind of stacks up. Either way, the show ends on a particularly downbeat note.
Wild East’s DVD presentation of Twice a Judas is very good overall. In terms of picture quality, colours are strong and there’s very little in the way of print damage present here. The show’s sound quality is very good generally but there are one or two scenes where a bit of background hiss is apparent. There are two short sequences where the presentation’s English language dub track switches to Italian dialogue that is supported by English language subtitles. These two scenes, which feature heated exchanges between Victor and Luke, were presumably cut from the original English language version of the film and have been restored by Wild East for this release. Interestingly, another unfamiliar voice artist was employed to deliver Kinski’s lines for the English language version of this show.
Reviewed by Lee Broughton
And God Said to Cain & Twice a Judas
Double Bill DVD rates:
Movie: Cain: Very Good/Excellent; Judas: Good
Video: Cain: Very Good; Judas: Very Good
Sound: Cain: Excellent; Judas: Good/Very Good
Supplements: an image gallery and two trailers for And God Said to Cain and an image gallery and one trailer for Twice a Judas.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 26, 2018
Text © Copyright 2018 Lee Broughton
CineSavant Text © Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson