The William Shakespeare tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has served as the inspiration for countless movies about star-crossed lovers such as Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), West Side Story (1961) and the zombie comedy Warm Bodies (2013) but it has rarely been re-imagined as a spaghetti western. One of the few but notable exceptions is Dove si spara di più (1967), which is also known under the alternate release titles of Fury of Johnny Kidd, Ultimate Gunfighter and Ride for a Massacre.
Directed by Gianni Puccini from a screenplay by Maria del Carmen Martinez Roman, Fury of Johnny Kidd is a highly entertaining and suspenseful take on the classic love story that focuses more on the escalating violence between two rival clans and introduces a supernatural twist at the climax. The Capulet and Montague families from the original play are here replaced by two rival land barons and their brood, The Campos and the Mounters, and the setting is California, although the locations used in this Italian-Spanish production are in the desert regions surrounding Madrid and Cinecitta’s western set in Lazio, Italy.
The hostile relationship between the two families is revealed in the opening moments of Fury of Johnny Kidd as Paco, a favorite son of Senor Campos (Rufino Ingles), returns home with serious wounds inflicted by the Mounters. In an effort to end the antagonism once and for all, Senor Campos proposes to Bill Mounters (Luis Induni) that both clans face each other on the open plain for a shootout with a judge presiding over the duel. The loser will agree to leave California and the winner will rule the region.
Of course, it is all a trap. Senor Campos has no intention of playing fair and sets up an ambush for the scheduled encounter, telling his son Rodrigo (Peter Martell), “The best way to protect oneself from ants is to squash them.” The ensuing massacre is a devastating blow to the Mounters but the patriarch survives and so does his son Johnny (Peter Lee Lawrence), who was captured in a different location and held prisoner with an unknown interloper known as Lefty (Andres Mejuto), so named for his missing hand which was replaced with a hook.
The two prisoners are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of their captors but Johnny surprises everyone by getting hold of a gun, killing numerous Campos henchmen and galloping off to safety with Lefty. The two men find refuge in the desert and Lefty, an experienced gunman and knife thrower, helps Johnny improve his sharpshooting skills while teaching him the seven commandments of survival: “Shoot first, shoot to kill. Keep an eye on the allegedly dead. Beware of spare guns. Never turn your back to another colt. Keep your eye and your hand steady if you want to live long and healthy. Always get even.”
Admittedly, this relationship diverges from the Shakespearean original but there are also other new characters introduced into the mix including a corrupt lawman, Sheriff Cooper (Piero Lulli), who is in cahoots with the Campos clan and has designs on Senor Campos’s lovely daughter Giulietta (Cristina Galbo), and Rosalind (Maria Cuadra), a saloon singer/prostitute who falls hard for Johnny. These are actually welcome additions to the oft-told tale and provide some complexity and surprisingly twists along the way.
The first meeting of Johnny and Guilietta is also original. When Lefty and Johnny hold up a stagecoach for money, Guilietta is one of the passengers and she shoots off Johnny’s mask with her concealed pistol. He likes her defiant nature and they meet again later when he attempts to burn down the Campos ranch. [Spoiler alert] Their mutual infatuation grows from there but, in what is certainly the most radical departure from Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers are the only survivors at the climax and happily ride off across the plains. The Campos and Mounters effectively wipe each other out and those who don’t die in the shootout are picked off by Death himself, wearing a skull mask. “This is the day of a black peace,” he proclaims. Whoever calls Death will be answered by Death. And he only has one answer for all of them. The rest is silence.”
Peter Lee Lawrence aka Karl Hyrenbach, a blond haired German actor, makes his top billed debut in Fury of Johnny Kidd. His only previous role was a bit part in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965). Lawrence makes a compelling and immensely likable protagonist who convincingly matures during the course of the film from a naïve hothead to a formidable avenger. Even better is Cristina Galbo, who portrays Giulietta as a free spirited and rebellious young woman who knows how to handle a firearm and refuses to obey her father’s demands.
Offscreen Lawrence and Galbo fell in love during the filming and would marry two years later in July 1969. They remained together until Lawrence’s sudden death at age 30 from brain cancer. Both actors, however, separately made their mark on European genre films during the 1970s.
Lawrence would go on to star in many more spaghetti westerns such as Umberto Lenzi’s Pistol for a Hundred Coffins (1968) and Four Gunmen of the Holy Trinity (1971). He also occasionally dabbled in other fare like the WW2 actioner Hell in Normandy (1968) and the crime drama The Long Arm of the Godfather (1972). The most unexpected movie in his filmography is a supporting role in the 1971 British remake of Black Beauty featuring child star Mark Lester.
Galbo, who was born in Madrid, began her screen career as a child actress but is best known today for a handful of horror films and giallos that have become cult favorites. Among them are The House That Screamed (1969) aka La Residencia, What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974) and The Killer Must Kill Again (1975).
As for Gianni Puccini, he was better known as a screenwriter than director and contributed to Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) and several films by Giuseppe De Santis including Bitter Rice (1949), Rome 11:00 (1952), and Men and Wolves (1957). As a director he specialized mostly in romantic comedies and frothy sex farce anthologies with co-directors as in Honor Among Thieves (1957), Love in Four Dimensions (1964), and Love and Marriage (1964). Puccini died at the relatively young age of 54 and his final film was The Seven Cervi Brothers (1968) starring Gian Maria Volonte in a drama about Italian resistance fighters during WW2.
Fury of Johnny Kidd remains Puccini’s only spaghetti western and it is a superior entry in the genre – tightly paced, beautifully lensed by Mario Montuori (Sodom and Gomorrah, 1962) with a catchy music score by Gino Peguri, which features an addictive and recurring theme song. The film also serves as an excellent showcase for many Spanish and Italian character actors such as Peter Martell (God Made Them…I Kill Them, 1968) as the contemptible Rodrigo Campos, Angel Alvarez (Django, 1966), who provides comic relief as a bumbling padre, and Piero Lulli (Kill, Baby…Kill!, 1968) as the slimy, smiling sheriff. If you look close in one scene, you might spot Eurotrash horror star Paul Naschy (The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Women, 1971) aka Jacinto Molina Alvarez as a barroom customer who loses an arm wrestling match and has his hand impaled on a bed of nails.
For some unknown reason Fury of Johnny Kidd remains overlooked and underrated by spaghetti western fans, just like Johnny Hamlet (1968), Enzo G. Castellari’s loose adaptation of the Shakespeare play. Both have been hard to see in the U.S. for years but in 2008 the German outfit Koch Media released Fury of Johnny Kidd on DVD under the title Glut der Sonne. It is an excellent transfer with optional English subtitles and a choice of either German or Italian audio (you will need an all-region DVD play to view it if you can still find a copy).
Ten years later Wild East Productions would pair Fury of Johnny Kidd under the title Ride for a Massacre with A Gun for a Hundred Graves on DVD. Both films star Peter Lee Lawrence (although he is billed as Arthur Grant in the former movie) and are presented in the correct Anamorphic format in English dubbed versions. I haven’t seen the Wild East release but I can vouch for the Koch Media version. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
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