The Man with Gunsight Eyes

Lee Van Cleef in one of his most iconic and entertaining spaghetti westerns, SABATA (1969), directed by Gianfranco Parolini.

With his lean, angular features and narrow, piercing eyes, Lee Van Cleef had the sort of presence you didn’t easily forget in supporting roles, especially villainous parts in westerns (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Bravados) and crime dramas (Kansas City Confidential, The Big Combo). Unfortunately, it took more than 12 years and over 100 film and TV appearances before the actor finally moved into leading roles after a career that began in 1952 with his debut in High Noon. And like Clint Eastwood, he finally found fame in Italy when he was almost forty, opposite the former Rawhide TV star in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965), the sequel to Eastwood’s star-making breakthrough in A Fistful of Dollars (1965). After The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), in which he played “the ugly” Angel Eyes in the final installment of Leone’s Dollars trilogy, he carved out an impressive career in some of the best spaghetti westerns of the late sixties and early seventies such as The Big Gundown, Death Rides a Horse and Day of Anger (all 1967). Less serious than those but just as entertaining is Sabata (1969), which adds some tongue in cheek humor, gymnastic action and fancy weaponry to the spaghetti western formula. 

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The Worm Turns

Japanese film poster for THE GLAMOROUS GHOST (1964)

The Glamorous Ghost (Japanese Title: Sanpo Suru Reikyusha, 1964) is something of a rarity in Japanese cinema – a noir comedy. This is the sort of twisty, convoluted farce in which all of the main characters are greedy, immoral and deceitful and you end up rooting for Asami (Ko Nishimura), the taxi driver protagonist, only because he is a pitiful underdog with a simple dream – to retire and run a pig farm in the country. His plan to accomplish that, however, involves blackmail and worse and before The Glamorous Ghost reaches its macabre but amusing climax, most of the major players have departed this mortal coil.

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Voyage of Doom

A former actor from Austria turned film director, Georg Tressler is not a name familiar to most American movie fans but for German filmgoers of the fifties he created a sensation with this 1956 feature film debut, Die Halbstarken (released in the U.S. as Teenage Wolfpack). As topical, incendiary and controversial in its day as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Blackboard Jungle (1955), Die Halbstarken was a hard-hitting portrait of juvenile delinquency in post-war Germany and featured Horst Buchholz as a manipulative gang leader in a performance possibly inspired by James Dean. It was a huge hit and led Tressler to follow it up with two more youth-oriented films – Noch Minderjahrig (Under 18, 1957) and Endstation Liebe (Two Worlds, 1958). His fourth feature, Das Totenschiff (Ship of the Dead, 1959), was a complete departure from his trilogy in terms of content and was mostly ignored by critics and the public. But timing is everything and today Das Totenschiff looks like a lost classic from the pre-Berlin Wall era. And it may very well be Tressler’s finest achievement.    Continue reading

Every Man for Himself

The Ruthless Four (1968)Often overlooked in the Spaghetti Western hall of fame, The Ruthless Four (1968) is a riveting, well-crafted tale of a ill-fated search for hidden gold that bears some thematic similarities to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. While it is not quite in the same league as John Huston’s 1948 classic, the cast alone should still pique the interest of any film buff starting with the top-billed Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland, two Hollywood legends with some classic Westerns to their credit; Heflin with Shane (1953) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Roland with his series of “Cisco Kid” oaters that began with The Gay Cavalier in 1946. The curiosity factor is also undeniable with the eclectic casting of Uruguay-born actor George Hilton, a veteran of countless giallos and Euro-westerns, and the inimitable Klaus Kinski, who has a substantial role here unlike many of his genre efforts where his appearance is often little more than a cameo or brief walk-on.    Continue reading