Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Film Review: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Also known as: The Secret Four (UK)
Release Date: November 11th, 1952
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: George Bruce, Harry Essex, Rowland Brown, Harold Greene
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: John Payne, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam

Associated Players and Producers, Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What makes a two-bit heel like you think a heater would give him an edge over me? ” – Tim Foster

Kansas City Confidential is a pretty intense and fun film-noir. It also has two of my favorite western stars in it: Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam. The film is directed by Phil Karlson and is considered by many to be his best.

While the big crime in the film takes place in Kansas City, a big portion of the film goes down to Mexico. You see, an ex-con trying to go straight, is framed for a million dollar armored car robbery. When the real criminals go to Mexico, the ex-con follows in order to expose them and clear his name.

The story is pretty good and it has a lot of interesting twists and turns that make it a good textbook noir, as far as the scheming plot goes. Most of the characters are despicable and you’re always waiting for one of them to turn on the others. Lee Van Cleef is especially good and always does a villainous role justice, as he slithers in and out of the scenes like a snake ready to strike at anything that moves. His facial expressions and body language in this are so predatory, it really shows that he is an actor better than the roles he was getting at this point in his career.

John Payne was good as the lead but he always seemed to be overshadowed by the villains on screen, as they all had a really dark and powerful charisma.

I loved that this film felt larger than most noirs, which seem very confined and small. This was vast and open and really stepped outside of the box.

The film did really well upon release for Edward Small Productions, who responded by turning this into a series with followups New York Confidential and Chicago Confidential. Those were not directed by Karlson, however. Even the more modern neo-noir L.A. Confidential was an homage to this film in title.

Karlson would go on to do The Phenix City Story, which was a sort of spiritual sequel to this. He also dabbled in more film-noir and would go on to do The Silencers, the first of Dean Martin’s spy parody films, and the original Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker.

Kansas City Confidential is a fine motion picture. If you are a fan of film-noir and haven’t seen this one, you should probably check it out.

Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: Beyond the Law (1968)

Also known as: Al di là della legge (Italy), Bloodsilver, The Good Die First
Release Date: August 10th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Giorgio Stegnani
Written by: Warren D. Kiefer, Mino Roli, Giorgio Stegani, Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Antonio Sabàto Sr., Lionel Stander, Graziella Granata, Gordon Mitchell

Sancrosiap, Roxy Film, Cineriz, Stellar IV Film Corporation, 109 Minutes

Review:

After watching The Grand Duel last night, I immediately put in Beyond The Law, another film starring Lee Van Cleef. It also stars Antonio Sabato Sr. as a heroic European who comes to a western silver mining town and becomes a beacon of light and influence over Van Cleef’s initially criminal Billy Joe Cudlip.

Van Cleef’s character is introduced by robbing money from Sabato’s character on a stealth stagecoach heist. The two then become friends and Van Cleef becomes the sheriff of the mining town and slowly starts becoming a character with morals. The town is overtaken by an evil gang who hold women and children hostage in a church in an effort to steal the town’s silver.

It is an interesting enough story and it is a fairly engaging movie but it lacks in comparison to Van Cleef’s other spaghetti western films.

The score is decent, the direction is pretty good but the cinematography is a bit cookie cutter and generic. Also, it’s running time is a bit longer than it should have been.

It isn’t a spectacular Van Cleef outing and there are better films of his to watch, if you haven’t seen them yet. But it is a worthy film to kill some time.

The premise and the set up were really good, it just falls short in the end.

Film Review: It Conquered the World (1956)

Release Date: July 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Lou Rusoff, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, Sally Fraser, Dick Miller

American International Pictures, 71 Minutes 

it_conquered_the_worldReview:

In the early days of American International Pictures, they did some imaginative low-budget sci-fi and horror films. Roger Corman will always be known for being the king of the cheapo horror feature but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. He turned films out at a record pace and was more concerned with tight shooting schedules and doing things as cheaply as possible. His formula worked for a really long time and you have to kind of admire some of the films he was able to put together using this formula.

Most of Corman’s pictures turned a profit and he created a way of doing business that still exists in Hollywood today. Granted, now it just gives us unnecessary Saw and Paranormal Activity sequels, as well as “found footage” horror pictures but Corman was certainly onto something in his heyday.

It Conquered the World is one of these Corman classics. And no, it isn’t a particularly good film but it is still pretty enjoyable and it features a hokey yet really cool monster, a Corman staple.

The film stars Peter Graves, a beloved icon to Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Crow T. Robot, and one of my personal favorites, Lee Van Cleef. We also get to enjoy the talents of one of Corman’s favorite actors, Dick Miller. Granted, Miller’s role here is really limited.

Van Cleef plays a scientist, Dr. Anderson. He has made radio contact with a creature from Venus. The alien monster claims it only wants peace but it actually wants to enslave humanity through mind control. The alien claims he can bring peace by eliminating human emotions, which is a ploy to administer the brainwashing technique. The alien disrupts all electric power on Earth, crippling the planet’s technology. The alien also releases bat-like creatures carrying mind control devices. Graves’ character, Dr. Nelson, finds his wife to be already assimilated and she attempts to use one of the bat-like creatures on him. The film then takes some dark turns until ultimately, there is a final showdown with the bizarre creature.

The acting isn’t great, the direction isn’t either but Roger Corman didn’t concern himself with these things. He had a monster movie to pump out and couldn’t waste time. It should go without saying that the special effects aren’t fantastic either.

It Conquered the World is one of those sort of films where you either love it or you hate it. It only works for a certain kind of audience: one that is familiar with Corman’s style and can look beyond the problems with the film and just enjoy it as a mindless creature feature that, at its high points, is a lot of fun.

Film Review: The Grand Duel (1972)

Also known as: Il Grande duello (Italy), Storm Rider, The Big Showdown
Release Date: December 29th, 1972 (West Germany)
Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi
Music by: Sergio Bardotti, Luis Bacalov
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Marc Mazza, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antony Vernon, Dominique Darel

Mount Street Film, Corona Filmproduktion, Terra-Filmkunst, Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC), Titanus Distribuzione, Cinema Shares International Distribution, 98 Minutes

the-grand-duelReview:

The Grand Duel is a pretty fun and extraordinarily bad ass picture.

It stars Lee Van Cleef as Sheriff Clayton, who is trying to clear the name of a man wanted for the murder of a patriarch of a corrupt political crime family. He has stood up for what is right and has thus lost his sheriff’s star before the start of the film. Regardless, he is still on a quest for justice and to ensure that an innocent man isn’t executed.

The innocent man is played by Alberto Dentice (credited as Peter O’Brien in this film). He was great in this movie and it is unfortunate that this is the only film he has ever been in. He was energetic, entertaining and lovable as the character of prison escapee on-the-run Philipp Wermeer.

The gang that the two heroes have to bring down are quite sinister and each character within the family is pretty unique and memorable. It sets up a really awesome gunfight at the end of the film, hence the film’s title, The Grand Duel.

The film also features probably the most famous spaghetti western theme song not orchestrated by the great Ennio Morricone. It went on to be used in the more famous Kill Bill films by Quentin Tarantino. The score of The Grand Duel was done by Luis Bacalov who has also done the music for spaghetti westerns Django and A Bullet For the General.

The overall story in this movie is really engaging and it moves at a good pace. There are a lot of characters wedged into the film but it doesn’t feel overstuffed. There are several flashback scenes done in high contrast black and white and they are alluringly shot.

This isn’t the best Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western but it is certainly in the upper echelon.

Film Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1962
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Based on: a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murrary, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef

Paramount Pictures, 123 Minutes

the_man_who_shot_liberty_valanceReview:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is regarded as one of John Wayne’s best westerns. It is hard to argue against that point because truthfully, I think just about every John Wayne western is one of his best, as making bad films was something he never seemed to do. Okay, maybe there are a few.

In this movie, he’s teamed up with legends James Stewart and Lee Marvin, as well as Lee Van Cleef and John Carradine in minor roles. That’s a lot of bad asses to share one screen and it is almost like an Expendables film for its era, except for the fact that it’s actually a good movie.

This is one of my favorites when it comes to the role John Wayne plays. As usual, he is the suave manly man but this time he plays somewhat of a protector to James Stewart’s pacifist lawyer character. This is one of my favorite James Stewart performances, outside of his work with Hitchcock, and he almost steals this picture away from John Wayne. Lee Marvin is also at the top of his game here, as he plays a classic black-wearing western villain that you can’t not love to hate.

This film has a lot of layers to it and it isn’t just a straightforward cookie cutter western film. That is why it stands above most of the westerns of that time. There are a handful of John Wayne films I like better but not by much. This is a stupendous movie and it shows off the acting mastery of three greats.

There is a bigger message with this movie than just being a shoot ’em up affair or a typical western revenge flick. There are multiple social commentary threads running through this film and they are all well executed and presented. While light-hearted at times, this film also comes with a very dark vibe, as the evil and corruption that must be overcome feel very real and very threatening.