Film Review: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.

Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

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

Serial Review: The Phantom Empire (1935)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1935 (first chapter)
Directed by: Otto Brower, B. Reeves Eason
Written by: Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Hy Freedman, Maurice Geraghty
Music by: Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman

Mascot Pictures, 245 Minutes total (12 episodes)

Review:

Marketed as “The most astounding serial ever made!”, The Phantom Empire is quite a bizarre piece of work even for serials. It combines the western, science fiction and musical genres, which was pretty risky, at the time. It also was the first starring role for Gene Autry, who was the quintessential singing cowboy.

Regardless of it being a strange mixture of genres and singing, The Phantom Empire was a successful serial for Mascot Pictures and Gene Autry, who would go on to be a pretty big star.

The story sees Gene Autry playing himself as a singing cowboy who runs a dude ranch where he also does radio broadcasts. The place is called Radio Ranch. Autry’s sidekicks, Frankie and Betsy lead the Junior Thunder Riders, a club featuring kids who dress like knights and ride around on horses. Gene, Frankie and Betsy are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders, who come from a highly advanced subterranean empire called Murania. Above the surface, a group of criminals plans to rob Murania of its radium, while under the surface a group of revolutionaries plots to overthrow Murania’s evil queen Tika.

The genre mixing alone isn’t the weirdest thing about this picture. As the plot unfolds it gets stranger and stranger.

While this isn’t the best looking serial, it was fairly well shot for its time. It isn’t as exciting as the odd premise would make you hope but it is still a pretty entertaining experience.

Gene Autry was a love him or hate him kind of guy. I was never really a fan of the singing cowboy thing but this serial provides so much else outside of that popular gimmick that it isn’t bogged down by it.

The Phantom Empire is unique and it is a noteworthy body of work in film history due to giving Gene Autry a stage to prosper and for taking some risks that paid off and paved the way for creativity in future serials.

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.

Ranking the Films of Quentin Tarantino

Few directors have changed the art of filmmaking quite like Quentin Tarantino has. From the first scene in Reservoir Dogs, I was captivated and have since then, always found myself eager to see what he creates next. I thought he was incapable of making a bad film until I saw Death Proof, which failed on an immense level even though it had its enjoyable bits. Here, I rank his nine films:

1. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
2. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
3. Pulp Fiction
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. Reservoir Dogs
6. Jackie Brown
7. The Hateful Eight
8. Django Unchained
9. Death Proof

Film Review: The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Release Date: August 1956
Directed by: Edward Nassour, Ismael Rodriguez
Written by: Willis O’Brien (as El Toro Estrella), Robert Hill, Jack DeWitt
Music by: Raul Lavista
Cast: Guy Madison, Patricia Medina, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro

United Artists, 81 Minutes

Review:

This is just a really weird film.

Let me start by saying that, as a western, this film is really good. I enjoyed the story thoroughly and I was engaged by the characters, their situations and the world they lived in. It was dynamite for a mid 1950s low budget western affair.

Then the dinosaur showed up and ruined the movie.

Had this film not had the dinosaur added into it, I would have seen it as a really underrated western gem.

I liked Guy Madison as the lead cowboy a lot. Carlos Rivas was great as his rancher partner Felipe. Eduardo Noriega was a decent western villain. Patricia Medina did a fine job as the love interest and motherly figure to Panchito. Pascual Garcia Pena was hilarious and endearing as Pancho. Mario Navarro was good as his son Panchito and he wasn’t annoying, as kid actors tend to be. Ultimately, this was well casted, had good characters and was well-written and executed.

Then the dinosaur showed up and ruined the movie.

The dinosaur sequences were bizarre and felt out of place with the rest of the film. A lot of the dinosaur effects were achieved using stop-motion but in some of the closeups, they used an articulated puppet. This is also the first film to feature stop-motion shot in a widescreen format and in color.

Unfortunately, the mixing of the stop-motion and the live action isn’t well handled. Often times the dinosaur looks crisp on the screen while the live action backdrop is blurry and out of focus. Also, some of the action between the dinosaur and the separately filmed live action sequences don’t sync up and are nonsensical.

It is hard to decipher what the hell is happening in the end, as our hero swings wildly from a rope, taunting the dinosaur and leading him into a tar pit. A tar pit that didn’t sink the human moments earlier but somehow swallows a giant dinosaur whole. Maybe the dino’s immense weight has something to do with it but low budget sci-fi filmmakers of the 1950s never bothered with crap like physics.

If someone did a re-edit of this picture without the beast, it would be infinitely better.