Thursday, December 18, 2008

Spaghetti Western Double Feature: Payment in Blood and Navajo Joe

Westerns were a grindhouse staple, but most of the American made westerns of the 60’s were pretty tame until 1969’s Wild Bunch changed all that. Spaghetti westerns were a lot more violent than our stuff, so they were a no brainer for grindhouse and drive in bookings.

These two I caught at The Embassy Theater in Orange NJ. I was cutting class, probably for the 3rd time that week. I caught the afternoon matinee for these two. Payment in Blood 1966 aka Seven Winchesters for a Massacre starred Ed Byrnes and Guy Madison. It was directed by Enzo Castellari.

Madison is a former Confederate officer who is still fighting the war. He leads raids on small towns, wiping everybody in them out. He has seven members of his gang who kill in various ways, knife, bullwhip, spurs , fists ect. Sort of an evil version of the Magnificent Seven. Each killer has a wanted poster of them pop up during the credits.

Byrnes is a government agent sent to infiltrate the group. Seem that they have a stolen chest of government gold stashed somewhere. The group finds a woman who catches Madison’s fancy. She too is an agent, working with Byrnes. This is a really violent film. People are gunned down in the streets, the camera is on Madison’s screaming face as he yells “ kill them all’. Eventually the “good guys” win out. Byrnes did Any Gun Can Play and a couple of others before appearing on Married with Children and then vanishing into obscurity.

The audience was up for the first film, but crapped all over Navajo Joe.

Navajo Joe 1967 Starring Burt Reynolds, Aldo Sambrell, and Fernando Rey. Directed by Sergio Corbucci.

Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were close friends. Eastwood showed Reynolds A Fistful of Dollars. Reynolds was blown away and wanted to work with Sergio Leone. He got Sergio Corbucci instead. Reynolds wears a fight wig , making him look like the kid from Frankenstein Conquers the World.

The film opens up with Duncan( Aldo Sambrell) and his gang massacring an Indian village to get some scalps to sell. Duncan , when trying to sell the scalps, finds out that he and his gang are now wanted for murder. He kills the sheriff, then forms an alliance to steal a train load of money with a crooked doctor. Burt shows up from time to time to knife a few of Duncan’s gang.

Bury foils the heist. The gang wipes everyone out on the train. A mother is gunned down in front of her baby. Anyone familiar with Corbucci knows that he has a tendency to take it a little further than other directors. Being that the film was backed by Dino De Laurentis, Corbucci was kept on a short leash. Burt hides the money, but is forced to give himself to Duncan’s gang when Duncan threatens an Indian girl.

Burt takes the required beating that all Corbucci’s heroes seem to get in his films. Burt’s friends free him and he goes on a killing spree. He wipes out Duncan’s gang, then has a brutal showdown with Duncan at an old Indian burial ground. Duncan is beaten half to death. He shoots Burt four times before taking an axe to the head.

This was Burt’s first and only Spaghetti western. He did stuff like 100 Rifles and the Man who loved Cat Dancing, but they were more mainstream. This film is more Aldo Sambrell’s than anyone elses. His portrayal of Duncan is brutal and he’s the one to watch in this. Sombrell was a fixture in Spaghetti westerns going back to For a Few Dollars More. In a recent interview he also agreed that this was his best performance.

If it seems like Burt is doing a cameo appearance , it might be due to the fact that Burt had to go back to do a TV series and a lot of his scenes were shot first, then inserted later. Burt , himself wasn’t too fond of this film. Neither was the audience that day as Burt’s appearance in the film was ridiculed mercilessly.
42nd Street Pete

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