Thursday, December 15, 2016

A TASTE OF KILLING needs a re-release!

Tonino Valerii has directed about five Spaghetti Westerns in his day.  DAY OF ANGER aka GUNLAW is probably his best with the help of the two main stars Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma.  His most famous is MY NAME IS NOBODY which stars Henry Fonda and Terence Hill and may have been co-directed by Sergio Leone.  It is terrible and boring.  The ending is good but it belongs in a better film.  The movie as a whole is bad which is why I find it strange that so many critics familiar with Italian Westerns would often have it ranked somewhere in their top ten lists.  I guess they need to see more Spaghetti Westerns.  If they had then maybe they would have seen the far more satisfying A TASTE OF KILLING.

The film stars Craig Hill (A sort of cross between Eastwood and Bronson) as Lanky, a bounty hunter who has been tasked to protect a shipment of gold locked in the town's bank vault from a small army of bandits.  The leader of the bandits, Gus Kennebeck (George Martin) also just happens to be the man who killed Lanky's brother back in the day.  Time for some payback, right?  Well sort of.  Lanky may not be the hero we have been so accustomed to in other Westerns from Italy.

At the beginning of this tale of bloodshed and greed, Lanky is traveling on horseback watching a column of cavalry soldiers escort a shipment of gold through a valley in the desert.  From atop the valley Lanky has a birds eye view of the escort.  Through the scope of his rifle, he sees bandits waiting to attack.  Lanky sets his sights on the first leader of the bandits, Sanchez, played by Fernando Sancho.  Character actor Fernando Sancho always plays bandit leaders in Spaghetti Westerns.  I will just assume he dies in all of them.  With his sights set on Sanchez, Lanky waits.  Then the bandits begin shooting.  Lanky does nothing.  All the soldiers are murdered mercilessly and the gold is stolen along with some money.  This moment tells us everything we need to know about Lanky.  He is in it for the money.  Lanky's motivations are dictated by his plan to get more money.  He is just like Franco Nero's Django.  The only difference is that at the end Django redeems himself while Lanky continues in his amoral ways.

Before there was Quigly Down Under there was Lanky.  Lanky likes using a scope on his rifle to scout from atop and kill from a distance.  That doesn't mean he always kills from a distance and not adversed to shooting someone in the back.  Sanchez and two of his goons found out early on that Lanky is fast and deadly with a pistol too.  The scoped rifle is a symbol of Lanky being distant from humanity.  He kills bad guys but he lets innocent soldiers die too when he could have easily helped out.  Lanky is only interested in money.  I don't think this makes him one dimensional though.  His distance stems from his experience with loss.  Well at least I think so.  We learn that Gus, the new and more dangerous leader of the bandits, murdered Lanky's brother.  Lanky states that he would kill him for free even though he can wait while the bounty on Gus's head keeps going up.  Lanky is a man of simple motives.  He wants money and keeping things simple.  Surprisingly he is illiterate but he can read the amounts of money for bounties on wanted posters.  Reading is only important enough to read dollar signs.

The characteristics of a hero's story are dispersed to other characters in the film.  This makes the movie's characters a little more intriguing.  Just a little.  Gus has more noble intentions than Lanky does.  Gus wants to steal the towns gold so he can provide a better life for his wife who struggles raising their son in the criminal lifestyle.  The movie doesn't make us like him much though because every so often he gets upset and starts slapping the wife around.  I think the movie would have been stronger if Gus was actually more identifiable and sympathetic.  Being too interested in financial gain Lanky does not have a love story.  That story goes to a bandit who is in love with the wife of a former bandit who has changed his ways and now works for the bank protecting the gold.  Yeah, it's kind of confusing with all the subplots that form to stretch out the run time.  I don't even remember who any of these people are.

All the subplots and the stupid plan of Lanky's hiding the gold as the front steps of the bank to fool the bandits don't really take away from the film.  The movie is full of enough gun play to keep everyone entertained.  In fact I think this might be the first movie where someone is shot in the eye while they are looking through the scope of a rifle similar to what happened in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HEROES SHED NO TEARS.  My favorite moment in A TASTE FOR KILLING is at the end when Gus tries to shoot Lanky with his own scope rifle.  Lanky shoots him through the scope with his pistol killing Gus instantly.  Then Lanky picks up the now broken and grimaces.  Its a quick and funny moment.  Lanky showed more emotion over his ruined rifle scoped than he did for the dozens of soldiers left behind to become vulture meet.  At the end Lanky follows the gold he just rescued and once again watches from a distance as another band of outlaws gun down the new cavalry detail and begins to steal the gold.  Lanky's true intentions are revealed.  He makes money chasing gold shipments. That is when you realize he let all those soldiers die on purpose at the beginning of the film and he let it happen again so he can make some money.  You have to wonder how Lanky gets his own hero theme song.

A TASTE OF KILLING needs to be better known.  Its good.  Maybe it's not as great as I think it is but with lots of bad guys to shoot and some good dialogue from time to time the movie never gets boring.  I like Craig Hill.  He is a great alternative to Eastwood or Bronson without coming across as generic.  Despite some choppy editing this is a pretty slick film with a story that doesn't follow the typical 'Stranger comes to town and starts trouble' formula.  Usually it is the rich bankers and business men that the hero fights.  In this movie the hero works for them and they are played by Franco Ressel and Piero Lulli!  These two actors always play the main bad guys in Spaghetti Westerns and they always die by the end.  In A TASTE FOR KILLING they don't suffer a scratch.  Its rather refreshing.  If this film was made a few years later Lanky and Gus would team up to take on the greedy bankers and rich land owners.

Unfortunately the DVD is out of print and rather expensive to buy.  I can only hope that someone out there puts this movie that plays to a different beat out on Blu-ray soon.  PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!  I am not above begging.  If you are in to Italian Westerns this is a must watch especially if you are looking for something outside of Leone.  Director Tonino Valerii was a student of sorts under Leone if that peaks your interest.  This was Valerii's first film in the director's chair.  Also Lanky's theme song by Nico Fedinco is catchy.  I need the soundtrack which is probably out of print too.  Ugh!.


No comments:

Post a Comment