Friday, 16 July 2010

Bad Man’s River (1971)

I’ve decided to explore the spaghetti western genre further but I’m not sure if Bad Man’s River (originally released as Hunt the Man Down) qualifies. This 1971 Franco-Spanish-Italian co-production was filmed in Spain with a Spanish director. But it’s definitely a euro-western, and it does star Lee van Cleef.

There are two major problems that made this movie very difficult to enjoy. The first was the quality of the Region 4 DVD release from a company called Reel Entertainment. This is the most disgracefully shoddy DVD I’ve ever encountered. The picture quality is terrible and the colours are all wrong. That’s just for starters. Not only is it pan-and-scanned, the top of the image has been cropped. Not only are the tops of characters’ heads missing, in many scenes their entire heads are missing!

The second problem is the truly awful soundtrack. There are several incredibly irritating songs that will have you reaching for the nearest Gatling gun so you can blow away everyone involved. All the music in this film is atrocious, and it’s all intrusive and annoying.

As to the movie itself, it has a plot so convoluted that most of the time I had very little idea what was going on. Lee van Cleef is Roy King, leader of a gang of bank robbers. They specialise in blowing stuff up. He meets a beautiful woman named Alicia (Gina Lollobrigida). She persuades him to marry her, on the spot (she travels with a priest in case she suddenly needs to get married). King gets more than he bargained for when she has him put into strait-jacket and committed to an asylum for the insane.

After he gets out of the asylum he gets another job offer, from a Mexican revolutionary named Montero. And the go-between is none other than Alicia, who has also managed to marry Montero. There’s a plan to blow up an armoury and then steal a shipment of money that the Mexican government is sending to replace the guns destroyed in the explosion. There are rival groups of revolutionaries, rival bandit gangs and government troops all fighting it out from this point on and keep tracking of who’s allied with whom becomes rather bewildering.

But of course coherent plot isn’t really an absolute requirement in European cult cinema. Style matters far more. Writer-director Eugenio Martín made a couple of superb horror movies at around the same time as this movie - A Candle for the Devil and Horror Express. And he demonstrated in both those films that he is a very stylish and skillful director. Horror Express is perhaps the best point of comparison since it’s a fast-paced adventure romp with comic elements as well as a horror film. And in Bad Man’s River he seemed to be aiming at a similar result - an exciting adventure romp but with an even heavier emphasis on comedy.

I’m not sure it entirely succeeds but it does have its moments. And there are some nice visual set-pieces. Fans of explosions will be left well satisfied, and there’s plenty of mayhem. The mayhem is strictly of the non-gore variety but it’s done with panache.

James Mason plays Montero and it’s the first disappointing performance I’ve ever seen from him. Lee van Cleef on the other hand is extremely good. But Gina Lollobrigida totally steals the picture. She’s delightfully wicked, outrageously devious, very sexy and very amusing. The screen lights up whenever she appears. Diana Lorys plays the film’s second femme fatale and she’s also very good.

I believe this movie is available in a widescreen DVD edition in Region 1. It’s not easy to formulate a hard-and-fast judgment on this movie based on the horrible Region 4 disc. Seeing it in a decent transfer it might well turn out to be a highly entertaining movie indeed. Even in the butchered version I saw it’s not without its charms despite the incomprehensibility of the plot.


venoms5 said...

I haven't watched it in a while, but I have the Stonevision R2 dvd. It's in widescreen and I remember the quality to be fine. I liked the movie mainly for Van Cleef's role allowing him to be less serious than usual. Most SW fans dislike this one.

dfordoom said...

V, I think I could probably have enjoyed Bad Man’s River quite a lot had I seen a decent print. I can see why SW fans wouldn't be overly keen on it though since it lacks that darkness and extreme cynicism that you usually expect in the genre. If you just approach it as a kooky cult film it can be fun.