The lost causes of youthful passion are replaced by cynical pursuits of wealth in 1971's Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead (Prega il Morto e Ammazza il Vivo). But the old scores are just waiting to resurface, the characters in this nice, sweaty Spaghetti Western quietly boiling in waters far deeper than the stolen crates of gold bars. But those are pretty important too.
Ominous strangers begin to turn up at a forlorn telegraph office; a gang of robbers and a mysterious man in Halloweenish black and orange who calls himself John Webb (Paolo Casella). The gang violently takes over the place and holds hostage the occupants of a stage coach that's forced to stop there; a prostitute and a wealthy man with his trophy wife, Eleanor (Victoria Zinny).
It's not clear if Webb is part of the gang or their enemy but he and the rest of the group have an uneasy, wary relationship. The group doesn't seem much more inclined to trust their leader when he finally shows up, a former Confederate soldier named Dan Hogan played by Klaus Kinski.
I was really frustrated the only copy of this movie I could get my hands on was the English dub. Normally I wouldn't mind so much when it comes to a Spaghetti Western, many of which were made to be dubbed, but the American who voices over for Kinski is completely wrong. A flat, run of the mill performance that's completely mismatched with Kinski's remarkable fire. Watching him, you can imagine the kinds of snarling shouts that must have come out of Kinski but it's all plastered over with a garden variety delivery. I hear the German dub is really good but I can't find it anywhere.
Fortunately, he spends a lot of time silently stalking about the room and the desert, his big goblinish eyes at turns sadistic and distracted when Eleanor offers herself to him or pleads with him. His mind is on bigger things and so is Webb's which makes the quiet regard they have for each other seem to make sense. Like Once Upon a Time in the West, the hero and villain seem to exist on a different plane from everything else which has the odd effect of uniting them even as they're deadly enemies.
Directed by Giuseppe Vari, Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead isn't as ambitious as Leone's best known films but presents an effective smaller story of a group of men and women struggling in the desert.
Twitter Sonnet #1153
A fading skate reminds you once you ran.
Beneath a minute time eclipsed to one.
Condensing loops of rubber held the man.
Descending stones of mountains held the sun.
The bending rails support a jelly train.
Translucent doors reveal the moving souls.
Pursuing trees at length began to gain.
Assorted plants amassed a million roles.
A box of painted lead misled the gold.
An autumn border faced a summer dust.
In further walks the stepping tells were told.
A knocking gale was treated like a gust.
Reluctant wigs become to-morrow's felt.
Beneath their dusty hats the killers melt.