Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Difficulty of the Easy Going Man

A mysterious, cocky, handsome young outlaw gets himself in the middle of a touchy hostage situation in 1965's A Pistol for Ringo(Una pistola per Ringo). Featuring a little more comedy than typical for a Spaghetti western, the humour nonetheless functions mainly as an intriguing surface layer for some very effective tension.

The precariousness of the situation is somehow emphasised by the seemingly carefree attitude of the film's protagonist, Ringo (Giuliano Gemma aka Montgomery Wood). He's introduced playing hopscotch with a bunch of kids and his playful demeanour doesn't change when he suddenly guns down a group of men who've shown up to kill him.

He's preternaturally good with a pistol and so an effective part of the tension is built by keeping guns away from him. Whenever he casually asks for one, we're compelled to examine his cool demeanour to determine if it's just a blind and if he's planning to immediately execute anyone who hands him that pistol finally.

The film's directed by Duccio Tessari who co-wrote the screenplay for A Fistful of Dollars. A Pistol for Ringo bears some resemblance to the Fistful of Dollars/Yojimbo/Red Harvest premise with Ringo's professed loyalties seemingly changing from one side to the other. What mainly distinguishes it is that the audience is almost as much in the dark about Ringo's true motives as anyone else.

A group of Mexican bandits rob a bank and then take over a ranch belonging to the wealthy Major Clyde (Antonio Casas). The bandits hold the Major and his family hostage, including the Major's daughter, the beautiful Ruby (Lorella De Luca), who also happens to be the sheriff's fiancée.

The sheriff (George Martin) reluctantly accepts Ringo's offer to allow him to infiltrate the gang, for which Ringo demands 30% of the bandits' spoils. He takes a page from Doctor Who's playbook and refuses to take a gun, correctly assuming that packing a weapon will be more likely to get him shot.

The leader of the bandits, Sancho (Fernando Sancho), is more cunning than smart, most of the gang's savvy belonging to his consort, Delores (Nieves Navarro). Another layer of tension is present as Delores is gradually charmed by the Major's genteel overtures. For most of the film, it's unclear if the Major has really tapped into an ambition she has to live in classier style than among the bandits or if she's just playing with the Major for her own amusement. Even subtler is the hint that there could be chemistry between Ringo and Ruby.

There's some slapstick comedy and Sancho's foolishness is played a bit broadly at times but never exactly outside the realm of credibility. There's an intriguingly delicate balance between broad comedy and satire throughout the film, as in a scene I particularly liked when Sancho thinks he has Ringo dead to rights as a traitor, but stops in his tracks when Ringo simply asks for a higher percentage of the loot. With no rationale or evidence, Sancho immediately assumes Ringo must have a plan for Sancho's side that justifies his asking for more money, and it makes Sancho furious.

The film has a good score from Ennio Morricone and it's available on Amazon Prime.

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