Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dove si spara di più (Fury of Johnny Kid) (1967)

Dove si spara di più (Fury of Johnny Kid) (1967) is a minor Euro-Western which features major actors of European cult cinema.  Its lasting impression upon European cult cinema is its historical value.  Dove si spara di più boasts one of the first appearances of iconic Spanish actor Paul Naschy and is also one of his earliest forays into the technical side of filmmaking.
Through his father, he writes, Paul Naschy became friends with a number of film directors, one of whom was Gianni Puccini.  During the filming of Dove si spara di più, Naschy "became a consultant to the art director, to the head of wardrobe and to the armorer, much to the chagrin of executive producer Enrique Cabezas who had helped [him] get involved in the movie in the first place.  Gianni had a blind faith in [his] judgment, even going so far as to ask for [his] advice about the script and certain scenes."  (1)
Naschy's appearance in Dove si spara di più is in a bizarre scene.  Enter bustling saloon leading man Peter Lee Lawrence as Johnny and his Falstaff-ian accomplice, Lefty (Andrés Mejuto).  With biceps and forearms bulging, Naschy plays a bandit engaged in an arm-wrestling contest.  The contest is a fierce one, and the participants go back and forth, moving almost to the rhythm of the song being sung by lovely María Cuadra (portraying a wistful and tragic prostitute).  As Johnny and Lefty make their way to the bar, a winner emerges in the arm-wrestling contest.  The loser of the match gets his hand impaled upon a bed of a nails.  Naschy writes:  "The props department came up with the idea of placing wooden planks with real, sharp-pointed nails under the forearms of each actor.  So when I forced down the arm of the Italian actor the nails went into his flesh, sinking into several veins and splattering blood over the continuity girl, who almost fainted.  As a result we had to wait three or four days to carry on shooting, this time, obviously. using fake nails." (2)

Peter Lee Lawrence (né Karl Hirenbach, billed here as Arthur Grant) portrays Johnny Mounters in Dove si spara di più, as the youngest son of the Mounters family who own a large ranch at the end of the valley.  Across the way is competing family, the Campos clan, most represented by villainous son, Rodrigo, portrayed by Pietro Martellanza (billed as Peter Martell).  The youngest Campos is sweet and passionate Giulietta (Cristina Galbó).  The two families are engaged in a bloody rivalry.  Johnny and Giulietta fall in love.  Is everyone picking up on from where the source material originates?
Westerns, in general, are full of archetypes and a blending of Shakespeare and Western mythology would seem an ideal pairing.  Not quite.  Dove si spara di più is never truly compelling and the familiar story is not rendered memorably.  It is a chatty film, full of speeches, which may seem appropriate given the source material, but the Western landscape should have an equal amount of talking down iron sights.  The gun fights and action sequences pale to the cinema of Corbucci and Castellari and at times appear ridiculous.  In one sequence, the Campos and Mounters families engage in a gun battle with each family behind cover across a courtyard.  During the shootout, one can actually witness fools break cover and head out into the courtyard.  Of course, they are gunned down within seconds.  I don't understand this battle strategy--ever.

Other sequences make no sense and are odd and seem out of place.  Normally, I love characters acting nonsensically in cinema.  There's an energy and spontaneity and freedom in those sequences.  However, there are times when ridiculous sequences seem just nonsensical and plodding.  For example, Lawrence's Johnny is a character who does not drink alcohol.  Fair enough.  So when Johnny gets angry or full of melancholy, he doesn't head to the saloon to knock back glasses of whiskey.  Instead, he has the bartender pour him a glass of whiskey which he slides down the bar and shoots with his pistol before the glass falls off.  Lawrence shoots quite a few glasses.  Perhaps at the conception stage, this scene was either pivotal and/or clever.  During its rendition, it seems grating and annoying.
Not all the nonsensical and weird sequences are uninteresting, however, in Dove si spara di più.  The town's sheriff is a douchebag and has aligned himself with the Campos family.  In exchange for giving a blind eye to the nefarious deeds of the Campos family, the Sheriff is granted the hand of Giulietta in marriage.  His allegiance to the Campos family goes further back:  in an attempt to apprehend one of the Campos' sons, he is forced to pull his pistol.  Both the sheriff and the son fire his weapon simultaneously and the bullets collide.  The sheriff carries to the two bullets, now fused as one, as a symbol of fate.  He believes that his destiny is weaved with the Campos's.  It's an interesting, highly unlikely, and symbolic scene.  It's a clever use by the filmmakers to make often boring expository material weird and unusual.

Peter Lee Lawrence and Cristina Galbó were once married, and as far as my limited research has uncovered, Dove si spara di più is the only film in which the two star together.  The best scene of the film is the meeting of the two.  Johnny with Lefty in tow decide to rob a stagecoach, believed to be carrying a valuable Campos treasure.  As Johnny pulls the riders out of the carriage, Giulietta emerges last.  She pulls a small pistol from her purse and aims it at Johnny.  Johnny is frozen, and adeptly, Giulietta shoots the black mask off of Johnny's face.  The chemistry that the two hold shows instantly that it is love at first sight.  This scene is the heart of Dove si spara di più; and had the love story been developed more, then film could have been something interesting.  Instead, the love story is a vehicle for a familiar revenge tale and stock Western mythology.
Dove si spara di più is definitely a film for the European cult film fan who is looking to branch out in the more obscure titles that the genre has to offer.  I am a huge fan of Peter Lee Lawrence--a cult actor in a genre of cult cinema, to be certain--so I would recommend the film to his fans.  Paul Naschy fans will certainly relish the opportunity to see the icon in one of his earliest endeavors.

1.  Naschy, Paul.  Memoirs of Wolfman.  Midnight Marquee Press.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2000.  Pp.87-88.
2.  Naschy, Paul.  Memoirs of Wolfman.  Midnight Marquee Press.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2000.  Pp.88-89.

No comments: