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Posts Tagged ‘Lee Van Cleef’


Sunday, August 13th, 2017


Stars – Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach * Director- Sergio Leone
* Released by Kino Studio Classics*Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Good – The restored mono audio sounds fantastic! That American theatrical cut is back the way we remember it!* The Not So Bad – The look of the film is far less yellow than it used to be. To be fair it looks pretty great although that might not be the kind of great you were expecting. The Ugly – The extras ported over from the DVD set are all out of whack. They have a staccato movement and the quality is rendered very poorly.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is many people’s idea of the best western ever made, at least the best Spaghetti Western. It is an immensely satisfying experience to take in. Director Sergio Leone serves this up with a very apparent love of American Westerns. He delivers on the action. He gives us such cool characters with plenty of memorable lines. There are so many little bits to be cherished. When Eli Wallach goes into a gun shop he has the proprietor lays out all of the best six guns. He takes several apart. He looks through the barrels. He rolls the cylinders back and forth between his hands as he listens to them. He then builds his own pistol from the best parts. The last time we saw an actor do this kind of intense scene stealing gun fetish stuff was when Steve McQueen rode out to the graveyard with Yul Brynner at the beginning of The Magnificent Seven (1960). McQueen shook a shotgun shell to his ear to see if they were ok. If you love westerns you eat this stuff up! Lee Van Cleef has that pipe and the steely eyes. Leone gives his actors plenty of extreme close ups. Clint Eastwood has that classic catch phrase. Even though it is dubbed in afterwards we can still appreciate the long pause he takes before he simply says, “…yeah”. Word was he used to cross most of his lines out of the script. All three leads do their own voices and it makes a real difference to hear them. Even though Leone creates an epic tale set against the civil war on an operatic scale he still stays true to the things that make westerns work. Along the way though there is an artfulness and a majesty that elevates this picture to one of the greats. When you add in Ennio Morricone’s amazing and memorable score this is the full house of all westerns that just can’t be beat.


I want to get this story in because it was where I fell in love with this film. Back in the late sixties there was a theatre on Broadway that had an incredible multiple bill. They advertised it in the papers as Spend The Day With Clint Eastwood. Four films were shown: Hang ’Em High (1968), Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966). This was likely done to help extend the revenue for Hang ‘Em High. As kids we were used to seeing the James Bond double bills like From Russia With Love and Dr. No. but this was four pictures. Clint’s new one and the Dollar trilogy. This was a Sunday in the dead of Winter. Brutally cold. It had to have started early, well before 10:00 AM. My buddy and I had these ridiculously big winter coats on. We stopped off at a Blimpie’s and got subs, a bottle of soda and chips. The sandwiches went down the inside of the sleeve. You couldn’t move your arm but the sub was hidden. Sodas went in the left pockets and chips in the right. Don’t push me on my right side, man, I got chips in there. We got our tickets without being spotted as smugglers. Hang ‘Em High was ok but seeing the three others in a row like that was magical. By the end we had that move down. Throw your poncho over you shoulder, adjust the stogie cigarette in your mouth, give that stare and wait,…. Then say, “…Yeah” So cool. The length of that four picture show was long but we really had gone on an adventure of epic proportions with Tucco, Angel Eyes and Blondie. So much of that imagery and the sweeping soundtrack were imbedded inside our growing cinema souls. The extreme close ups of the eyes and those long vistas of open space made an impression. I’ll never forget though the rush that came with seeing Tucco running madly through the graveyard at the end. The background of gravestones went by him so fast they became a blur. The edits came faster and faster. The music swelled. The trumpet cut right through you. Spending a day with Clint Eastwood and seeing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that day became a milestone. Kids don’t normally devote that kind of time to movies but we did. And that day they became so much more than movies.


Video – 2.35:1
Without a doubt Kino has dialed back the offending boost that the yellows got in the last 4K transfer. Others colors have been reigned in, too. On that front things are fine. In fact the film looks great. The only quibble would be it might not be everyone’s idea of what great is. The film is much more naturalistic looking. It is almost modern in the way it has been muted and toned down. Detail is very strong. Black levels behave fine. Grain though still plenty apparent is not out of hand at all. Previous versions before the last 4K Blu-ray had a brighter level throughout. That brighter look fits my recollections of seeing the film on screen better. The look in the MGM 2009 Blu-Ray feels close in those terms. There are other aspects of that transfer that look better here. I wish I could lay out these different transfers on a table just like Eli Wallach did with the pistols and put together my favorite parts.
* This is the first offering in Blu-Ray of the US theatrical cut from a 4K transfer. There are few minor discrepancies in the theatrical cut. They did not affect my enjoyment of it at all. Kino has done the best they could with this and it works fine.

Audio – Newly Restored 2.0 Mono Audio, Italian Dolby 2.0 Mono, English 5.1 DTS with subtitles offered in English

So much has been said about how this film looks that I feel like I want to leap up on a desk and shout , “Just listen to that mono mix!” Sure the look of the film is very important but so much of my experience with it came from the soundtrack. The mono track is robust and with a good rig delivers in spades. Morricone’s score ebbs and swells throughout. The combination of surf guitar, solo whistling, choral voices, orchestration and that lone trumpet is nothing short of magnificent. Then you add in the dubbed voices of the lead actors in a way that we have all come to recognize so well. But the real cherry on top is those echoey pistol and gun shots. This is one of the things that makes this film so iconic. The cannon blasts also get this treatment. Listening to this film is the movie equivalent of Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound in rock n’ roll. He used to call them his symphonies for the kids. Ennio Morricone’s score and the elements that make up the sound effects combine to give us one for the ages. I love this new mono track!

Extras – New Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas, New Trailers From Hell” with Ernest Dickerson, Alternate Scene: The Optical Flip, Deleted Scene 1: Skeletons in the Desert, Deleted Scene 2: Extended Torture Scene, GBU on the: animated behind-the-scenes image gallery, Promoting GBU: Posters & Lobby Cards animated image gallery, Sergio Leone Westerns: Original Theatrical Trailers

The following extras were ported over from the DVD box set. They were also included in the MGM Blu-Ray box and single editions :Audio Commentary By Acclaimed Film Historian Richard Schickel, Audio Commentary By Noted Cultural Historian Christopher Frayling

These  other extras were done at the wrong speed and don’t work well at all : Leone’s West: Making Of Documentary , The Leone Style: On Sergio Leone Featurette , The Man Who Lost The Civil War: Civil War Documentary , Reconstruction The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, II Maestro: Ennio Morricone and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Featurette, Deleted Scenes.

The new commentary from Tim Lucas is loaded with info. I have not gotten through it yet but always enjoy his contributions. The Trailers From Hell bit is short and fun. The previous film extras included some excellent interviews with Christopher Frayling but were done at the wrong speed so you can’t really enjoy them.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent for the Mono sound and the Theatrical version.
Very Good for the overall look. Excellent for the new extras
and Poor for the older ones that were ported over

Movie – Classic

The Big Gundown: Blu Ray/DVD/CD Combopack Review

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

The Big Gundown (1966)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Sergio Sollima

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Walter Barnes, Gerard Herter, Nieves Navarro, Fernando Sancho, Angel Del Pozo

Jonathon Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) is hired by the unscrupulous Brokston (Walter Barnes) to hunt down and kill the Mexican outlaw Cuchillo (Tomas Milian), who is accused of raping and murdering a little girl…

Sergio Leone did not create the Italian western – or Spaghetti Western as it is commonly known, much to the annoyance of many of  the genre’s key figures – but he certainly perfected and popularized it.  After setting box office records with A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), other Italian directors sought to cash in on the formula.  Some of these filmmakers were clueless hacks who only managed to cheapen the genre, while others would give Leone a run for his money.  Sergio Sollima falls into the latter camp.  His first western, The Big Gundown, is regularly cited as one of the genre’s very best entries – though for my money, his politically charged Faccia a Faccia (1967) would emerge as his true masterpiece.  In any event, the film helped to cement Lee Van Cleef as one of the genre’s true icons (he had already done For a Few Dollars More for Leone, thus rescuing a career that was threatening to draw to a close, as Van Cleef’s exotic looks didn’t garner him much employment in Hollywood) and introduced a new anti-hero in the form of Cuban-born Tomas Milian.

The Big Gundown was written by the gifted Sergio Donati, who had already worked on the screenplay for Leone’s For A Few Dollars More without credit.  Working from a story by Fernando Salinas, he sought to temper Sollima’s penchant for leftist grandstanding by placing more emphasis on action and visual storytelling as opposed to ideological grandstanding and long-winded speeches.  Their sometimes uneasy collaboration yielded a film of subtle power and beauty.  Sollima’s basic points about the corrupt upper class and political shenanigans come through loud and clear, but the film does not sacrifice entertainment value in the process.  The character of Cuchillo is a fascinating addition to the rogues gallery of Italian western archetypes, worthy of inclusion alongside Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name or Franco Nero’s Django.  He’s a Mexican and a peasant – and on that level he’s an ideal scapegoat for Braxton’s political maneuvering.  The fact that he is innocent of what he is accused of matters little to Brokston, but Sollima and Donati sweeten the deal by making him into an unsavory character who is fully capable of committing despicable acts. He’s a complex character, by turns sympathetic and off-putting, and he stands in relief against the stoic Corbett.  Corbett is closer in tone to the cynical anti-hero embodied by Eastwood, but Van Cleef gives subtle clues as to his basically decent nature which makes him a more readily identifiable heroic figure in the long run.

Van Cleef and Milian both attack their roles with the enthusiasm of actors looking to make an impression on the audience.  Van Cleef had struggled for years in Hollywood, typically playing shifty henchmen to the main bad guys in westerns, the kind of thankless parts that afforded him a few juicy moments and a death scene early in the picture.  Legend has it that Leone remembered him from High Noon and was so impressed with his walk that he told his assistant to sign him on the spot, sooner than risk being put off by a bad reading.  Van Cleef was ready to throw in the towel when this fortuitous bit of casting occurred, and he would spend the next decade top lining Italian westerns and action films of varying quality.  The Big Gundown is certainly one of his best showcases, allowing him to display intelligence, sly humor and an ability to throw a mean – and convincing – punch when called upon to do so.  Milian had come from a background of doing “intellectual” films ( he had played the lead in Luchino Visconti’s segment of Boccaccio 70) and his casting was seen as a risky move.  Audiences warmed to his wily rascal routine and he would become a major star in westerns, gialli and police thrillers for the next decade.  His character of Cuchillo would be so popular, in fact, that Sollima would bring him back for a decidedly inferior sequel, Run Man Run (1968).  The supporting cast is dominated by American actor Walter Barnes, who gives a scene stealing performance as the corrupt Brokston.  Gerard Herter (Caltiki the Immortal Monster) is a blast as the wonderfully Teutonic marksman, Baron von Schulenberg, while the gorgeous Nieves Navarro (later to be billed as Susan Scott in many a sexy giallo) has a field day as the nymphomaniac widow with a taste for S&M.  Genre veterans like Frank Brana, Fernando Sancho and Luis Barboo also show up in smaller roles.

Sollima directs with a tremendous flair.  The widescreen compositions look wonderful throughout, the actions scenes are very well staged and the story never drags.  He clearly has more on his mind than just blowing up the scenery, but he manages to keep his propensity for “message filmmaking” in check, ensuring that viewers not sympathetic to his basic point of view should still have fun with the film.  Sollima would go on to direct other fine films in other genres – including the Charles Bronson thriller Violent City and the wonderful Revolver with Oliver Reed – but The Big Gundown remains one of his most enduring and enjoyable pictures.  The impact is heightened by a tremendous score by Ennio Morricone.  The opening song, performed by Christy (who also sang the wonderful “Deep Deep Down” in Mario Bava’s Diabolik), is bound to be a love it or hate it proposition; personally, I love it.


The Big Gundown has had a checkered past on home video, emerging in various releases of varying lengths, quality, even legality.  This new release from Grindhouse Releasing is bound to become the gold standard – indeed, it is arguably the finest release of a Spaghetti Western on home video to date; you can take that to the bank.  The blu ray/DVD combopack includes two edits of the film.  The US release has been restored to include three scenes previously cut by Columbia Pictures – the 95 minute version is in English and is arguably the most audience-friendly edition of the film.  The full length 110 minute director’s cut is included on disc two, and it is in Italian only, with English subtitles.  The longer edit is certainly well worth watching, but the 95 minute version arguably gets the basic point across in a tighter, more focused manner.  Both edits are in remarkably good condition.  The 2.40/16×9/1080p transfers look superb, with only a bit of dupey looking footage in evidence during the scene where Van Cleef tries to get the jump on Milian as the latter is getting a shave.  The shots in question look rough in both edits, so that may well be an issue with the original lab work.  The film looks sharp, colorful and rich throughout.  Grain is evident, as it should be, and the textures are marvelously detailed.  This is simply a fantastic looking presentation all around.


Audio options include the original Italian and English dubs, both in mono.  The longer cut is in Italian only, while the US version is in English.  Van Cleef and Barnes provide their own voices for the English track.  Both tracks are in very good shape, with clear dialogue and distortion free music.  An isolated music and effects track is included on the US cut, while the Italian has a isolated stereo music track.


This is one stacked special edition.  Extras commence on the US edit, with a running commentary track by western film authorities C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke.  They provide a very good overview of the Italian western and of The Big Gundown’s place in the scheme of things.  It’s an interesting talk, with very little dead air and precious little repetition.  Disc one also includes interviews with Sollima, Milian and Donati.  There are two interviews with Sollima and two with Donati, but Milian’s is arguably the most interesting, with the opinionated actor holding forth on his views on acting and his memories of Sollima, Lucio Fulci and others.  Assorted trailers and stills galleries are also included, and there are a couple of worthwhile Easter Eggs hidden as well.  Disc two includes an optional text-only music commentary track, which goes into some of Morricone’s methods as well as some of the differences in editing between the US and Italian versions.  It’s an interesting extra, worth looking at.  Trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing titles are also included.  A DVD edition of the US edition is included, which contains some – but not all – of the bonus materials.  The fourth disc is the complete soundtrack by Morricone on CD.  Liner notes by Joyner and Parke round out a very definitive package.  One can only hope that Grindhouse Releasing picks up more of these wonderful films…

Film: ***** out of *****

Video: ***** out of *****

Audio: **** out of *****

Extras: ***** out of *****

A Bullet for the General: Blu Ray Review

Friday, June 1st, 2012

A Bullet for the General (1967)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Damiano Damiani; Screenplay by Salvatore Laurani and Franco Salinas; Starring Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski, Lou Castel, Martine Beswick, Jaime Fernandez, Andrea Cecchi, Aldo Sanbrell

An American (Lou Castel) infiltrates a gang of Mexican revolutionaries lead by the charismatic El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonte), but his motives have nothing to do with futhering their cause…

The Spaghetti Western blossomed into an international phenomenon in 1964 with the release of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.  Leone was not the first Italian to tackle the old west – Italians had been dabbling in the genre as far back as the silent era – but he was the one who hit on the ideal formula, and his success spawned a veritable tidal wave of imitations and cash-ins.  Leone’s slightly cockeyed epic also helped to make a star of TV actor Clint Eastwood, and others would also see their careers reiginited (Lee Van Cleef, formerly a minor bit player in Hollywood, for example) or rise to international prominence.  Gian Maria Volonte belongs to the latter category – already revered in Italy as one of the finest actors in Europe, Volonte’s over the top turn as the villain in Fistful – an act he improved upon in Leone’s follow up, For a Few Dollars More (1965) – brought him to the attention of moviegoers around the globe.  Yet, while actors like Van Cleef – or Tomas Milian or Franco Nero – would embrace typecasting in a slew of cheaply produced westerns, Volonte’s political  activisim would prompt him to branch out in other directions.  Not surprisingly, he soon parted ways with the avowedly unpolitical Leone and his forays in the Spaghetti Western would be few and far between; the ones that drew him back, of course, would play into his political fervor.

A Bullet for the General therefore emerges as one of the most overtly ‘left wing’ of Spaghetti Westerns.  It is also something of a send up of the genre, with director Damiano Damiani poking fun at the conventions and finding ways to trump expectations at every turn.  The setup is simple enough, but it evolves in surprising ways.  The mysterious American is sidelined in favor of the considerably more interesting Mexican revolutionary figure, though this may have more to do with the casting than anything else.  As the story unfolds, the tone varies from light to dark, gradually lurching towards full fledged comedy of manners before ending on a more sober – and politically impassioned – note.

Volonte dominates the proceedings as El Chuncho.  He clearly relished playing the character, and he does a commendable job of giving it real shading.  El Chuncho is a fairly typical opportunist at the start of the picture, but he evolves into a more sympathetic figure as the drama unfolds.  He is a revolutionary poseur who evolves into a truly red blooded activist over time.  The American is played by baby faced Lou Castel, familiar to Euro Cult enthusiasts for his turns in such erotic tinged gialli as Umberto Lenzi’s Orgasmo (1968).  Castel was never the most interesting of actors, but he does a competent job – Damiani clearly favors Volonte over him anyway, so his main function is to keep out of the kinetic star’s limelight, which he accomplishes gracefully enough.  Klaus Kinski is on hand to play the most unlikely Mexican revolutionary imaginable, but he gives a committed, intense performance; he’s not very believable as Volonte’s brother, on the face of it, but the script is sensible enough to comment on their lack of physical similarity (they sprang from the same mother, but they had different fathers).  Kinski nails the character’s intense spirituality and, of course, has no problem channeling the proper wild-eyed ferocity.  Sultry Martine Beswick (Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde) is on hand to lend a bit of romatic interest, and she manages to make her character more spunky and determined than the usual Spaghetti Western heroine.  Andrea Checchi (Black Sunday) and Aldo Sanbrell (For a Few Dollars More) are also on hand to lend solid support.

Director Damiani – whose subsequent credits include the likes of How To Kill a Judge and Amityville II: The Possession – keeps the action moving at a good pace.  He does a great job with the various big set pieces, but never loses sight of the human drama the core of the picture.  The relationship between the American and El Chuncho makes for a very interesting dynamic, with a slight hint of homosexuality creeping into the proceedings.  The comedic elements are smoothly integrated, and there’s never a sense that Damiani is thumbing his nose at the genre – merely that he is having a bit of fun with it.  Technical credits are quite accomplished, though the score by Luis Bacalov and Ennio Morricone isn’t one of their more memorable compositions – truth be told, the main theme sounds like it was just slightly retuned from Morricone’s score for an earlier – and inferior – Spaghetti Western, titlted Tepeppa.


Blue Undergound has gone all out for their new BD release of A Bullet for the General.  The disc includes two edits of the film – the familiar US theatrical edit, as well as the slightly longer International edit.  Both cuts are in good shape, and are presented in 2.35/16×9/1080p.  Colors are strong, detail is as strong as the materials will allow, and there’s a nice coating of grain on the image.  This being a Techniscope film, there are of course limitations in terms of sharpness and clarity, but all told this is avery satisfactory presentation of the film.


Audio options include the English and Italian dubs, both in DTS-HD mono.  The English track is a bit wooden (none of the actors provide their own dubbing, so far as I can tell), making the more expressive Italian track preferable by a wide margin.  The Italian track is also in better shape, sounding more full bodied than the somewhat muffled English track.


In addition to porting over the extras from the old Anchor Bay release – trailers, poster and still gallery, and a too-short on-camera interview with Damiani – BU have also included a second disc, dedicated to a DVD presentation of the feature length documenatry Gian Maria Volonte: Un Attore Contro.  This comprehensive look at the life and career of the great actor/political activist runs a little under 2 hours and should have fans salivating to see more of his films released to DVD and Blu Ray.  The transfer suffers from limitations in the source materials – it was shot for Italian TV, is not in HD, and the clips utilized look a little rough – but the comments and insights from so many of the actor’s surviving friends and colleagues makes for a fascinating portrait of a complex artist and human being.


A fine Spaghetti Western gets a Grade A release from Blue Underground.

Film: **** out of *****

Video: **** out of *****

Audio: **** out of *****

Extras: ***** out of *****

The CineFiles: The Man With No Name Trilogy

Monday, April 25th, 2011

AIM FOR THE HEART!!! The boys are back and they’re blazing six guns. In this episode they discuss the Man With No Name Trilogy. And Edwin ruminates over his favorite spaghetti sauce.