This is an overtly political spaghetti western from Damiano Damiani and, with its anti-American intervention message, itâ€™s still very relevant today. The story deals with an American who falls in with a group of Mexican bandits in order to get close to a revolutionary General, and forms a mutual friendship with their leader, El Chucho.
The film is a feast for the eyes as well as the brain, with Antonio Secchiâ€™s cinematography making the most of the Spanish locations, but itâ€™s the script by Salvatore Laurani and Franco Solinas that puts this among the best of the Italian westerns. The characters are well rounded and develop over the course of the film, thereâ€™s plenty of humour to balance the action, and it builds to an impressively restrained yet emotionally powerful climax.
Gian Maria VolontÃ¨, a familiar face to anyone whoâ€™s seen A Fistful of Dollars or For a Few Dollars More, plays El Chucho. The character develops from a loud, greedy and somewhat obnoxious killer into a fledgling revolutionary, a true man of the people and VolontÃ¨ brilliantly portrays that transformation, turning in a performance that is far more complex than your standard western, be it Italian or American.
By contrast, Lou Castel, as the American Tate, is restrained and emotionless. Itâ€™s a performace that may not be to everyoneâ€™s taste but for me it served as a nice counterpoint to VolontÃ¨, American reserve paired with Latin fire. Tate isnâ€™t explored anywhere near as much as Chucho, his motivation is money, but his chalk-and-cheese friendship with the bandit adds some colour to the character.
Also making an impression is Klaus Kinski as Chuchoâ€™s brother, El Santo, a crazy religious fanatic who believes his brother is selflessly aiding the revolutionaries. Kinski has a face thatâ€™s worth a thousand words and Damiani makes the most of it, Santo is the only truly selfless character in the film.
Luis EnrÃquez Bacalov is credited with the score but Ennio Morricone receives a supervisor credit and the spaghetti maestro certainly left his mark on the finished film. Morricone often wrote music he didnâ€™t receive full credit for (due to contractual issues) and it wouldnâ€™t surprise me if this was such a case.
Damiano Damianiâ€™s film is up there with those of the Sergioâ€™s (Leone, Corbucci and Sollima) and itâ€™s a shame he didnâ€™t make more westerns, only making one more (and that almost ten years later) the comedy A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe. If your only experience of Italian westerns is through Clint Eastwood then you should give this a try, itâ€™ll show you that thereâ€™s far more to them than you probably realised.