And For a Roof, A Sky Full of Stars (1968)

Director: Giulio Petroni - Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Mario Adorf, Magda Konopka, Julie Menard, Anthony Dawson, Fédérico Boido, Franco Balducci, Sandro Dori, Cris Huerta, Victor Israel - Music: Ennio Morricone

The film opens with a scene that belongs to the most beautiful in the history of the spaghetti western. A stagecoach is attacked by a gang and all passengers are brutally killed. The gang members ride off but the camera remains with the victims, eventually lingering on the face of a blonde girl. A hand brushes the dust from her face and when a plaintiff musical theme starts filling the air, we look into the face of a young man in shock. He is joined by a second man, a passer-by who wanted to rob the victims from the valuable things the murderers have left behind, but is also swept of his feet by the sight of the massacre. While that plaintiff music continues, and the credits start rolling over the screen, the two men decide to bury the victims...

As a result of the mutual experience, the two become friends. The younger one, Tim, is a swindler, using his wit and charm to do people out of their money. The older one, Harry, is a bad-mannered, but basically good-natured drifter who lives from hand to mouth. Tim does not carry a gun because – says he - in the West there's less competition for a swift brain than for a pair of swift hands. Tim soon tricks his partner by stealing his dearest possessions, a few knuckles of gold. He invests them in a small circus (main attraction: a mermaid), and it seems a good investment, but when Harry catches up with him, he reduces the entire circus to ruins...

Like Death Rides a Horse, Petroni's most famous western, And for a Roof … is a sort of alternative buddy movie: the relationship between the two buddies is a very uneasy one, they fall out, become friends again, fall out again etcetera. It's also a very uneven movie. Soon after the opening scene, the film takes an unexpected, light-heated turn. A few minutes into the movie, we're in the middle of one of those (un)funny barroom brawls, and throughout the movie, the tone veers from comedy to drama and back. There are some great comedy moments - like Gemma talking himself into the house (and bed) of a young widow - but overall the film struggles to keep up with  the expectations created in that wonderful opening scene and lacks continuity. The drama only picks up when we find that the stage coach robbers from the opening scene, were in reality looking for Tim. Instead of a natural swindler, Tim is the fastest gun in the West, known to every man as Billy Boy, and he has killed two brothers of the leader of the stagecoach robbers, Roger Pratt. Ever since, the Pratt family is on his trail...

When I saw this film for the first time, I was disappointed. I never cared much for comedy westerns and the combination of drama and comedy seemed to work downright confusing in this particular case. But I liked it a lot more when I rewatched it recently. Director Petroni has infused his comedy with a melancholic tenderness that eventually makes us care about these two rascals. Gemma is nearly at his very best here, combining his athletic skills and boyish charm to maximum effect, and the combination with the chunky Mario Adorf works marvelously. The supporting actors are also quite good, with Anthony Dawson as the vengeful patriarch and Fédérico Boido a standout as his mean, ultra-mean son.

And for a Roof... is a forerunner of the Trinity movies, but the tone is bittersweet instead of ebullient, and the violence is still quite strong.

You can read J.D.'s review of this film, here.

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