Red Sun (1971)

Dir: Terence Young - Cast: Charles Bronson, Alain Delon, Toshirô Mifune, Ursula Andress, Capucine, Lee Burton, Anthony Dawson, Bart Barry, John Hamilton - Music: Maurice Jarre

The film is set in 1870. The Japanese emperor wishes to express his respect to the US president by offering him a precious samurai sword. It'll be brought to him by train, escorted by the Japanese governor and two samurai. The train is robbed by gang of outlaws, led by Delon and Bronson. The robbery is successful, but the greedy Delon wants to keep everything for himself, including the precious samurai sword, and tries to kill his partner. Bronson survives, but is then forced by the Japanese governor to retrieve the sword with the help of samurai Mifune. The samurai wants to kill Delon rightaway, but Bronson wants to catch him alive, in order to get the loot from the train robbery...

By 1971 the European western had come to a crisis. Sergio Leone seemed no longer interested in making westerns and pale imitations of the Trinity comedies dominated the market. The French-Spanish-Italian Red Sun was more a less an ultimate effort to breath new life in the European production of large scale westerns. To cover all possible markets, Charles Bronson (fresh from Leone) was cast alongside the sophisticated French cult actor Alain Delon, Japanese Kurosawa regular Mifune and Bond girl Ursula Andress. The casting of both Bronson and Mifune also meant that one of the Magnificent Seven was in one movie with one of the Seven Samurai. Like the cast, the script was a bit of a mishmash: Red sun is all but serious but it's not a real comedy either and some of the violence is quite graphic for a mainstream production aimed at large audiences. Most contemporary reviews were negative, but today's comments tend to be more positive: being brought up with Indiana Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger, younger generations seem to be more receptive to the movie's offbeat concoction.

Like some critics have mentioned, the film's casting was not only smart (from a commercial point of view), but also quite bizarre. Mifune's character, or at least his behavior, seems close to the characters played by Lee van Cleef in many of his European westerns: he's a stoic, unflinching professional, marching through to the film's finale with no more than a grim on his face, then taking out his sword (replacing Van Cleef's usual collection of fire-arms) to prove his efficiency. Platina blond Swiss actress Andress, on the other hand, seems an odd choice for a character who behaves like a madcap señorita most of the time. Because Mifune only has a handful of lines throughout the movie (his English wasn't exactly water proof), Bronson's part was rewritten on the set: in complete contrast to the strong-willed, taciturn roles, his character is surprisingly verbose and lively, often verging on hyperactivity. If you wanted to have at all cost a French actor of the 'angry young men generation', in a eurowestern, the sophisticated Alain Delon was probably the most unlikely choice (it always surprises me that Belmondo was never asked), but he seems to enjoy himself very well as the black clad "Gauche" (= Left, his does everything with his left hand).

Red Sun is not a great movie, but it's a lot better than most other east-meet-west westerns of the decade, and far less ludicrous. It makes at least some sense and the action is not entirely bonkers. Everything is thrown in to make it worthwhile, including Indians, hookers and a lot of fake blood. Furthermore it's beautifully shot, using the wonderful Spanish locations to excellent effect. Bond director Terence Young (yes, he directed that one scene with Andress) directs anonymously, but the movie is beautifully shot, using the Spanish locations to excellent effect, and the finale, set in a burning cane field, is a well-crafted, spectacular set piece, as good as they come in the genre.

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