Any Gun Can Play (1967)

Dir: Enzo G. Castellari – Cast: George Hilton, Gilbert Roland, Edd Byrnes, Kareen O’Hara, José Torres, Gerard Herter

poster for Any Gun Can Play

Three men, looking like Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef and Franco Nero ride into town, but they’re not the main characters of this movie. They’re evil gunmen and someone is waiting for them, a bounty hunter dressed in black. The gunmen meet a gravedigger who is riding three coffins out of town and find out that they are destined for them. The next moment they are shot by the bounty hunter.

Any Gun Can Play freely borrows from more illustrious genre examples, but it’s all done with a wink of the eye and without any possible disrespect. In fact, the wonderful opening scene is one of the best in-jokes the genre has produced. With three men vying for a hidden treasure, double-crossing each other almost constantly, the film rips off the famous premise of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Italian title Vado, l’ammazzo … e torno (literally I go, I kill him … and come back) is generally considered to be one of the best titles in history. Sergio Leone had plans for a film with this title, but the project never came off the ground and the only thing we know about it, is that was supposed to feature Marcello Mastroianni. The line that gave the film it’s Italian title, is spoken by George Hilton, immediately after he has killed the three outlaws and shows a poster from a fourth gunman with a price on his head, a Mexican bandit called Montero: I go, I kill him, and come back!

The bounty hunter (Hilton) accidently witnesses a train robbery, executed by this Montero (Roland in his first SW appearance). The Mexicans fall out among themselves and Hilton starts to have second thoughts about killing Roland. There’s more money involved and maybe it would be wiser to team up with him. After Roland has killed the man who betrayed him, he is arrested and sentenced to death. Hilton saves him at the last moment, not knowing that Roland had a partner in crime for the train robbery, a treacherous bank employee (Byrnes) who is now in possession of a part of the medaillion that reveals where the gold is located.

With its mix of tongue-in-cheek humor, violent action and slapstick approach to the fisticuffs, the film unmistakably bears director Castellari’s imprint. Enzo G(irolami) Castellari, one of the most prolific directors of the genre, is probably best known for the twilight spaghetti Keoma and the Shakespeare adaption Johnny Hamlet, but he also gave some light-hearted impulses to the genre. Like Alberto de Martino’s Django shoots first (1966) this is early example of a spaghetti western that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Still, in spite of the burlesque opening scene the first half is rather straightforward and violent, with a well executed assault on a train and some cynical behavior of the bandits among themselves. It’s only halfway that the movie takes a unmistakably comical turn with a hilarious fistfight between Byrnes and Hilton (in his underwear!). The script takes enough turns to keep our attention, but Castellari has a tendency to over-elaborate some of his action scenes. A good example is a chase scene on a market place that begins well with some heavy punches launched, but ends up with Byrnes using trampolines to escape from his persecutors. Occasionally sliding of into silliness, the film nevertheless remains enjoyable, due to some great visual moments - the opening scene, Hilton’s remarkable, almost surrealistic appearance against a red background, the avalanche of dollars and the build-up to it – and some good performances.

Hilton was only second choice for the part of the bounty after – believe it or not – Charles Bronson, who said no to an invitation from Italy for the second time (he had also been invited for A Fistful of Dollars). Second choice or not, the part of the ever-smiling, nearly immoral adventurer/bounty hunter fits Hilton like a glove. French actor Roland seems an odd choice to play the literate Mexican bandit, but turns in a fine, laconic performance. As a European I had never heard of Edd Byrnes, but he seems to be a well-known television actor in the US; anyway, he was a pleasant surprise to me as the deliciously wicked white collar criminal with a fifties forelock (looks a little like the Fonz out West!).

There are two ways to watch this movie : there’s a good separate release from VCI and it’s also part of a 3DVD/9MOVIES box from St. Clair Vision. Not all films from this box are presented in widescreen and with acceptable image quality, but this one is. Watch it, it’s a pleasant one, not too violent, occasionally a bit silly, but always great fun.

Essential viewing.

 

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