The Moment to Kill (1968)

Dir: Giuliano Carnimeo - Cast: George Hilton, Walter Barnes, Horst Frank, Loni von Friedl, Carlo Alighiero, Renato Romano, Rudolf Schundler - Music: Francesco de Masi)

With Hilton as an ever-smiling, good-looking hero, and Barnes his guardian angel (but one who behaves more like a watch dog) this is often called a pre-Trinity. There's a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor (plus a few needlessly silly jokes), but don't be fooled: the film is firmly rooted in the tradition of the diehard spaghetti westerns. The body count is impressive, and the violence occasionally of a particularly gruesome nature.

Hilton & Barnes are two famous gunman, called Lord & Bull, who are invited to a southern western town by a local judge to retrace a gold reserve, hidden in town by a Confederate officer. Shortly after their arrival, the judge is killed, leaving them with only a few vague clues as to where the cold is hidden. Those clues are the name of a book, Camelot, and the name of a girl, Regina, the handicapped daughter of the colonel, who is held prisoner just outside of town by her evil uncle, Forrester. Lord & Bull save the girl, but then have to face an entire army of hired killers, engaged by Forrester to scare off others who might be interested in the gold.

The original story was written by Tito Carpi and Enzo G. Castellari, who was also supposed to direct the movie. When Castellari withdrew, Giuliano Carnimeo (Anthony Ascott) was brought in; it would be his first movie as an independent director and also his first collaboration with Carpi, with whom he would make several Sartana and Hallelujah movies in the years to come. Although the entire cast is looking for a hidden treasure, the film often works more like a thriller or detective movie; there are several unexpected plot-twists and the final revelation may come as complete surprise to most viewers.

The film opens with a location scene shot near the Grotte di Salone, near Rome, where Clint Eastwood recovered from his wounds in A Fistful of Dollars. It's a gloriously looking scene, but it's one of the few shot on location, in an otherwise very town bound movie. Stelvio Massi's cinematography is inventive, but the town settings give the film a bit of a cramped, almost claustrophobic look. Several scenes - among them a protracted shootout - are set in a slaughterhouse, most certainly an original idea, but the crew wasn't very happy with it. The film was shot in mid-summer, during a heat-wave, and the refrigerators of the slaughterhouse weren't functioning properly, causing a horrendous bad smell. George Hilton is okay here, but no more than that; his performance is rather restrained, his character more in line with the taciturn pistoleros from the world of Leone than with the madcap heroes he would play in the years to come. Both Barnes, as the guardian angel, and German actor Frank, as town boss Forrester's psychopathic son, have more interesting parts. But it's Loni von Friedl who walks, or better: rides away with the film in her wheelchair. Not bad for a handicapped girl in a man's movie.

With an intricate script and lots of action, but a rather claustrophobic setting, this is a bit of a half-baked movie. It's not a classic, but it's not bad either. Those who expect a comedy, will be deterred by the violence, which is occasionally quite extreme; those who like their westerns violent and nasty, maybe be put off by the sometimes quite silly jokes. But Francesco de Masi's eerie and melancholic score no doubt belongs to his very best. The song Walk by my side, sung by Raoul, will stay with you for days.

Note: The German title on the poster means 'Django, a Coffin full of Blood' - This was one of the fifty or so spaghetti westerns retitled in Germany to cash in on Corbucci landmark movie, which was particularly popular in Germany. The film has nothing to do with the Django character. Django never needed a guardian angel or watch dog!

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