Giubbe rosse / Killers of the Savage North
When one hears the name of director Joe D'Amato, one tends to think of super sleazy sex and violence romps such as Porno Holocaust, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Anthropophagus, and Caligula: The Untold Story (for a good overview of D'Amato's career, check this link out). He's pretty much tackled most of the subsects of the sleazy B-movie genre, and spent his final years primarily directing hardcore porno films. At the time of this film, D'Amato had already had his hand in several spaghettis, working with hack extraordinaire Demofilo Fidani on Django and Sartana Are Coming... It's the End as a cinematographer, and Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived in Eldorado as co-director, as well as involvement with Michele Lupo's Ben and Charlie, also as cinematographer. Surprisingly, his 1975 effort, Red Coat is a decent, entertaining film, with very little of the hackery that D'Amato was known for, and miles ahead of anything Fidani could ever crap out. As an interesting aside, it's the first film he directed under the "Joe D'Amato" moniker, as his real name was Aristide Massaccesi.
This one takes place sometime in the late 1800's, in the Canadian Rockies, a rather unusual place for a spaghetti. Genre regular (and often-Fidani star) Fabio Testi stars as Royal Canadian Mountie Corporal Bill Cormack. As the film opens, we quickly find out that his nemesis, a guy named Caribou (Guido Mannari), has escaped from jail, and is coming looking for him, for revenge. Through a series of flashbacks, we see that Bill and Caribou were close at one point, but Caribou's ever-increasing gambling habits (as well as ever-decreasing luck) led him down the wrong road... to murder, and Bill eventually ends up bringing him to justice. This is complicated further, as we come to find that Caribou's fianceé, Elizabeth, has fallen and love with and married Bill. Elizabeth is played by the beautiful Lynne Frederick (who also starred with Testi in Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse).
Back in the future, we come to find that Elizabeth has passed on from an illness, leaving their son Jimmy with Bill to take care of him alone. Caribou manages to kidnap Jimmy, and at this point, we also find out there's a gang of outlaws that Caribou apparently screwed out of a deal to split some gold with. The gang is led by a guy named Wolf (Claudio Undari). Bill gets wind of all this and there's some dramatic dog sled chase scenes going on, something unique to the genre,as far as I know. As Jimmy is held captive, there is a time where he and Caibou drive their dogsled into a deep pit, and Jimmy helps Caribou out. Caribou later helps Jimmy when he becomes sick, and they develop some sort of Stockholm-syndrome kind of bond.
Alas, all things come to an end, leaving us with a final showdown. An unusual turn of events leaves Bill and Caribou standing against the Wolf gang (with a neat surprise), but in the end, as usual, the bad guys lose.
I found this little-known film somewhat enjoyable, for a few reasons. First off, the acting was good; even though Testi's been in a lot of Fidani movies, he's still a pretty decent actor, and the same goes for most of the cast, as there's none of the overacted histronics that are somtimes typical of the genre. I admit, this is the first film I've seen by Joe D'Amato (although I was well aware of his reputation), and judging from this alone, he seems to be a rather competent filmaker in regards to technique; there is great cinematography, a well-paced storyline, decent plot, and the themes of betrayal and loss are dealt with a good degree of substance. He handled the directing, the cinematography, and shared writing credit with Claudio Bernabei and longtime collaborator (and spaghetti star) George Eastman. The wintry backdrop made this film a pleasure to watch, often reminding me of The Great Silence. I suspect it was filmed in the Pyreneés, as many wintry spaghettis are, and it looked excellent. What is interesting about the "winter westerns" is how easily the cold becomes an adversary to the characters, as the desert does in the conventional westerns. Often, they are not just battling each other; they are in a fierce struggle with nature itself, and it often challenges them as much as or more than their human adversaries, as it almost does in Caribou and Jimmy.
One could probably consider this one of the so-called "twilight" westerns, the moniker given to the later, post-comedy westerns, and in many of the twilights, the studio sets were in negligent disrepair (due to the decline in the number of westerns being filmed), and that disrepair adds to the cold wasteland feel of the film, with lots of snow, mud, and fog.
If I were to complain about something, I found the notion of Jimmy rescuing his captor from the pit somewhat perplexing. If I were in a situation where the guy who shot my dog and then kidnapped me had fallen into a pit, I would've taken off quickly, perhaps throwing a few rocks at him, too. However, it a plot device that we later see come to fruition where Caribou shows incredible compassion for the boy when he's sick. Mannari's Caribou is not your typical one-dimensional spaghetti bad guy.
The always amusing American actor Lionel Stander makes an appearance in here as the heavy-drinking doctor who saves Jimmy. He's always fun to watch.
As I said before, this film is not too well-known, and quite rare; even our own resident wise sage Scherpschutter hadn't heard about it. I'm not even certain of when it was actually made. The iMDB page for this shows it was made in 1974 but not released until 1977. As far as I know, aside from VHS releases, there's a decent DVD release available (which this was) over at Trash Cinema. Although by no means an incredible film, it was enjoyable, and considering the quality and subject matter of D'Amato's later work, it's a bit of an anomaly in that regard.