Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead (1971)

Director: Giuseppe Vari

Starring: Klaus Kinski, Paolo Casella

More Info: IMDB

Plot: Dan Hogan and his gang have held up a bank for $100,000 in gold bars. They meet up at Jackal's Ranch, a weigh station for stage coaches. While waiting for the gold to arrive they encounter a stranger, John Webb, who wants half the gold in exchange for guiding them safely to Mexico. Reluctantly, Dan agrees and they set across the brutal desert for a race to the border with the Rangers hot on their tail. Is John who he says he is? Is he really after the gold or does he have an ulterior motive?

My Rating: 5/10

Would I watch it again? Nope.

Strange film for a Spaghetti Western. The opening credits (SEE ABOVE) feature a very unusual theme song that sounds like it'd be more at home in an early 70s disaster movie. And if you think that's slow, just watch the rest of the movie. Woof.

It's not so much that it's slow than it essentially has two locales. The first 48 minutes almost entirely takes place in a stage coach weigh station with the remaining 42 traipsing across the hot desert. It's pretty easy to get cabin fever with something like that.

One of the breaks in monotony during the first half occurs when Dan's gang (Dan hasn't made it there yet) is holed up in the weigh station when a stage coach arrives with three passengers, two being a husband (Oswald) and wife (Eleanor). Naturally, they want to leave and Eleanor's wealthy husband trys to bargain with the man who's holding them captive. Oswald ends up handing his wallet over to the bandit. Eleanor laughs maniacally and says with well-practiced bitch-like precision, "Now you can't buy anything with your money. Hahahahahaha!" to which he replies glaring at her, "I'm used to getting nothing for my money, especially where women are concerned." Oh, snap!

The first half reminds me of a similar situation in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936) with Bogart and his boys holding a handful of characters hostage in a California desert roadside bar.

Not bad for several days' ride through the desert, eh?

Not too long after Dan (Kinski) shows up he tries to make the moves on Eleanor and she's not very receptive. Later, after they're on the run, they all make refuge from a storm in a cave. He calls her to where he's sleeping and tells her it's time to pay her debt. She throws some bitch lines at him and finally complies, all the while insulting him. So Dan excuses himself and visits the bandit who's keeping watch to tell him that he can take the next hour off and go "collect the debt" waiting at his bunk and to also tell the next bandit to do the same when he's finished. That's a particularly nasty scene with a little bite to it.

Another memorable scene involves Eleanor running away from the group with Dan chasing after her. She runs right into a small area of quicksand and Dan backs off and plants himself down to gleefully watch her die as she suddenly changes her acerbic tone and pleads for her life, telling Dan that she now loves him. Ahahahahaha.

Dan Hogan's got the best seat in the house.

The performances are fine. Nobody stands out good or bad, really. Mario Migliardi's score is low-key and at times strange, even for a Spag, like when they're travelling across the hot, baren desert he's using marimbas and egg shakers!!! WTF? It strangely works but I couldn't help but feel that there could have been many possibilities that would have made the film feel not so slow.

Overall, that's what kills it - the pacing. It looked good, had good performances, director Vari throws in some really neat camera angles (that stand out even in a Spaghetti Western!) and an interesting (if you can call it that) score but the story was a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. There are a hell of a lot worse Spags than this but that doesn't help this particular film. Give it a pass. Move along 'cause there's nothing to see here.

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