DEATH RIDES A HORSE (DA UOMO AUOMO) (director: Giulio Petroni; screenwriter: Luciano Vincenzoni; cinematographer: Carlo Carlini; editor: Eraldo Da Roma; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Lee Van Cleef (Ryan), John Phillip Law (Bill), Anthony Dawson (Manina), Mario Brega (One-Eye), Luigi Pistilli (Wolcott), Carla Cassola (Betsy), José Torres (Pedro); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfonso Sansone; United Artists; 1968-Italian)
“…the film has the allure of watching Van Cleef and Law team up.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A revenge spaghetti western that features to good effect the duo of an older master gunslinger, Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), and the youngster, Bill (John Phillip Law). As a child Bill hides under the cupboards of his ranch house and witnesses the gang rape and killing of his blonde mother, and also the killing of his father and his older sister by a vicious gang of Mexicans. All of the gang’s faces are set in his memory, and on the chest of one there’s a tattoo of four aces. As the gang departs, they set the house on fire. An unseen stranger rescues him and he recovers a spur from one of the gang’s horses as they ride away, which he keeps on the wall of his house. It is now 15 years later and he has become a fast draw bent on revenge, so much so that he refuses to take the sheriff’s job until he finds the killers of his parents.
Ryan is released from prison after serving 15 years for a crime he was framed for. He’s set on getting revenge on the gang that turned him over to the law, and returns to the same town Bill resides in and kills two of the gang members as he sets a trap for them in his hotel room. The sheriff recognizes the spur markings as the same as the one Bill has hung on his wall and rides out to the ranch to tell Bill. It’s now apparent that Ryan and Bill are after the same gang.
Bill tracks down Ryan in the hills, but the wily gunslinger knew he was being followed and gets the drop on him. He tells Bill he wants first crack at the gang, and leaves Bill’s horse 10 miles away. In town, Ryan demands of Manina (Dawson), who now owns the bar in town and is the guy with the four aces’ tattoo, $15,000 for payment for his jail time of 15 years. Manina stalls to make the payment tomorrow, but Bill comes into town and kills him before Ryan collects his money. Thereby Ryan takes Bill’s horse again and goes to the next town in pursuit of the rest of the gang. In this town he meets Wolcott (Luigi Pistilli), another gang member who has gained a position of authority. But Wolcott lays a trap for him after promising him payment and keeps him locked up in his cellar as his gang robs the town of a million dollars they have in the bank. They escape and frame Ryan. But Bill busts him out of jail and this time he takes Ryan’s horse and goes to Mexico to pursue Wolcott and his gang.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.
The film builds to its conclusion as the duo fight together against Wolcott and his large gang. Bill at this time learns that Ryan was the mystery stranger that rescued him 15 years ago and that he was part of that gang but did not participate in the killings, as he came in late and said he would have stopped it if he could. The tension builds as to how Bill will react.
“Death” was a stiffly acted routine formulaic spaghetti oater, with hardly any redeeming human values. The production values were low in every aspect, but nevertheless the film has the allure of watching Van Cleef and Law team up. It was remade in 1971 as Viva Django as part of the long running Django series.
REVIEWED ON 12/6/2002 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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