Professor Brett Fletcher (Gian Maria Volontè) used to work diligently as a schoolteacher in Boston, but now his consumption is getting worse, he is forced to accept he may soon be dead and decides to travel down South for the climate, perhaps prolonging his life. However, once he gets there and tries to settle, he is minding his own business when a sheriff appears with a captive in tow - Beauregard Bennett (Tomas Milian), the leader of the notorious Wild Gang. The humane Fletcher offers the parched villain water - and changes his life...
Face to Face, or Faccia a faccia if you were Italian, was one of the Spaghetti Westerns made by director and writer Sergio Sollima, the merits of which continue to be debated among the genre's aficionados (either this or The Big Gundown is thought to be his best). Sollima was one of many creators of these entertainments to be attracted by the possibilities offered by their political dimensions, which presumably is also what drew the famously, fervently Communist Volontè to such projects, but the trouble with that is that they tended to make heavy weather of their themes.
Such was the case here, as while it was a perfectly enjoyable Western on its storytelling terms, the social elements were something that dragged down what could have been one of the better adventure yarns from this period. It was inspired by Sollima's wartime experiences, where he witnessed good men turned bad by the conflict, yet saw the opposite happen too, an intriguing prospect in theory but proving rather lead-footed in practice. Fortunately what carried the audience through the overstated morality were the performances of the two leads, even by then seasoned actors for this type of production.
As Fletcher offers Beau the water, the baddie sees the chance to turn the tables on his captors and shoots them all, taking his would-be Good Samaritan as a hostage. Although Fletcher protests that he's dying anyway (Volontè is given an ashen-faced makeup job throughout to emphasise his character's poor health) the bandit won't listen, yet what do you know? That's right, once they're out in the wilderness together, the other members of Bennett's gang having been rounded up, they reach an understanding and Fletcher begins to be intrigued by this man who seizes life by the scruff of the neck.
As not much about Face to Face was subtle, you notice the changes in the personalities of the leads pretty much from the first fifteen minutes, or the point where Fletcher is supposed to head off home on the train but instead opts to steal a horse and ride after the departing Bennett, calling after him all the way. There are complications, as a Pinkerton detective (William Berger) shows up with unclear motives, and various women intrude, but the real story is between the noble teacher and the dastardly outlaw, and how they swap places. It should be noted that it would be easier to take Milian seriously if he wasn't saddled with a curious pageboy bob, a hairdo that does him no favours and has been singled out as one of the worst in the genre, although Carole André's crowning glory almost beats it, but perhaps that's due to it being easier to discuss than the flat political message. There's good stuff here, but with a little tweaking it could have been a minor classic. Music by Ennio Morricone.
Italian director who turned in some of the best Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, as well as notable work in other genres. Made his debut in 1962 with a segment for the bawdy anthology Sex Can Be Difficult, but it was 1966's The Big Gundown that marked Sollima a director of intelligent, morally complex westerns. Face to Face and Run, Man, Run followed in the same vein, while Violent City and Revolver were tough, exciting thrillers. Largely worked in TV in the 80s and 90s.