A clean-cut young man rides into an impoverished town and volunteers to retrieve their stolen gold. When asked his name, he replies: Bill Grayson (Peter Lee Lawrence) and is promptly punched in the face! It turns out Bill's father, Colonel Grayson, was thought to have made off with the gold that intended to revive the Southern states after the American Civil War. Bill maintains Colonel Grayson was innocent and is driven to avenge both his father's death and that of his late brother. After a riotous punch-up with uncharitable locals, Bill is waylaid by Charro (Guglielmo Spoletini) who claims he served as a scout for Colonel Grayson. Charro confirms Grayson was betrayed and murdered by his own lieutenants. Together the dysfunctional duo track down and punish the traitors one by one, retrieving the money, piece by piece. Yet throughout their adventures Bill is unsure how far he can trust Charro.
Technically a paella western or chorizo western, depending on your Spanish food-related genre moniker of choice, this Spanish-Italian co-production has an interestingly serio-comic tone. Which has proven to be an issue for devotees of European westerns who on the whole tend to disdain any comic flavour to their grim and gritty spaghetti fare. Yet One By One... Without Pity is not strictly a slapstick western like the later hit They Call Me Trinity (1970) nor, mercifully, an out-and-out spoof like the risible misfire For a Few Dollars Less (1966). In fact it does a relatively decent job balancing a solid story with fairly weighty themes and rousing action set-pieces with broadly comic sequences. As was routinely the case with Italian genre films, the plot mimics elements from a far more famous film. In this instance Sergio Leone's seminal The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), specifically the uneasy alliance between Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and Eli Wallach's Mexican bandit Tuco. On top of that a flashback sequence lifts both a plot point and key image from Giulio Questi's excellent Django Kill! (1967) wherein a hand rises from a grave denoting the lone survivor of a bloody massacre.
The heart of the story, co-devised by writers Eduardo M. Brochero, Odoardo Fiory, Tito Carpi and genre-hopping Italian workhorse Marino Girolami (of Zombie Holocaust (1980) infamy), is the homoerotic tension between the cynical, mercenary Charro and seemingly upstanding Bill. Throughout the film each character has the chance to bump off the other yet, despite conflicting values, they feel compelled to stick together. Charro acts as Bill's mentor while Bill seemingly tries to draw out Charro's humanity until the plot springs a surprise that, while amusingly cynical, arguably detonates its core themes and underlining story arc for the sake of a cheap shock. The performances of the lead actors are fairly compelling, in particular the enigmatic hero portrayed by Peter Lee Lawrence. The handsome blonde-haired German actor was a staple of European westerns before his untimely death from a form of brain cancer in 1974. Lawrence was married to Seventies Euro-horror actress Cristina Galbo and it is said her powerful performance in The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) was in part the result of her tragic and very recent bereavement. Spanish director Rafael Romero Marchent was more active and prolific as an actor (right up until the mid-Noughties) but also penned western screenplays for his brother, Eduardo Romero Marchent whom Spanish film fans supposedly rate the superior director. Rafael debuted as a director with the western Hands of a Gunfighter (1965). He made several films in the genre including Garringo (1969), which many rate his best work, but also dabbled in the Mexican wrestler/horror genre with Santo vs. Doctor Death (1974) and giallo with The Student Connection (1974) starring Ray Milland and Sylva Koscina. He continued directing into the mid-Nineties though largely miniseries for television.
Although One By One... Without Pity remains highly watchable with some laudable merits, choppy editing renders several plot points borderline incomprehensible. For one thing, Bill romances with not one but two lovely ladies: Jenny (Monica Millesi) and Dolly (Dyanik Zurakowska) who arrive from nowhere then disappear just as abruptly. The lack of a strong central villain is another regrettable flaw given the plot keeps introducing then bumping off new antagonists to repetitive effect. Nonetheless the characters are compelling, the action and comedy melds well together and while undeniably derivative the plot springs a few neat flourishes.