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  Fast-Hand Is Still My Name A Fistful of Pain
Year: 1973
Director: Mario Bianchi
Stars: Sergio Ciani, William Berger, Frank Brana, Fernando Bilbao, Gilberto Galimberti, Celine Bessy, Francisco Sanz, Welma Truccolo, Aldo Cecconi
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: At the end of the American Civil War the maniacal Machedo (William Berger) leads a band of Confederate renegades terrorizing the West. Union officer Captain Jeff Madison (Sergio Ciani) is hot on their trail but returns to find the outlaws have taken over his fort. Bound captive and brutally tortured, Madison watches helpless as Machedo massacres all his men before shooting his gun-hand and leaving him for dead. Two years later Machedo and his gang ride roughshod over the territory. They rob a stagecoach, burn down a farm then rob the town bank, hiding a fortune in gold aboard a hearse. All goes according to plan until two of Machedo's men are killed and the gold is stolen by a mysterious gunfighter in black.

Hmm, who could he be? While Mario Bianchi tries to weave an aura of mystery around our black-clad hero, obscuring his face or else filming him from a distance, he is obviously Jeff Madison. What is more surprising is how oddly ineffectual a hero Madison turns out to be. While Machedo devises elaborate schemes, guns people down left and right and even enjoys the film's gratuitous sex scene, Jeff broods, drinks whisky, gets locked in jail by the town sheriff (Aldo Cecconi) only to get beaten all over again by Machedo's cronies. And branded with a hot iron! As Italian westerns went into decline filmmakers began to substitute style with sadism, partly in response to the blood and guts approach of Sam Peckinpah though also in a desperate bid to draw punters. Alongside the infamous Cut-Throats Nine (1972) (set to be remade with Mads Mikkelson!) Fast-Hand Is Still My Name ranks among the nastiest, most violent spaghetti westerns. Bianchi dishes out plenty of blood and grue and heaps humiliation on the hero. Jeff is not only tortured, beaten and branded but in one memorably unpleasant scene repeatedly spat on by each of Machedo's gang, to the point where he seems less interested in avenging injustice than his lost dignity.

Frankly, Jeff's conspicuous vulnerability is a trifle hard to swallow given muscular star Sergio Ciani looks like he could snap William Berger and company like twigs. In fact Ciani was a former sword and sandal star. Acting under the screen name Alan Steel he parlayed a stint as Steve Reeves' body double into lead roles in films like Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964) and 3 Avengers (1964). Most notably, Ciani headlined a key transitional film in Italian cinema: Pierro Pierotti's interesting genre mash-up Hercules and the Treasure of the Incas (1964) which was begun as a traditional peplum (the Italian phrase for sword and sandal films) then turned into a spaghetti western after the success of A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Here alas, Ciani proves among the least charismatic leads in an spaghetti western. He lets his porn star moustache do the emoting. William Berger walks away with the movie as the sneering, petty Machedo, a name more befitting a Mexican bandit than a Southerner but that's Italian westerns for you. Even with Berger going out of his way to be as repugnant as possible, the film ambles along, competent but not often compelling with a lot of padded scenes. Given the relationship between Machedo and bar girl Mary Ann (Welma Truccolo) amounts to very little, the sex scene seems included solely to get some breasts in the movie, pointing the way to Mario Bianchi's later career in soft and hardcore pornography. The son of fellow exploitation director Roberto Bianchi, Mario proved even more prolific than his old man. Along with other westerns including The Masked Thief (1971) and Kill the Poker Player (1972) he dabbled in crime thrillers and other genres though his most widely known film might be trashy sexploitation-horror effort Satan's Baby Doll (1982).

Gianni Ferrio's smooth grooves make the longeurs a little easier to bear and include a sublime jazz theme song performed by sultry chanteuse Ann Collin. Overall it is a great soundtrack in search of a better movie, proving conclusively that protracted torture scenes can be really boring without an underlining point. One poor unfortunate has his groin twisted (ouch!), gets branded with a hot poker, beaten then shot for no real reason than to pad out the running time. On the other hand a streak of perverse humour runs throughout including minor villains named Quincy and Jones and a priceless scene where Mary Ann muses someone must hate Machedo an awful lot before, genuinely shocked, he replies: "Impossible! I'm such a lovable guy." Late in the game the plot wheels out Swan (Celine Besy), Jeff's Native American love interest in a fetching fringed mini-dress, but does nothing with her nor even bothers to explain anything about the ailing old man she brings along. Swan's devotion, which includes saving Jeff's life, earns her little beside a faintly patronizing comment ("You are very sweet. I will try not to hurt you") before he abandons her at the end for his own inexplicable, unexplained reasons. At least the final showdown adds a little excitement to an otherwise dreary film including a surprise twist involving a fake hand with a trick gun that suggests Bianchi might have known about the alternate happy ending to Sergio Corbucci's nihilistic western The Great Silence (1968).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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