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  Silver Saddle Son of a Gun
Year: 1978
Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Giuliano Gemma, Geoffrey Lewis, Sven Valsecchi, Ettore Manni, Donal O'Brien, Gianni Di Luigi, Cinzia Monreale, Licinia Lentini, Aldo Sambrell, Philippe Hersent, Sergio Leonardi, Karine Stampfer, Agnes Kalpagos, Anna Maria Tinelli, Juan Antonio Rubio
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: A ten year old boy avenges his father's death by shooting the gunfighter responsible. Years later the boy grows up to be Roy Blood (Giuliano Gemma), an outlaw lightning-quick with a gun but with a heart of gold and a nickname drawn from his distinctive silver saddle. Roy happens upon the aftermath of a stagecoach robbery where disheveled rogue Two-Strike Snake (Geoffrey Lewis) scavenges from the dead. However, loose morals notwithstanding, Snake turns out to be decent guy. He not only saves Roy's life but sets him up with a profitable job as a hired gun for Turner (Gianni Di Luigi), a sinister blonde dude forever fiddling with what looks like a Nineteenth century precursor to the Nintendo Game Boy. When Roy learns Turner wants him to shoot Thomas Barrett (Ettore Manni, the former sword and sandal star who famously shot off his own penis while filming Federico Fellini's City of Women (1980)!), the same wealthy tycoon who ordered his father's death, he volunteers to do so for free. But when the stagecoach bearing the intended victim reaches the graveyard, Roy is horrified to see the target is actually Barrett's nephew, ten year old Thomas Barrett Jr. (Sven Valsecchi).

Enzo G. Castellari's excellent gothic styled Keoma (1976) kicked off the final cycle of the spaghetti western genre, known among fans as 'Twilight westerns.' These films were largely characterized by a gloomy, grey-hued, haunted visual palette and a downbeat though elegaic tone yet Sella d'Argento or Silver Saddle stands out by virtue of a warmhearted, upbeat mood seemingly at odds with its brutal violence. Producer and star Giuliano Gemma wanted to make a family friendly western with an easygoing atmosphere. Director Lucio Fulci wanted to push the envelope with wall-to-wall gory violence. The result was, you guessed it, a family friendly romp peppered with wall-to-wall gory violence. Truth be told this seemingly incompatible mix is not quite so jarring as one might imagine. Part of that is down to scripter Adriano Bolzoni's well conceived and compelling plot which affords Roy Blood the chance to redeem the child tainted with blood inside himself by rescuing the little nephew of his nemesis.

Sven Valsecchi, a blonde moppet in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, is not quite as strong a child actor as the kid that plays the young Roy. Yet his apple-cheeked sweetness and impeccable manners endear him as much to the viewer as his reluctant cowboy companions. Fulci being Fulci he cannot resist having Thomas bound and whipped by Mexican bandit Garrincha (Aldo Sambrell) though, as unpleasant as it sounds, the scene is notably nowhere as graphic as the torture inflicted on women in his horror films. In fact the violence, while bloody, is not terribly excessive compared to Fulci's past and future work as he conveys the nastier elements through dialogue (Garrincha reminisces fondly about raping a nun) or arrives at the aftermath (the massacre of an entire monastery of monks). Unlike other Italian horror auteurs saddled with other genres when gothics fell out of favour, Fulci was pretty good with westerns, delivering the notable Massacre Time (1966) early into his career. The action sequences in Silver Saddle are among the best in the genre and showcase Fulci's flair with set-pieces (a shootout in a saloon worthy of John Woo, a battle at a ruined church where Roy improvises explosives to see of the banditos).

Sergio Salvati, Fulci's regular D.P. throughout his run of zombie movies, glides his fluid camera throughout a desolate landscape, ravaged by the elements and haunted by past misdeeds much like Roy Blood whose name itself encapsulates the film's schizophrenic nature. Part Roy Rogers, that most wholesome of movie cowboys, part bloody avenger in true uncompromising spaghetti western fashion. While inexplicably despised by some, the lovely theme song by Bixio, Frizzi and Temperci encapsulates Silver Saddle's themes very well. It is a film with moments of disarming sweetness, as when Thomas innocently tells one kindly prostitute he wishes he could buy the whorehouse so he can visit any time he pleases, or oddly wholesome sexiness as when whorehouse madame Miss Sheba (shapely Licinia Lentini) strips down to a form-fitting corset and stockings to distract the Sheriff while Roy sneaks away, full of nifty visual gags and bits of slapstick business energetically performed by the athletic Guliano Gemma. As charismatic as Gemma is, imported American co-star Geoffrey Lewis almost steals the show as scabby yet strangely moral scavenger Two-Strike Snake, a philosophical tramp not far removed from Jason Robards' bandit-with-a-heart-of-gold in Sergio Leone's masterful Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Strangely, Roy refrains from telling Thomas or his older sister Margaret (Cinzia Monreale, later the blind Emily in Fulci's The Beyond (1981)) why he hates the Barretts. Characters also habitually disappear then reappear throughout a ramshackle third act. Yet Silver Saddle remains lively, amusing and in all honesty, ranks among Fulci's best films.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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Lucio Fulci  (1927 - 1996)

Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.

The 70s and early 80s were marked by slick, hard-hitting thrillers like A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Don't Torture a Duckling and The Smuggler, while Fulci scored his biggest international success in 1979 with the gruesome Zombie Flesh Eaters. Manhattan Baby, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery were atmospheric, bloody slices of Gothic horror, and The New York Ripper set a new standard in misogynistic violence. Fulci's last notable film was the truly unique A Cat in the Brain in 1990, a semi-autobiographical, relentlessly gory comedy in which he also starred. Died in 1996 from a diabetic fit after several years of ill-health.

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