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  Payment in Blood The Quiffed, the Bad and the Sultry
Year: 1967
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Stars: Edd Byrnes, Guy Madison, Ennio Girolami, Luisa Baratto, Attilio Severini, Federico Boido, Adriana Facchetti, Alfredo Runachagua, Piero Vida, Giulio Maculani, Rosella Bergomonta
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: After the American Civil War former Confederate officer Major Blake (Guy Madison) and his rag-tag band of violent outlaws terrorize Texas. One of Blake's men, lethal Mexican gunman Chamaco (Ennio Girolami) murders a crippled war veteran after interrogating him about the whereabouts of a fortune in gold hidden by the late Confederate General Beauregard. Caught by the US cavalry, Chamaco faces a firing squad but at the last moment is sprung by sharp-shooting stranger Stuart (Edd Byrnes). Stuart claims he knows where to find the strongbox containing Beauregard's gold so Chamaco brings him to Blake's hideout. Suspicious at first, Blake and his equally mistrusting men eventually initiate Stuart into the gang after which he leads them back across the border to Durango in search of the gold.

Payment in Blood was the second spaghetti western Italian action auteur Enzo G. Castellari made with imported American TV star Edd Byrnes after Any Gun Can Play (1967). Making the trip to Italy worked out pretty well for a certain other American television actor called Clint Eastwood so Byrnes likely thought he had a fair shot at ditching his teen idol image as the hip-talking parking lot attendant Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip. Alas, it was not to be. Movie stardom eluded Byrnes as, aside from cult oddity Wicked, Wicked (1973) and a nostalgic cameo in Grease (1978), he remained a fixture of the small screen.

Known in Italian as 7 Winchester per un Massacro and in English under a bewildering array of alternate titles including Blake's Marauders, Renegade Riders and Professionals for a Massacre, Castellari's western blatantly steals from Sergio Leone's masterful The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) right down to the explosive opening credits. Which comes as no surprise given half the directors in Italy were riffing on Leone at the time. Structurally the plot, concocted by Castellari and co-writer Tito Carpi from a story by his father, director Marino Girolami (Zombie Holocaust (1980)), parallels the Leone film with the focus on three shifty protagonists, one of them a Mexican bandit, forming an uneasy alliance in search of a treasure that turns out to be buried in a cemetery. However Payment in Blood re-arranges these familiar motifs into something compelling, if only faintly different, and throws a few fresh twists including Byrne's real motivation and sultry femme fatale Manuela (Luisa Baratto) who cosies up to Major Blake in pursuit of her own agenda. In fact the final revelation is pretty satisfying.

In place of Leone's operatic grandeur Castellari pursues a more comic book style with Dutch angles, eccentric flourishes (a ridiculous 'torture' scene where Blake's men tickle a captive cavalry officer with a feather (?!), colourful supporting villains show off knife-throwing and whip-wielding skills while the Oliver Hardy look-alike comic relief character (Piero Vida) has his own little character arc) and enough shootouts, punch-ups and explosions to fuel a dozen westerns. Early on a doomed minor character waxes philosophical about the legacy of the American Civil War ("When you teach a man it is right to kill, how can you unteach them?"), but Castellari has little interest in the moral dimensions Leone included in his westerns. Instead he delivers action, action, action and if that is not enough he throws in a little action for you. Aptly titled, Payment in Blood racks up an insane body-count when Blake and his men basically wipe out an entire town in numbing detail although the climactic gunfight in an Indian burial ground complete with rotting corpses proves a more stylish set-piece.

Edd Byrnes is no Clint Eastwood. Frankly, who is? Yet he exudes his own brand of laconic cool and along with co-star Ennio Girolami (Castellari's brother and a fixture in his action films) cuts an athletic dash throughout the many, many energetic action sequences. Great twangy guitar-driven score by Francesco De Masi.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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