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Death Rides A Horse  

Review: written 2006

Surprisingly good Spaghetti Western

I am no expert in the genre, but let’s tick off the boxes here – Ennio Morricone score, morally dubious heroes, revenge driven story, nasty Mexican bandit baddies who laugh at anything remotely unpleasant, terrible dubbing –yep, must be a Spaghetti Western!

If you are a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, this is among the best, and if you have just been tempted by the Clint Eastwood / Sergio Leone, then I thoroughly recommend this as the next step (right after ‘My Name is Nobody’, the next best thing to a Leone Western).

This is a fast moving revenge Western with an apparently simple plot filled out with memorable characters and situations, and a genuinely satisfying conclusion. Sure, it does not have the style or panache of Leone, and Morricone’s score is not his best – but a less than perfect score from Morricone is still better than most others, and it is a memorable distinctive musical treat. The alternating themes of strumming guitar and choral voices bring his usual uniqueness to the movie, and the movie benefits greatly from it.

The story follows a young boy who witnesses the brutal rape and murder of his mother and sister, and murder of his father. He grows up as a respectable community member (John Phillip Law), but shuns responsibility while he harbours one thing in mind – revenge. This lies latent until he crosses paths with Ryan (Lee van Cleef), an ex con whose similar drive of revenge seems to coincide with Ryan’s goal. They form an uneasy alliance which teeters between help and competition to be the one who kills the bad guys.. mostly competing to make sure they get there first.

The movie is not fantastically shot, but not bad – the story is good, and quite epic in scope – what redeems the movie above all else, is the fantastic turn by Lee van Cleef, who easily equals his work in Leone’s Westerns here. This is the mode he was seemingly born to play, and he has immense screen presence, especially with all those close ups of his craggy but clear eyes.. Law on the other hand is a charisma free zone, and the movies weakest point – you can almost imagine how those shoes filled by a greater or even more interesting actor could have made this a classic – but Law walks through the role failing to convince – his only acting trait seems to be when his eyes go wide and his body goes rigid, and you know he has seen one of the bad guys! The rest of the cast are mainly bad guy ciphers, but you can spot a familiar face or two (Mario Brega – who appeared in every one of Leone’s movies I am aware of..).

There are some great set pieces – not as epic as they might be, but inventive – the final shootout in the middle of a dust storm must have been a nightmare to shoot, but is very effective – best of all, the director does not linger too long, and gives the film a nice pace which make the movie a well balanced, thoroughly enjoyable 1hour 50 minutes.

In short, a cracking good film, with an excellent transfer on its most recent DVD transfer (hardly a blemish on it). Lee van Cleef is on top form, and it’s one of Spaghetti Western’s finest moments.

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