A Pistol for Ringo/The Return of Ringo Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Following the brisk downfall of the Italian peplum/sword & sandal boom, spaghetti western idols such as the Man with no Name, Django, Sartana, and Sabata, replaced the likes of Hercules, Goliath, and Maciste. As had happened before, completely unrelated productions would be renamed in order to convince audiences that they were watching the continued adventures of their favorite character. The most extreme example was that of Franco Nero’s Django, whose name was dropped into literally dozens of random Euro-westerns, despite Nero only officially playing the character twice – in Sergio Corbucci’s original 1966 film and in Ted Archer’s belated 1987 sequel, Django Strikes Again). Giuliano Gemma’s Ringo has been unfairly relegated to the B-list of spaghetti heroes, mainly because he didn’t catch on as fervently outside of Italy. But, within the country’s borders, he reigned as a predecessor to everyone except Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) certainly solidified the genre and Corbucci further defined its themes with Minnesota Clay (also 1964), but, from the standpoint of the spaghetti western’s rise in its home country, Duccio Tessari’s A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo (both released in 1965) stand high among the genre’s most influential films.
Gemma starred as cowboys named Ringo twice (at least officially), but the franchise was expanded to include Alberto De Martino’s $10,000 for Ringo (Italian: 100.000 dollari per Ringo,1965), Antonio Román & Mario Bava’s Ringo del Nebraska (aka: Gunman Called Nebraska, 1966), Bruno Corbucci’s Ringo and Gringo Against All (Italian: Ringo e Gringo contro tutti, 1966), Mario Caiano’s Ringo, the Mark of Vengeance (Italian: Los cuatro salvajes, 1966), and Marino Girolami’s western comedy, 2 R-R-Ringos from Texas (Italian: Due rrringos nel Texas, 1967). In addition, Corbucci’s first post-Django western, Johnny Oro (1966), was retitled Ringo and His Golden Pistol for its North American release, Giorgio Ferroni’s For a Few Extra Dollars (Italian, Per pochi dollari ancora, 1966), which starred Gemma, was retitled Ringo the Revenger in Latin America, and Lesley Selander’s American-made The Texican (1966), was retitled Ringo il Texano for its Italian release. Tessari himself almost certainly borrowed the name Ringo from the historical old west outlaw Johnny Ringo, whose legend is tied to feuds with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and whose name cropped up in litany of earlier American westerns, such as John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and Henry King’s The Gunfighter (1950).
As one of the most popular actors of his era, Gemma’s stardom tended to hinge on his good looks and warm charms, but he also managed to avoid completely pigeon-holing himself, despite being most well-known for his western roles. Unlike Nero, who played a ring of strong, silent types following Django, or Lee Van Cleef, who mostly appeared as variations on his For a Few Dollars More (1965) or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) characters (sometimes combining the two), Gemma portrayed vengeful cowboys (Calvin Jakson Padget’s Blood for a Silver Dollar, 1965), underdog cowboys (Tonino Valerii’s Day of Anger, 1967), espionage cowboys (Valerii’s The Price of Power, 1969), and even funny cowboys (Tessari’s Sundance and the Kid, 1969). Tessari is often forgotten in discussions of Italian genre filmmaking, despite his substantial contributions to multiple ‘trend’ genres, from Eurospy/Bond spoofs (Kiss Kiss...Bang Bang, starring Gemma, 1966) to musicarello fluff (Per amore... per magia…, 1967). Following his uncredited contributions to Fistful of Dollars and the Ringo duology, he helped establish the poliziotteschi/Eurocrime genre with The Cats (Italian: I bastardi,1968, also starring Gemma), while continuing to change-up his own spaghetti recipe via the aforementioned Sundance and the Kid, a Zapata western called Long Live Your Death (Italian: Viva la muerte... tua!, 1971), a popular blaxploitation western called Three Tough Guys (Italian: Uomini duri, 1974), and a 1975 adaptation of the Zorro legend (appropriately titled Zorro), starring French superstar Alain Delon. This all culminated in Tex and the Lord of the Deep (also starring Gemma, 1985), a decades-in-development adaptation of Gian Luigi Bonelli & Aurelio Galleppini’s Tex Willer comic strip – itself a progenitor of the spaghetti western genre. Tessari’s gialli thrillers were even better than his westerns and tended to focus on the procedural aspects of murder mystery, rather than the technical bravada of murder sequences. Sadly, he only managed to produce a small trilogy, including Death Occurred Last Night (Italian: La morte risale a ieri sera, 1970), The Bloodstained Butterfly (Italian: Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate, 1971), and the extremely underrated Puzzle (Italian: L’uomo senza memoria, 1974).
A Pistol for Ringo (Italian: Una pistola per Ringo, 1965)
“Angel Face” Ringo (Giuliano Gemma) is hired by local law enforcement to infiltrate a ranch being held by a small army of Mexican bandits in order to save their hostages. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
A Pistol for Ringo doesn’t have the same indelibly Italian ‘feel’ as Fistful of Dollars and Django, in large part because it was made before spaghetti was an established subset of western filmmaking. However, while Tessari may not have the genre-twisting style of Leone or thematic richness of Corbucci, he more than matched them in pure technical prowess, at least at the time. The action sequences are sharply staged in a manner that rivals the old American matinee style with huge crowds and impressive horse stunts. His background as a writer also sets his work apart in terms of characterizations and sheer quantity (though not always quality) of dialogue. The plot itself is relatively generic, but the narrative houses some clever twists, charming performances, and subtle, but surprising surrealistic touches (Repo Man director Alex Cox rightfully compares some of Tessari’s compositions and ideas to Luis Buñuel and Jean-Luc Godard in his book 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, Kamera Books, 2009). Some of this seems to be the unintentional effect of the sharp tonal shifts from light-heartedness to brutality that occur regularly, especially throughout the action scenes. Tessari isn’t as interested in graphic violence as Corbucci (aside from a surprisingly icky bullet removal sequence), but he’s not above exploiting cruelty for the sake of melodrama.
A Pistol for Ringo is especially notable for featuring two prominent female protagonists – Lorella De Luca’s virginal, idealistic damsel, Ruby, and Nieves Navarro’s morally-torn bandita, Delores – which is a major anomaly for early spaghettis in particular. This was due to a mix of patriarchy in Italian filmmaking, patriarchy in the western tradition, and perhaps Leone’s insistence that women “slowed the action” (as noted in Howard Hughes’ Once Upon a Time in the Italian West, I.B.Tauris, 2006). Neither is exactly a nuanced character and both fall victim to sexist cliché, but their targeting skills and near-equal narrative standing to the men is still notable in the context of the genre.
I may be wrong, but I believe this is the first time that full Italian cut of A Pistol for Ringo has been available here. Previously, English-language versions had trimmed some of the humor, some of the violence, and removed a caroling sequence. Not that it [i]really[/i] matters, since all North American DVD versions were budget-label, non-anamorphic, and shared disc space with other movies. As per usual, spaghetti enthusiasts were best off importing the uncut, anamorphically-enhanced DVD from Koch Media in Germany. For these Blu-ray debuts, the original Techniscope 35mm negatives of both films were scanned in 2K and each is presented in 2.35:1, 1080p video. The first transfer gets things started with a warm, sharp, and authentically film-like image. There are minor fuzz issues in the widest of wide shots, but this is in-keeping with what we’d expect from the material. Cinematographer Francisco Marín (who shot both movies, along with Giulio Petroni’s Tepepe, 1969) neutral palette has some consistency issues, skewing yellow during the sharper shots and more desaturated during the occasional flattened images. Still, hues are neatly separated, despite the steady presence of film grain. Arrow’s in-house clean-up job is pretty thorough, yet avoids putting too much weight on the ol’ DNR button.
Each film is presented with its original Italian and English dubs, in uncompressed LPCM sound. Here’s the part where I remind everyone that these movies were shot entirely without sound, often with the international casts speaking different languages on-set. Every language track is post-dubbed, so there is no real ‘original language,’ despite the films’ Italian origins. Each track has its advantages and disadvantages. The English dub performances are pretty good and its volume levels are superior. On the other hand, Gemma seems to have dubbed himself in Italian and the Italian language track, while quieter, has a cleaner mix of elements and less vocal reverb effects. Ennio Morricone supplied the score here, but didn’t go out of his way to recreate the unique sound that made Fistful of Dollars such a revelation. Overall, the music has a slightly more traditional slant (more banjos and saloon-style pianos), though it still has a rock/pop vibe. There’s also a pop song about the title character (“Angel Face,” sung by Maurizio Graf) – a common element of ‘60s spaghettis that may have actually started with this film.
The Return of Ringo (Italian: Il ritorno di Ringo, 1965)
Ringo, now a veteran of war, disguises himself as a Mexican in order to take revenge on outlaws who have stolen his property and taken his wife. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
The Return of Ringo was made in a rush directly after A Pistol for Ringo became a hit. Its story recycles aspects of the first movie, but mostly in the respect that both films borrow from Fistful of Dollars. Beyond these similarities and recycled cast members, it’s clear that Tessari and co-writer Fernando Di Leo (later known for writing/directing influential poliziotecchi, like Caliber 9; Italian: Milano calibro 9, 1972) had to retroactively change their original script to fit the Ringo mould. The story loosely adapts final act of Homer’s The Odyssey (the pitch title was The Odyssey of the Long Rifles). This type of adaptation helped give some of the more memorable spaghettis a leg over their rivals by breaking the narrative monotony. Similar sources were used throughout the genre, some filmic, such as Fistful of Dollars (which is based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961), some literary, such as Enzo G. Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet (Italian: Quella sporca storia nel west, 1968), and some historical, such as The Price of Power (which is based on the JFK assassination, 1969).
There aren’t many connections between this Ringo – a tow-headed vet straight out of the Union Army that goes by the name Montgomery Brown – and the previous film’s Ringo – a dirty-blonde, notorious criminal who drinks milk, instead of whiskey and goes by the name Angel Face – but, if you use your imagination, it’s possible to connect some dots that indicate this Ringo is the other one’s father. After all, in A Pistol for Ringo, the eponymous character mentions something about his father serving in the Union (after realizing that the Confederacy was doomed). Gemma also plays the two characters quite differently, not to mention the fact that every major player from the last film reappears as unrelated characters with similar moral alignments (Manuel Muñiz gets an upgrade to lead villain). For his part, Tessari’s direction improved between movies with the help of a more consistent tone (one that matches the cynicism of Leone’s work) and stronger cultural basis, though the latter does dip into outright racism at times. Though it’s not rare for a spaghetti western or, really, [i]any[/i] Italian genre film (horror, thriller, peplum, et cetera) to be relatively racist, many later spaghetti’s were set during the 1910 Mexican Revolution and tended to cast Mexicans as the salt-of-the-earth victims of European imperialism and their own corrupt leaders.
The Return of Ringo was also only available on North American DVD via budget label collections and makes its Blu-ray debut here. The 2K remaster is generally comparable to its counterpart in terms of overall detail and clarity; though, due to returning cinematographer Marín utilizing more outdoor source lighting, the transfer does struggle with darkness and hard contrast. The crushy black quality is almost definitely inherent in the original material, as is the occasionally heavy grain levels, which clump up in the darkest shots. On the other hand, The Return of Ringo has a more eclectic palette than A Pistol for Ringo, including some really rich lavenders, blues, and oranges. These are quite vivid in HD, whereas they were difficult to discern from the browns and yellows on old, grimy SD discs. The LPCM 1.0 English and Italian tracks are more similar than different this time, though I’d say the English one comes out ahead, thanks to higher volume levels, a more consistent tone, and few of the echoey artifacts that plagued [i]Pistol for Ringo’s[/i] English dub. This time, the returning composer aims for a more atmospheric and uniquely Morricone-esque type of music. Suspenseful scenes feature nerve-shredding horror cues, melancholy scenes are tinged by sad organs and dramatic choruses, and guitar riffs jangle throughout the action sequences. The title song, “Il Ritorno di Ringo,” with lyrics and vocals by Maurizio Graf, is one of the best pop music intros in the Italian western canon, coming in just behind Luis Bacalov, Franco Migliacci, and Robert Mellin’s “Django” and Gian Piero Reverberi & Gianfranco Reverberi’s “You'd Better Smile” from Ferdinando Baldi’s Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968).
Commentary with C. Courtney Joyner (author of The Westerners: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Writers and Producers, McFarland, 2009) and Henry Parke (critic and western film/TV blogger) for both films – These are affable, well-researched, and informative tracks. The commentators take few pauses, rarely ramble, and don’t often repeat themselves (though the second track is a bit less content-packed).
Revisiting Ringo (37:56) – A new video essay/appreciation by Tony Rayns, author of Seoul Stirring: 5 Korean Directors (British Film Institute, 1995). The critic/expert discusses Tessari’s early career, the cyclical trends of ‘50s/‘60s Italian cinema, Tessari’s relationship with Leone, the plots/themes of the Ringo films, and the continuing careers of the cast & crew.
They Called Him Ringo (21:52, SD) – This archival interview with stars Giuliano Gemma and Lorella de Luca (who was Tessari’s significant other for many years) has been taken from the Koch DVD.
A Western Greek Tragedy (26:32, SD) – A second archival interview from a Koch DVD, this time with de Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi.
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