Blu-ray Release: December 12, 2023 (as part of the Savage Guns collection)
Audio: Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono (both cuts); English LPCM 2.0 Mono (export cut); English/Italian hybrid LPCM 2.0 Mono (Italian cut)
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 108:39 (Italian cut), 98:29 (export cut)
Director: Edoardo Mulargia
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Savage Guns: Four Classic Westerns, Vol. 3 collection, which also includes Paolo Bianchini's I Want Him Dead (1968), Mario Camus' Wrath of the Wind (aka: Trinity Sees Red, 1970), and Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse (1975).
A legendary gunfighter (Robert Woods) is forced to emerge from hiding after the bounty hunters on his tail murder the tender-hearted barmaid who offered him a new life. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Arrow Video’s four-movie spaghetti western collections have included some pretty obscure titles, but El Puro (Italian: La taglia è tua... l'uomo l'ammazzo io; aka: The Reward’s Yours…The Man’s Mine, 1969) might be the most obscure of them all. Internet searches barely turn up a handful of Letterboxd/IMDb reviews and a hearty recommendation from the folks at the Spaghetti Western Database and books about the genre either don’t mention it at all or do so in the context of director Edoardo Mulargia and star Robert Woods’ larger careers.
El Puro is a surprisingly potent, though admittedly simplified example of the revisionist western trope where a famously violent man driven from self-imposed, peaceful exile by intolerable injustice or threat to that peace. The most well-known example is probably Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), which further stretched the concept with the metatext of Eastwood’s three-decade career as a gunslinger – a career that was, of course, built upon the success of his spaghetti western breakthroughs under Sergio Leone. Woods’ legacy doesn’t carry quite the same weight, but, unlike Eastwood, he didn’t head directly back to Hollywood after finding success in Italy. Instead, he stayed in Europe to make an astounding 18 westerns (20 if you count his two White Fang sequels), including Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name is Pecos (Italian: Due once di piombo, 1966), Piero Cristofani & Lina Wertmüller’s The Bella Star Story (1968), and Gianfranco Baldanello’s nihilistic Black Jack (1968). Here, he’s well-utilized as melancholic and genuinely vulnerable fodder for a lively ensemble of baddies, including genre favorites Aldo Berti, Marc Fiorini, Mario Brega, and Maurizio Bonuglia.
Mulargia was a B-tier craftsman that worked almost exclusively on European westerns, sometimes with credit, sometimes without. He directed or co-directed nine westerns, seemingly specializing in unofficial Django (1966) sequels and movies about characters with names suspiciously similar to Django, including Cjamango (1967), Don’t Wait Django…Shoot! (Italian: Non aspettare Django, spara, 1967), Shango (Italian: Shango, la pistola infallibile, 1970), and Viva! Django (Italian: W Django!, 1971), which is probably his most well-known movie, thanks to somewhat regular home video releases. With El Puro, he tries a little too hard to ape Leone’s brand of rock ‘n roll cowboy movie, but does so with self awareness and a toothsome mean streak (though the scene where Rosalba Neri is murdered is uncharacteristically cruel). The action is well-choreographed, but the best lesson Mulargia takes from Leone is the patience to let longer sequences play out. A good example is a variation of the scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Italian: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966) where Eli Wallach robs the gun dealer; only this time, a whole group of bandits get in on the act, pretending to be lawmen arriving on time to arrest each other. Assuming you’re watching the longer cut, the sequence ends with the bad guys putting on a fashion show for each other.
El Puro is a real rarity, as I said, though North American spaghetti western collectors have created bootleg versions using variations of an English language VHS tape, an Italian TV airing, and French DVD, so, I suppose, if you knew where to look, you could have seen it prior to this Blu-ray debut from Arrow. Unlike the other four movies in the Savage Guns collection, this particular 2K restoration of the original camera negatives was supervised in-house by Arrow. They’ve also included two different cuts: the original Italian version and the shorter export cut. The 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer sports really nice, bright colors and better dynamic range than you typically see from B-tier spaghetti westerns on Blu-ray. The levels have arguably been pushed too far, as some of the brighter whites tend to bloom, but I like the look quite a bit. On the other hand, while details are tidy, patterns and textures, including grain, are on the soft side, even compared to the acceptably imperfect Italian-born scans. Thankfully, this is barely an issue when the footage is in motion.
The extended scenes tend to be in notably rougher shape than the rest of the film and it can be jarring when the footage suddenly flips into washed-out, dingy territory. There are also some semi-transparent green/blue blobs that occur during these shots, along with the typical scratches and dots.
Both cuts feature English and Italian dub options, though the Italian cut includes scenes that weren’t ever dubbed into English and the Italian tracks have been lost, so it defaults to Spanish with English subtitles during those moments. No matter which track you pick, you’re going to have to contend with inconsistencies in volume, range and clarity. Some scenes are clear, others are quite muffled and the Spanish inserts are full of pops and buzz. The English dub is top notch, though, especially whoever is dubbing Marc Fiorini, so I’d recommend going with that one, either way.
Alessandro Alessandroni’s score is an unabashed rip-off of Ennio Morricone’s genre-defining music for Sergio Leone’s first three westerns (he directly lifts the “woo-wee-woo-wee-woo” flute from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and the chugging “we can fight” chorus from A Fistful of Dollars), but it’s a decent approximation and Alessandoni was the whistler, co-chanter, vocal arranger, and (I believe?) guitarist on those original Morricone tracks, so he has a degree of ownership. The music sounds good on the Italian and English tracks, even when the dialogue is a bit ragged.
Commentary by critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson (Italian cut) – The author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films (Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) and Mondo Digital critic pair again for a look at El Puro’s place in the spaghetti western pantheon, its connections to Hollywood westerns, the careers of the cast and crew (with a little extra focus on Woods and Mulargia), changes made to the story during filming (they were apparently considering a Psycho style surprise protagonist switch), drug use on set, and the film’s relative obscurity on home video.
A Zen Western (15:07, HD) – A new introduction from Professor of History of Italian Cinema at the University for Foreigners of Perugia (Italy), journalist, and film critic, Fabio Melelli, who discusses the making of the film, the infamous history of child-actor-turned-terrorist Valerio Fioravanti, the film’s gay subtext (or is it text?), personally viewing the film in a small screening with Quentin Tarantino, and the wider careers of the cast and crew.
A Real Italian (28:11, HD) – Star Robert Woods looks back on his extensive Eurowestern career, working with Mulargia, enjoying the chance to flex his acting muscles, pretending to be drunk without actually drinking throughout El Puro, the film’s intended Buddhist themes, shooting on Italian locations (rather than Spanish ones), an unproduced sequel, learning to accept the gay subtext (text?), and his relationships with the rest of the cast.
More Than Just Western (35:37, HD) – A new appreciation of Alessandro Alessandroni by musician, disc collector, and musical expert Lovely Jon, who breaks down the composer’s career as a multi-instrumental musician, his unique whistling technique, his work as pop music arranger, his relationships with Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone (the latter of which ended tragically), the impact of Fistful of Dollars, and El Puro’s soundtrack.
The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.