Blu-ray Release: December 12, 2023 (as part of the Savage Guns collection)
Audio: Italian and English LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 87:25
Director: Paolo Bianchini
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of Arrow’s Savage Guns: Four Classic Westerns, Vol. 3 collection, which also includes Edoardo Mulargia's El Puro (aka: The Reward's Yours...The Man's Mine, 1969), Mario Camus' Wrath of the Wind (aka: Trinity Sees Red, 1970), and Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse (1975).
An ex-Confederate soldier (Craig Hill) vows revenge after his sister is raped and murdered, setting him on a collision course with a dastardly plot to disrupt peace talks between the North and South. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
As a fad, the spaghetti westerns peaked in 1966 and ‘67, only two or three years after the landmark release of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). By 1968, Leone was teaming with Hollywood studios for his ultimate word on the subject, Once Upon a Time in the West (Italian: C'era una volta il West), Sergio Corbucci was fully deconstructing the genre for The Great Silence (Italian: Il grande silenzio), and the market was thoroughly saturated. While distributors were actively pursuing the next big thing (giallo, poliziotteschi, comedy westerns), they were also still cramming theaters full of cowboy movies, cranking production to the extreme. A good indication of the scope of this issue can be found in the comparatively small filmography of director Paolo Bianchini. Bianchini wasn’t an auteur, star, or even much of a workhorse, and he hadn’t previously made a western up until that point, yet he made three in 1968. They were, in release order: I Want Him Dead (Italian: Lo voglio morto), God Made Them... I Kill Them (Italian: Dio li crea... Io li ammazzo!), and Gatling Gun (Italian: Quel caldo maledetto giorno di fuoco).
Of the three, Gatling Gun is probably the most entertaining, but I Want Him Dead is the best and closest Bianchini came to a unique take on the fraying spaghetti western formula. Like Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power (Italian: l prezzo del potere), which was released the following year, Carlos Sarabia’s screenplay grafts western locations and archetypes onto a political espionage plot. For his part, the usually workmanlike Bianchini loads the film with enough moody angst that carries it through the boilerplate dramatics. Cinematographer Ricardo Andreu’s creative, layered photography also helps elevate the production quality above the slapdash values Sarabia’s plot-heavy/idea-deficient script probably deserved. Ultimately, I Want Him Dead is visually striking enough that it might have found its way into the most underrated Italian western discussion, had the screenplay focused on the details of its alternate take on history, in which arms-dealing bandits nearly sabotage the Civil War armistice talks. Instead, the intrigue lingers in the background until the final act and, in the meantime, Bianchini and Sarabia lazily kill off two different women in a weak effort to motivate the bland male lead.
Star Craig Hill is an overlooked figure in spaghetti western history. Initially a supporting player in ‘50s Hollywood, he found himself working on television at the turn of the decade, then, like many aspiring tough guy lead actors, moved to Italy following Clint Eastwood’s starmaking turn in Fistful of Dollars. Despite making a whopping fifteen Italian or Spanish westerns, he tends to be overlooked for Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Hunter, Tony Anthony, and, whether he likes it or not, Burt Reynolds (arguably, Lola Falana counts as well). He was always a decent performer, but the overall quality of the films he appeared in was on the lower end of the spectrum. Still, his first was Rafael Romero Marchent’s Hands of a Gunfighter (Spanish: Ocaso de un pistolero), which was released in 1965, a year before being an American in Italy was officially ‘cool.’ His best western is probably either I Want Him Dead or Valerii’s debut, A Taste of Killing (Italian: Per il gusto di uccidere, 1966).
Bianchini made one more western, Hey Amigo! A Toast to Your Death (Italian: Ehi amigo... sei morto!, 1970), but is probably best known for his sequel to Nick Nostro’s popular costumed superhero movie, Superargo Versus Diabolicus (Italian: Superargo contro Diabolikus, 1966), Superargo and the Faceless Giants (Italian: Superargo - L'invincibile Superman), which he also made/released in 1968.
I Want Him Dead was never released officially on tape of DVD here in North America, but was one of many spaghetti westerns that ended up all over budget label multi-movie sets and streaming apps about a decade ago, including big ones, mainly Amazon Prime, and a load of little, copyright skewing services, which is how I initially saw it. This is the film’s Blu-ray debut and, like the other titles in Arrow’s Savage Guns collection, it was mastered using a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. This is a surprisingly strong transfer, considering the film’s relative obscurity and lack of previous HD release. Sometimes, the grain and other textures appear a bit soft, but there also isn’t any sign of DNR and no one has tried to overcorrect the issue with sharpening effects. Patterns and overall detail are complex and consistent, thanks in large part to cinematographer Andreu’s use of dynamic range. That said, the range can be a problem for highlights and bright whites, which are pretty blown out during the sun-baked daylight scenes.
I Want Him Dead is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM mono. As per usual, the film was shot without sound and used an international cast who were likely acting in their mother tongue, so there is no official language dub. The English and Italian mixes are very close in terms of sound quality and the dub performances are pretty good, so I’d recommend the English track, even though Hill doesn’t dub himself. The score is supplied by Joe D’Amato’s favorite composer, Nico Fidenco, who does a beautiful Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov impression, anchored in a fantastic, repeated main title theme. The titles are notably faster and pitched up a bit on the Italian track, leading me to prefer the more melancholic English version (but both are great).
Commentary with Adrian J. Smith and David Flint – The critics and veteran commentators explore the careers of the cast & crew, possible inspirations throughout Hollywood and Italian westerns, the use of violence, and the film’s ample visual strengths.
Dead or Alive (12:42, 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 Bianchini’s westerns, the cast’s wider careers, connections between I Want Him Dead and Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965), censorship issues and the curious history of producer Corrado Ferlaino and production company Inducine.
The Man Who Hated Violence (30:17, HD) – Director Paolo Bianchini looks back on his career (the title pertains to him acknowledging that he abhors violence, despite his films being quite violent), coming up as an assistant director, other films he worked on, and the making of I Want Him Dead, from financing and technical aspects to producer input, location shooting, and working with the cast.
Cut and Shot (17:32, HD) – Editor Eugenio Alabiso also breaks down his larger career, focusing mostly on westerns, working with Bianchini, and the technical challenges of cutting I Want Him Dead. He also spends quite a bit of the interview being critical of Fidenco’s score, pining instead for one by Morricone.
Nico Unchained (21:00, HD) – In this archival interview, composer Nico Fidenco closes things out discussing his early singing career, training as a composer, various films he scored, his writing process, and Morricone and Henry Mancini’s impact on his work.
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.