'The Hills Run Red' fest showcases lesser-known spaghetti westerns
The plot proceeds apace, with the duo pursing the ultimate prize, a machine gun ("more beautiful than any woman!"), but Bullet has one golden ticket that none of the other "Hills Run Red" films can boast of: wild-eyed Klaus Kinski, a frequent spaghetti-er who plays Chuncho's half-brother. "That man is a lunatic!" a bystander observes. Yep. There are interpretations of Bullet that suggest the film addresses current events of the time (Vietnam; the CIA's influence in Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and other parts of Latin America), but anytime Kinski is onscreen, forget about any subtext. Or subtlety.
The other films in the series don't fit into the Zapata mold; Gianfranco Parolini's Sabata (1969) most resembles Navajo Joe in its tale of a drifter whose appearance in dusty Daugherty City, Texas means trouble for the local criminal element, though he's not exactly law-abiding himself. Star Lee Van Cleef — "the man with the gunsight eyes" — lives up to his nickname here, brandishing some creatively souped-up weapons as he takes on the fey local land baron, who dwells in a hilariously over-decorated manse complete with duelling chamber. Other town residents include an "Indian" whose acrobatic skills are as random as they are impressive (seriously, though, get that guy off the rooftop); a sloppy-drunk Civil War vet who Sabata takes pity on; and "Banjo," whose instrument fires off both musical notes and bullets. All this, plus lines like, "When I stop laughing, you're dead!" Essential viewing for Van Cleef fans — was there ever a cooler cat in all of the west?
The offbeat sixth film in the series is Monte Hellman's 1978 China 9, Liberty 37, neither his first western nor his first film to star Peckinpah favorite Warren Oates. If 1971's Two-Lane Backtop remains the best-known collaboration between the two, China 9 is worth a look just for its dreamy, melancholy mood. It's kind of the least-garish, "and Beyond" part of the PFA program, mercifully light on the racist characterizations of Mexicans that make other spaghettis so problematic.
China 9 was an Italian-Spanish production, which accounts for the casting of Italian heartthrob Fabio Testi. He plays Drumm, a quick-draw king who's granted a last-minute pardon when he agrees to off Sebanek (Oates), a stubborn old cuss who refuses to sell his farm to the railroad. (When the railroad's on its way in, you know any romantic notion of a wild, wild west is on its way out.) But it gets complicated: Drumm actually likes Sebanek, and he really likes his much-younger wife, Catherine (Jenny Agutter, two years past Logan's Run, introduced while bathing in a river). When Drumm and Catherine run off together, a left-for-dead Sebanek gives chase.
Because it's the 1970s, there's a circus scene (and an end-credits twanger by Ronee Blakley). Everyone's angry, but everyone's kinda sorry about it, too, and the movie rambles its way to an uneasy, downbeat conclusion. The hills, however, run red as ever.
THE HILLS RUN RED: ITALIAN WESTERNS, LEONE, AND BEYOND
Jan. 10-27, $5.50-9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.