Death Rides a Horse Directed by Giulio Petroni. 115 minutes. 1967. Widescreen (2.35:1 anamorphic). Wild East, USA. Format: NTSC Region 0.
Four vicious bandits callously abuse and massacre a family while executing a $200,000 robbery. A small boy survives the attack and grows into a young man, Bill (John Phillip Law), who is intent on seeking revenge. He finally gets the lead he's been waiting for when a recently released convict, Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), passes through the locality. It soon becomes clear that the two sharp-shooting gunmen are hunting the same villains but complications arise when Ryan tells Bill that he doesn't need his help.
Established Spaghetti Western fans already know that Death Rides a Horse is one of the genre's best loved films. Reworking elements of his own For a Few Dollars More script (the flashback-fuelled vengeance narrative and the uneasy alliance that is eventually forged between two normally solitary gunmen) and seemingly taking inspiration from Day of Anger too (the hard-hearted older gunman teaching the cocky young gunslinger a series of lessons in survival) resulted in scriptwriter Luciano Vincenzoni cooking up a really engaging, exciting and well-paced storyline for this show. Death Rides a Horse is also a well-acted film. There's a great chemistry present between Van Cleef and Law here and it's a real shame that they weren't paired together in any subsequent genre entries. The duo make a formidable team but the bad guys that they're facing here are no slouches either. Sergio Leone regulars Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega - along with genre stalwarts like Jose Torres and Bruno Corazzari - provide expertly executed turns that ensure that the film is populated with a good range of particularly vindictive bad guys who are more than capable of giving our anti-heroes a run for their money.
At a technical level this show is right up there with the Leone films. The film's costumes and set designs look fantastic and all of its well-staged action is captured via some superbly executed and supremely stylish cinematography. Director Giulio Petroni and cinematographer Carlo Carlini put a really good-looking movie together here. The icing on the cake is Ennio Morricone's superlative soundtrack score: it's one of his most idiosyncratic scores but it's surely also one of his best. The good news here is that Wild East's new Death Rides a Horse DVD is the best DVD issue of this film yet. Previous American DVDs of this title have made use of old and extremely scrappy panned and scanned masters. A widescreen version of the film was issued by MGM in the UK but the picture quality of the MGM disc was a little soft at times and parts of the presentation seemed to suffer from low bit-rate issues. I'd say that Wild East's DVD of Death Rides a Horse is the sharpest and the most colourful-looking presentation of the film to date. There's a little bit of print damage present here in the form of odd flecks and very small scratches that crop up from time to time - and there are a couple of very minor jumps due to missing frames in evidence too - but this remains a very good presentation picture wise. The show's sound quality fluctuates a little bit and is a tad thin in places but it remains good by and large.
The Death Rides a Horse image gallery included here is really extensive. The interesting audio interview with John Phillip Law is supported by some really neat pictures that relate primarily to his other big Italian films from the 1960s (Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik).
an image gallery, US trailer, US TV spots and an audio interview with John Phillip Law (14 minutes).
© 2011 Copyright Lee Broughton.