DVD Review by Lee Broughton
Rafael Romero Marchent double bill (Wild East)
Wild East Productions of New York have added a new addition to their ongoing Spaghetti Western collection. Both of the films featured on this double bill disc were directed by the Spanish Spaghetti Western stalwart Rafael Romero Marchent.
Garringo (Spain/Italy), 1969, 93 min.
Garringo is something of a minor classic that features two of the genre’s best loved actors, Anthony Steffen and Peter Lee Lawrence, going head to head in an exciting, gripping and suspense-ladened battle of wits. Johnny (Lawrence) is an incognito gentleman outlaw who is also a merciless psychopath. His preferred source of income is stolen US Army payrolls but he always makes a point of torturing and killing the hapless soldiers that he steals from. It seems that Johnny saw his soldier father executed for cowardice when he was a child and now he’s waging a one man war against the American military machine. With the death toll rising rapidly, and no clues to be had beyond a series of mocking notes that are all signed "sincerely, Johnny", the disgraced but highly capable Lieutenant Garringo (Steffen) is ordered to find the killer and bring him in alive.
There's plenty of action to be had in this reasonably good looking genre entry and Garringo’s unorthodox and highly brutal methods result in him behaving almost as badly as Johnny at times. As such, fans of Anthony Steffen will enjoy his no-nonsense tough-guy approach as the pragmatic hard man Garringo. By contrast, fans of Peter Lee Lawrence might well be taken aback by the cruel, vindictive and menacing actions of his character here. Incredibly, after building Johnny up to be one of the most despicable and chilling characters ever to appear in a Spaghetti Western, Marchent delivers a well-handled and somewhat surprising twist ending, in which some degree of sympathy is elicited for the disturbed villain. These final scenes might well feature the best acting of Peter Lee Lawrence’s career.
Lawrence and Steffen receive good support from a host of familiar faces here, including fan favorites such as Raf Baldassarre, Frank Brana and Antonio Molino Rojo. The show also features a slightly understated but still pretty good soundtrack score by Marcello Giombini, which employs some interesting and effective keyboard work at times. Garringo is by no means a perfect film but the show does fully deserve the largely excellent reputation that it has garnered amongst Spaghetti Western fans over the years.
Two Crosses at Danger Pass (Due croci a Danger Pass, Spain/Italy), 1967, 91 min.
Young Alex Mitchell watches from afar as his mother and father are killed by the villainous land-grabber Moran (Armando Calvo) and his men. While his young sister Judy is taken away to be Moran's slave, Alex is found and adopted by a kindly Quaker family. When Alex (Peter Martell) is fully grown, he returns to his childhood home at Danger Pass intent on rescuing Judy (Mara Cruz) and exacting vengeance against Moran and those who support him. However, Alex's adopted brother Mark (Luis Gaspar) follows him with the intention of convincing him that acts of violence and vengeance can never be justified. With Mark getting in his way, and Moran's son Charly (Mario Novelli) proving to be a tougher opponent than anticipated, Alex's quest for revenge proves to be an arduous and upsetting experience.
Two Crosses at Danger Pass is a little-seen and quite low budget genre entry but it remains a surprisingly affecting, engaging and enjoyable film. It's not as stylish-looking as Garringo but the main attraction and point of interest here is Marchent's ability to present some really novel twists within what - at first glance - appears to be a fairly standard vengeance for a slaughtered family narrative. There are a number of nicely drawn and likeable characters here that demand varying degrees of emotional investment from the viewer and they're all brought to life by some really quite decent acting. The show's star, Peter Martell, is a genre regular whose performances tend to polarize fans. I do quite like Martell's work when he's on form and his performance here might well be a career best. This is no straightforward revenge tale and Martell is called upon to project a wide range of emotions, which he convincingly manages to do.
Martell also delivers the goods during the film's many physically punishing action scenes too. Ultimately, Wild East's unearthing of this rare Spaghetti Western might well result in a few genre fans re-assessing their opinion of Martell. It's not all good news, though. The legendary Francesco De Masi's soundtrack score is nowhere near his best work. That said, the film's title song, 'Without Name' (as sung by Raoul), is really quite superb. Further songs appear within the film's diegesis, as performed by the saloon singer Edith (Nuccia Cardinali). As far as obscure second on the bill features go, Two Crosses at Danger Pass is surely as good as they get.
Extra features: three trailers, two image galleries and an interview with Rafael Romero Marchent.
Copyright © 2016 Lee Broughton.