Ironically, while viewing the very traditional Silverado may have been the impetus for my current western kick, my tastes tend to gravitate me towards the darker areas of the genre, and I found myself quite enraptured by Deadwood, which certainly deflates most of the western tropes. I have also finally gotten around to mixing up some of what's on my Netflix queue.* One such title was Da Uomo a Uomo, or Death Rides a Horse.
The revenge story is a fairly straightforward one, and one that has been a standard of the western genre since its inception. The twist here is that Death Rides a Horse is not one, but two revenge stories intertwined with one another. Bill (John Phillip Law) witnesses his mother and sister brutally raped and murdered as a boy, and now that he is a man, he wants revenge. Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), on the other hand, has spent the last fifteen years in jail and is after the same gang because they cheated him out of his share and left him to take the heat. Bill is angry and passionate about his vengeance, while Ryan is cold and calculating. The contrast between the skilled but naive Bill and the world-weary Ryan is the backbone of the film, neither one really trusts the other, but often must depend on the other in order to have their justice.
Death Rides a Horse is not a great film. Giulio Petroni's direction is sometimes very sloppy and Luciano Vincenzoni's plotting a bit convenient, but despite the horrible dubbing and Law's wooden performance, the film ultimately ends up being very satisfying because of Van Cleef, the right quota of often well-done western action and Ennio Morricone's brilliantly pulsating score, which yielded one of his most unusual themes (you've heard it in Kill Bill Volume 1 when Uma Thurman faces off against Lucy Liu). Indeed, the score is perhaps the best single element of the film, propelling it forward and adding a mythic layer to the story.
While I am a great fan of Sergio Leone's westerns, the DVD of Death Rides a Horse is exactly why I have a hard time getting into other Spaghetti westerns... they are often in really bad shape. This disc looks and sounds godawful, with the Techniscope frame terribly cropped (often events happen just off screen making it difficult to follow the action), the sound is hissy with a cramped dynamic range, and the whole affair apparently taken from a faded, dirty sixteen millimeter print, giving the picture a very muddy apperance. I'm satisfied with a decent, no-frills transfer, as was done with Tonino Valerii's brilliant Sergio Leone parody/homage Il Mio nome è Nessuno (My Name is Nobody), but I actually found it hard to watch this film because of the condition it was in.
* I have no idea where the third disc of I, Claudius is, however, which is irksome as I was really looking forward to seeing more of that show. I ended up reporting it lost/damaged. This ensures that the missing disc will show up very shortly, undoubtedly as soon as the replacement arrives.