A Coffin for the Sheriff Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Anthony Steffen is a sheriff who’s wife was brought home in a coffin. He infiltrates a gang of outlaws to find out who was responsible for the evil things done to her. A routine genre movie with excellent villainy - Fajardo with blond hair! - building up to a spectacular finale.
Director: Mario Caiano - Cast: Anthony Steffen, Eduardo Fajardo, Armando Calvo, Arturo Domenici, Luciana Gilli, Fulvia Franco, George Rigaud, Frank Braña, Lucio de Santis - Music: Francesco De Masi - "A lone and Angry Man" sung by Peter Tevis
A Coffin for the Sheriff (see Database page) is one of the very first Italian westerns for Anthony Steffen, released almost simultaneously with Edoardo Mulargia’s Why Go on Killing? (1). The year before Steffen had played Falkenauge (Hawkeye) in the Sauerkraut western Der Letzte Mohikaner. In this movie Steffen is a sheriff from Texas, Joe Logan, who infiltrates a gang of outlaws to find out who was responsible for the death of his wife. The woman was sent back to him in a coffin (hence the title) after she was raped and killed during a stagecoach robbery. The theme song tells us that the sheriff has become a lone and angry man who only lives for revenge.
Caiano had directed Pistols don't argue, the old-fashioned, Americanized western that had been produced, back to back, with Sergio Leone’s revolutionary A Fistful of Dollars by Jolly Films. His second western is heavily influenced by the first two Dollar movies. For most part it’s a routine movie, occasionally even a bit boring, but it builds up to a surprisingly effective finale. In true spaghetti western style Steffen is exposed as a traitor and beaten up by the gang members. It’s an unusually brutal scene, cut in some versions, almost on a par with the (equally cut) torture scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It also serves as a stepping stone to a sudden shootout in the villains’ lair and a protracted sequence with Steffen and his arch enemy stalking each other in the streets of Richmond.
According to Gianfranco Casadio the movie is “tutta azione e niente storia”, all action and no story (2). A flashback which could have given more cohesion and depth to the proceedings, is missing. A would-be funny Old Timer gets too much screen time and there’s a rather chaotic sequence of the gang attacking a ranch in Indian style. A protracted sequence offers a so-called rite the passage: Steffen will only be accepted in the group if he outsmarts the better equipped gang member in a hide and seek game in the hills. Again we seem to be in an western featuring Indians: it vaguely reminded me of Sam Fuller’s Run of the Arrow (1957), in which Rod Steiger was subject to a similar - if physically far more demanding - ritual test. The Winnetou movies also offered these type of rituals when the hero visited an enemy tribe. In his first (or second) western Steffen has already taking up his habit of wearing small hats. It’s one of his better performances, but his character is also presented as a Don Juan in the style of Giuliano Gemma, winning the hearts of all women (a saloon lady, a gun moll and the marriageable daughter of his best friend in town). Steffen had of course a good face for spaghetti westerns, but he was no Angel Face and the romantic scenes are trivial. The film has excellent villainy. Eduardo Fajardo (with blond hair for the occasion) is a fascinating lunatic, and there’s also Arturo Dominici as a slimy lawyer turned bandit.
- (1) Marco Giusti calls it Steffen’s first spaghetti western, but the other movie, Why Go on Killing? was released December 14 and this one December 23, 1965. It's not clear which one of the two was made first.
- (2) Gianfranco Casadio, Se sei vivo, spara! Storie di pistolero, banditi e bounty killers nel western all’italiana, p. 103