A Stranger in Paso Bravo Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
This film, the only spaghetti western directed by Salvatore Rosso, is often called the inspiration for Antonio Margheriti’s (better known) And God said to Cain. Some critics have even called Margheriti’s movie a remake. The similarities are too obvious to be ignored: they even concern the names of several central characters (*1).
The opening of this movie is a little odd: a man called Gary Hamilton (Anthony Steffen) seems to appear out of nothing in the middle of desert, unarmed and without a horse. Luckily he comes across a man (Pepe Calvo) running a department store on wheels, selling everything a man can possibly need in the middle of nowhere, including a mule ... for one hundred dollars (in spite of Steffen’s protests that a mule is only worth twenty!). When the stranger arrives in the town of Paso Bravo, the mule is shot during a crossfire, by men who work for a certain Acombar. They offer Steffen twenty dollars in compensation, the normal price for such an animal (but Steffen utters that he has paid One hundred dollars for it!). Both Calvo and the mule are nice references to A Fistful of Dollars and contribute to the odd, often unearthly atmosphere of the movie. There’s also a saloon girl who sings (in Italian and with a smoker’s voice) a melancholic song you'd rather expect in a Parisian bar in the Latin Quarter: "Se ne va la mia vita come fosse un fiume" (My life passes as if it were a stream). She has a black-clad boyfriend who is fast with the gun and seeks trouble with everybody who makes eyes at his girl (every man in town!).
The atmosphere of alienation makes up - to some extent - for some sloppy story-telling during the first half of the movie. We do not know who Steffen is and why on earth he’s going to Paso Bravo. He is ridiculed and almost drowned by some town bullies and it’s only when he’s visiting the graves of his wife and daughter, that we get an idea what he's up to. His loved ones died tragically in a fire while he was drunk, but Steffen presumes they were murdered. He manages to retrace the guys who ignited the fire, a trio called the Santamaria brothers, but they tell him that they were working for no other than Acombar (Fajardo) at the time. To get even, he teams up, in true "Magnificent Seven style", with the sheriff and several other friends to attack the ranch of the local tyrant. The film’s shortcomings are obvious, but it's saved by some witty dialogue, colourful characters and good performances. Eduardo Fajardo is great as the local tyrant Acombar. This must be one of his best spaghetti western appearances, on a par with legendary performance as Major Jackson in Django. I loved the scene in which he tells his men he'd like to see Steffen’s head on a pole. Bring me the Head of Anthony Steffen – it would’ve have been quite a title.
Both A Stranger in Paso Bravo and And God said to Cain were made with a relatively small budget. Margheriti made more of the rather basic locations, especially the western town; some corresponding story elements, like the parts with Acombar’s son and the Santamaria brothers, are better integrated into his movie too (*2). Moreover Margheriti had the brilliant idea to set his movie largely at night and during a thunderstorm, so he could suggest (with a little dust and a lot of sound effects) what he wasn’t able to show. But Rosso and his film score some points too. It's a bit sluggish at times, but nicely builds up to a memorable finale, with the famous Villa Mussolini (used more often in spaghetti westerns) serving as Acombar’s ranch. The scene with Fajardo being roasted in the fire (echoing the way Steffen’s relatives died), is more intense and effective (and far less protracted) than the corresponding fiery scene in And God said to Cain. Where Margheriti tried to squeeze every drop out of the situation (and ruining it instead), Rosso is content with a few hints, creating one of the best alternative death scenes in the genre.
- Corresponding Review:
- 1) The scripts of both movies were accredited to different screenwriters; the author of the original story was the very prolific Eduardo Manzanos Brochero
- 2) Most available versions of the movie are cut; in the Spanish edit (83mns) we know the fate of Acombar's son and also understand who must have killed him, but not why (Steffen is puzzled when he discovers the corpse). In the longer Italian edit (96 mns) we don't witness the actual killing, but understand that the killer was provoked by Acombar's son
Cast: Anthony Steffen, Eduardo Fajardo, Pepe Calvo, Giulia Rubina, Vassili Karis, Adriana Ambesi, José Jaspe, Ignazio Leone, Antonio Cintado, Corrado Olmi, Franco De Rosa, José Canalejas, Director: Salvatore Rosso - Music: Angelo Francesco Lavangnino