A Stranger in Town Review (Scherpschutter)
From The Spaghetti Western Database
A stranger arrives in a sleepy Mexican border town. The first person he spots is already dead, the second one, the bar owner, he kills himself... with a whiskey bottle. The world we have entered, is not a friendly one. A Stranger in Town, also known as For a Dollar in the Teeth, is as close as the genre ever got to a minimalistic film experience. Not even a handful of sets are used, only a few lines are spoken, the film seems to be made on a shoestring, and still it was co-produced by Allan Klein, the man who would save The Beatles from bankruptcy.
After having killed the bar owner, the Stranger witnesses how a regiment of the Mexican army is slaughtered by bandits, who want to take their place in a lucrative deal with the American army. He offers his services to the sadistic leader of the gang, Aguila - who needs somebody who can 'identify' him as an officer of the federales - but of course he is double-crossed by him. The Stranger is brutally tortured, first by Aguila's men, then by the bandit's fiancée (Gia Sandri), a 19th century SM dominatrix with a 20th century fifties coiffure, timeless jodhpurs and a whip. She gets sexually aroused when torturing a man, and the stranger uses this 'weakness' to get the better of her, in a mesmerizing and - for the time - very daring scene. Finally he faces the entire gang in a bloody showdown in the town's street.
For some obscure reason I had never seen this film before, and having read a lot of negative things about it, I had low expectations. To my surprise I was enthralled from the moment the stranger rides into the dusty town of Cerro Gordo. Director Vanzi uses a thinly disguised, simplified version of the plot of Sergio Leone's A Fistful ofDollars, but his style is decisively different. There are no ritual build-ups to shootouts, instead Vanzi's style is lingering, dream-like, with sudden, unprepared outbursts of violence. Of course there are a few flaws. When Aguila executes the Mexican soldiers, he shoots holes in the men and the wall behind them, but not in their uniforms, and the ultra-slow pace occasionally flirts with catatonia. But I was impressed by the atmosphere of decay Vanzi manages to create: his movie feels like a nightmarish vision of hell on earth, both minimalistic and nihilistic. A priest is drowned by one of Aguila's henchmen, called Marinero (sailor, mariner) who owes his name to his love of water ... This Marinero is played by Aldo Berti, the lunatic who knocked out a woman in El Puro with his head ... and this guy of all people has to confirm repeatedly that Frank Wolff is a fair man!
The film wasn't received well by critics and still isn't popular among them. Hughes (*1) thinks it's "so poorly executed that its success, especially in America, is difficult to fathom". Frayling (*2) nor Casadio (*3) pay any serious attention to it and Phil Hardy (*4) calls it "a poor imitation of Leone, only outdoing the maestro in violence, but little else." Marco Giusti is a little more positive on the film, saying "it seems well-written and executed with much care" (*5). Anthony doesn't have the virile looks of Eastwood, but he sure knows how to take a beating and his doggy-like, faithful eyes and nearly lisping speech hide an inner rage that can emerge at any moment. Unlike most actors playing Mexican bandits, Frank Wolff turns in a rather restrained performance, only occasionally bursting out in those inevitable laughs. The film was entirely shot in Italy, mainly in the Mexican village of the Elios studios in Rome. Benedetto Ghilglia's score is basically a fuzzy guitar, seasoned with some whips, bells and flutes. It's a wonderful score, even if the main theme is used a few times too often (but when the film is over you want to hear it again!). Essential viewing.
Director: Luigi Vanzi - Cast: Tony Anthony (The Stranger), Frank Wolff (Aguila), Gia Sandri (Maruca), Aldo Berti (Marinero), Jolanda Modio, Raf Baldassare, Antonio Marsina, Fortunato Arena, Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia - Music: Benedetto Ghilia
- (1) Howard Hughes, The pocket essential Spaghetti Westerns
- (2) Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns, Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone
- (3) Gianfranco Casadio, Se sei vivo spara! Storie di pistoleri, banditi e bounty killers nel western 'all'italiana'
- (4) Phil Hardy, The Aurum film encyclopedia of westerns
- (5) Mario Giusti, Dizionario Del Western All'Italiana
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