Beyond the Law Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Cudlip (Van Cleef) and his friends, "preacher" (Stander) and Sampson (Hoosman), are petty thieves who rob using heist techniques instead of guns. Cudlip befriends Ben Novack (Sabato). Through a series of events, Cudlip moves from a bandit to a sheriff and must face the hardships of being a lawman.
This is a very different Spaghetti western. It is modelled after a 50's American western instead of a violent and sadistic spaghetti western. The score is modelled after American westerns with big string sections and a sad harmonica tune. What makes this film so interesting is the plotline. This film does not rely on action and there is really no need for character development. It is however, very character driven and much of the focus of the film is on the characters of Lee Van Cleef and Antonio Sabato. As said, there isn't that much need for a lot of character development in the beginning but the whole film is based on the transition of the Lee Van Cleef character. Going from a bandit to sheriff is definitely not something you'll see in most spaghettis. Lawmen are usually portrayed as being corrupt or as bad guys in disguise. Not so this time. The law is shown in a favorable light. Cudlip comes to a fork in the road. Bandit or Outlaw. This is the focus of the film and makes it interesting. It is less dark than most spaghettis. Also has comedic elements to lighten the mood. But it is definitely not a comedy. It is a film about the choices you make in life and how they may affect us. There is even a pinch of Peckinpah in this film's theme. Peckinpah's westerns pretty much all deal with the passing of the west or character's days of care free living coming to an end. Cudlip and his friends realise that their time is about to come to an end. So they all decide to settle down and learn the rules of a lawful life. Even a little John Ford can be recognized. With the town coming together for a celebration and dance.
The acting is pretty good. No stand out performances exept maybe Lionel Stander. He was blacklisted in the 50's and was fired from his film contracts. His career resurfaced in the 60's. This was one of many spaghetti westerns he was to star in. He is one of Van Cleef's partners and sort of comedy relief. Al Hoosman plays the other partner and although he is a fairly big character, he is uncredited. He doesn't say much but plays the harmonica well and occasionally finishes some sentences. He died months after this film was released. He would have been 50 years old. Gordon Mitchell is barely on screen. He overacts quite well and his skeletal looks make him the perfect heavy. Bud Spencer has a supporting role as a mine owner. He plays a high class citizen and therefore shaved his beard. This is one of the very few times he does not play a brute. Lee Van Cleef is good as usual. He plays a less violent character but still has that subdued coolness about him. He also has a bit of Jaroo from El Condor to his performance. Less silly but still a very good combination.
The directing is often okay, but sometimes it seems like the director is trying too hard to make an American western. Having the romance and hesitation of the good guys to use violence to resort a situation. Preferring fists over guns and not wanting to shoot when a gun is needed. As mentioned above, there isn't a whole lot of action but there are two, well filmed action scenes that carry on for quite some time. This more than makes up for the lack of action in my mind. The relationships are handled well too. Although the Cleef and Sabato characters have nothing in common, the director makes their friendship believable and realistic.
The music fits the film. Or rather, the film fits the music. It does try to be a "real" western in the way of the American ones. And Ortolani's personal style works well with this. He apparently preferred jazzy music or large scale/grandiose American western music. So he uses that style. It is not great but is interesting to hear in a spaghetti western.
Overall, an enjoyable little film. Great cinematoghraphy, good acting, and an interesting style make this a real oddity in the spaghetti world. Some may like it, others hate it. It is not for every taste and takes patience and understanding to view. 4/5.