Death Played the Flute review (morgan)

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Lo ammazzò come un cane... ma lui rideva ancora (Angelo Pannacciò 1972)

With Giuseppe Cardillo [Steven Tedd] as Kimble, Gerald Michael Charlebois [Michael Forest] as Nick Barton, Susanna Levi as Suzy (Jane) Barton and Antonio Molino Rojo as Ramson.

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The first time I watched this film I thought it an insult. How can such a good film be so bad? The opening, the ending, the feel is pure spaghetti. On the other hand, it felt trashy and cheap, with endless riding and ambushing along the same dirt roads. And I will to this day certainly not make a case it is a well-made film, because it is not. I only want to say it is one extraordinary and gloomy spaghetti western, not quite like any other genre contribution and right down my alley.

Men are riding at nightfall towards Red Ranch. Here an old man is just finishing reading from the Bible to a girl [i] and a young woman. A second woman is in the house. There is shooting outside. The man goes outside with the girl. They are shot dead. Four men run inside. A fifth man follows, carrying a wooden flute in a rope around his neck: Kimble. The women are raped by the four men and strangled. The rancher, Barton, comes back, finding only his daughter Suzy alive but traumatized. He buries his dead and goes after the killers. He runs into Kimble, who has left the gang and is waiting for him. Kimble tells him that he saw men pass by. Barton hires him on, as he is the only one who knows what the killers look like, for one thousand dollars.

This plot is often said to be lifted from Death Rides a Horse. I think it is more a counterpoint. It strikes a darker tune than that film. Kimble is not too late to stop what’s going on. He is right on time. While the women are gang-raped, he helps himself to a drink, playing his flute, watching. Kimble manipulates Barton to help him wipe out the gang. Kimble does not give himself away by accident, but knowingly or indifferently. And, unlike in Death Rides a Horse, there is no forgiveness in the end.

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The story is not hard to follow. After the assault, Kimble asks Jim to tell the gang’s boss Ramson that he had enough. He only agreed to rustling horses. He will have nothing to do with killing defenceless women. He also threatens Ramson: “If the gang bothers me, it will be a pleasure to hunt all of you down as coyotes.” Ramson, hearing of this, decides to go after Kimble. So, Kimble keeps his promise, killing the gang members one by one, finishing it off by executing Jim, telling him to give his regards to the gang.

Kimble is an unusual spaghetti protagonist indeed, as nimble with a knife as with a gun, a troubled character with twisted obsessions, akin to the alienated protagonists of the film noirs. There have been some objections to the casting of Giuseppe Cardillo for the part. But I cannot see who else of the regulars could have done it. Also, Cardillo has drawn some humorous comments because of his likeness to Elvis Presley. Nuts, in those days we all looked like Mr. Presley, more or less that is, but of course you wouldn’t know that.

As for endless riding along the same dirt roads, I got that wrong. They are not the same. The film, produced by Angelo Pannacciò, is shot partly in Italy with Italian supporting actors and partly in Spain with Spanish supporting actors [ii]. This contributes a strange feel to the film, as well as to the confusion on who actually took part in the raid on Red Ranch. The Spanish parts are by the way shot back to back with another Pannacciò production, Una cuerda al amanecer, reusing many of the same actors and locations.

Pannacciò is also credited as director. But in fact, the film was written and directed by Luigi Petrini [iii]. Petrini confirmed this in an interview with Nocturno in 2008 [iv]. Petrini fell out with Pannacciò over the editing. Alessio Di Rocco, who interviewed Petrini, also gave him a 74 minute version of the film, and Petrini confirmed that he had directed all the scenes in it, although he didn’t see why it was “cut with a hatchet" [v].

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So, what we really want here is a director’s cut? I’m not sure about that. Yes, the film has its fair share of faults. But it’s not obvious what is due to Petrini’s script and what is Pannacciò’s editing. And there are some instances of real sloppy editing here. But they should not be confounded with the choppy editing style of Pannacciò, which just might suit this film better than the more conventional filmmaking of Petrini. What is obvious, is that it was made on a very small budget, if on a budget at all. When Kimble arrives in town to collect a bounty on some gang members, we hear saloon music. But there is no saloon! They probably could't afford one. Pertini said to Nocturno that Pannacciò didn’t have a lire.

Daniele Patucchi’s fine score is alternating between variations on the film’s moody song and some harsh passages like being played with a razorblade over barbed wire strings. Together with Girolamo La Rosa’s cinematography it conveys a sinister, almost gothic feel to the film. Released January 1972, it’s definitely uncompromising hard-core spaghetti. And, to my liking, the last effort of the filone of any real interest for almost five years, at least that I know of.

1979 re-release and Porno Erotic Western

Thomas Weisser writes in his book [vii] that “[i]n 1978 an unscrupulous production company secured the rights to this film, and after inserting hard core sex scenes re-released it under the name Porno Erotic Western”. But in fact, Lo ammazzò was re-released in 1979 in an extended 90 minutes’ version with 14 years rating (English title Requiem for a Bounty Killer), while Porno Erotico Western was released by Pannacciò himself the same year. According to Maurizio Centini, the cinematographer of the latter film, it consisted of scenes from two westerns Pannacciò had produced in the early 1970's (that would be Lo ammazzò and Una cuerda) with additional "pushed" scenes ("di scene spinte") shot by Pannacciò at Gordon Mitchell's western town [viii]. That might explain the altered credits of the 1979 re-release, introducing Remo Capitani (as Ray O'Connor) [ix], Tomas Rudy and Lorenz Bien as the main actors. The three are also credited with Porno Erotico Western. Pannacciò might or might not have used scenes from that film for the re-release of Lo ammazzo, or vice versa. Anyway, he did credit them with both films.

--by morgan

with thanks to Forum members Carlos and Jonathan Corbett for information and patient discussion.


  • i Lilly in the English version, Smithy, a boy, in the Italian.
  • ii The Spanish parts were shot at Balcázar Estudios/Esplugues City, the Italian parts at Cave Studio. None of the Spanish actors were credited.
  • iii Panucciò and Petrine were at that time partners, running Universalia together, and had worked together on two previous films, Petrini as director, Panucciò as writer.
  • iv Nocturno 70 March 2008 Dossier.
  • v post 14.
  • vii Spaghetti Westerns: The Good, the Bad and the Violent: A Comprehensive Illustrated Filmography.
  • viii Centini said this to Alessio Di Rocco, see the same thread as above, post 8.
  • ix Remo Capitani explained to Giusti that he did do some filming for Pannacciò, that he thought it to be for a western, that the film never finished, that he knew nothing about Porno Erotico Western, even that Pannacciò asked him to do porn, but that he refused.

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