Death on High Mountain Review
Like several other spaghetti westerns starring Peter Lee Lawrence, Death on a High Mountain was influenced by the Giallo genre. There's a stranger in town whose motives seem ambiguous and there's also a criminal mastermind whose identity has yet to be discovered. There has also been some discussions on the identity of the director: It was presented as a movie directed by a certain Fred Ringold, nom de plume of dialogue director Alfredo Medori, but many think Fernando Cerchio (who is credited on the Spanish language version) is far more likely as the movie's director (*1).
The film opens with Mexican bandits attacking an army wagon, killing the soldiers and stealing the money. They have an American associate, who has sent one of his henchmen to the spot to pick up 70% of the loot and to give new instructions to the Mexicans. The next robbery is planned in the border town of Two Arrows but things go horribly wrong when a young man called Loring Vandervelt - the fastest gun in town - intervenes; with the help of a stranger Loring drives the robbers out of town and gets hold of the money the bandits had stolen. The two are then targeted by the Mexicans and their American associates, who want the 'stolen stolen money' back ...
Filmed in 1968, Death on High Mountain (the title seems to make little sense) feels very much like a transitional movie, still showing some Hollywood influences (like an undercover agent and the Cavalry coming to the rescue), but at the same time showing some of the parodist elements that would turn the genre upside down in the years to come. The tone is light-hearted throughout, but the body-count is still quite high. The Giallo-esque script is very lively but most twist and turns are foreseeable and only a very late revelation might come as a surprise. Peter Lee is top-billed but he's not the detective sleuth of service but a local hothead who accidently gets involved in the plot. He often feels like a spear-carrier in his own movie, while Luis Davila's stranger is the real central character.
Death on a High Mountain is more story-driven than most Italian westerns, but the action scenes are well handled. Spaghetti western directors were better at gun duels than large-scale action (lots of people running or riding around and extras falling from great heights), but Cerchio, or whoever was at the helm, makes them look relatively exciting. Instead of the usual poker scenes, we get a couple of billiard games. If you can appreciate a more light-hearted approach, this is an entertaining genre entry, well-paced and lively. For once some scenes featuring a noisy and hyperactive Mexican bandit leader are genuinely funny: Tano Cimarosa has several witty lines as a bandit leader who worships all saints ... but throws their icons away one by one if he has the idea he was let down by any of them. He also has a hilarious scene in which he uses story boards to explain his plans for a robbery.
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
Director: Fernando Cerchio / Alfredo Medori - Cast: Luis Dávila, Tano Cimarosa, Antonio Gradoli, Agnes Spaak, Barbara Carroll, Silvio Bagolini, Giampiero Littera, Nello Pazzafini, Jesús Guzman, Frank Braña, Romano Puppo