Gentleman Killer (Shamango) Film/DVD Review
The second of three spaghetti westerns directed by Giorgio Stegani. His first, the Gemma vehicle Adios Gringo, was a highly Americanized Italian western about a cowboy who must try to clear his name after being falsely accused of stealing cattle; his third, the Van Cleef vehicle Beyond the Law, would be a fairly lighthearted affair, with an a-typical role for Van Cleef. At first sight Gentleman Killer is the most straightforward of the three movies. It's a grim revenge movie with a high body count. And yet it comes up with a couple of true surprises, among them an ending that wasn't appreciated by all genre fans - to put it mildly.
Anthony Steffen is the gentleman from the title, a well-dressed, clean-shaven cardsharp called Jo (1), who arrives in the border town of Douglas. The town has become the subject of a political debate, with both the American and Mexican government vying for the control over it. The US army is trying to protect the American citizens, but marauding Mexican bandits have slaughtered a regiment and taken over the town. After the only defender of the town, an army captain, is killed, the siege turns into a reign of terror, but what the bandits didn't know, was that the captain and the fashionable cardsharp were brothers. Steffen adopts his brother's identity, and starts terrorizing the bandits, killing them one by one ...
The story device of the avenger taking another person's identity, reminded me of a Karl May story, called The Ghost of the Llano Estacado. In this story a young man called Bloody Fox systematically hunts down the members of a group of bandits who are responsible for the death of his parents. He never approaches his opponents, but (like Steffen in this movie) stalks them and shoots them from a distance, creating the impression that he's a ghost. There's even a second story element which reminded me of the Winnetou movies: the controversial ending, with the Mexican army replacing Winnetou's braves who come to the rescue of the citizens under attack in true cavalry style. So was Gentleman Killer inspired by the Karl May novels (and movies) or are these similarities purely coincidental? We'll probably never know.
There's enough killing to keep the fans of the dirty approach happy, but the film's basic flaw is that it fails to create a claustrophobic feeling of a town under siege. I liked this controversial ending, it adds a playful note to a passable, but otherwise undistinguished movie. I found some of the supporting actors better than the two leads, notably Spanish actor Antonio Iranzo as one of Fajardo henchmen, the small guy who doesn't want to be called Muchachito. Silvia Solar is a sort of Loredana Nusciak lookalike and when I first caught a glimpse of her, I really thought she was Loredana. The action is decent, if a bit daft at times (Steffen enters a house through the chimney in one scene!) and a couple of action moments have been sped-up. The best thing about the whole thing, is Bruno Nicolai's rousing score, inspired by Orff's O Fortuna (from Carmina Burana). For the occasion Nicolai and Morricone swapped roles: usually it's Nicolai conducting a Morricone score, this time around it's Morricone conducting a Nicolai score (they both score good points, by the way).
- (1) In some versions the hero is called Shamango, in others (of course) Django. In Italy it was realesed under two different titles, and they couldn't agree on the spelling of the hero's name: Gentleman Jo ... Uccidi versus Ehi... Gentleman Joe... frega il morto e... spara al vivo.
Director: Giorgio Stegani - Cast: Anthony Steffen, Eduardo Fajardo, Silvia Solar, Anna Orso, Benito Stefanelli, Antonio Iranzo, Mariano Vidal Molina, Music: Bruno Nicolai