Gunmen Of The Rio Grande Review
An early Italian western. According to the director, Tulio Demicheli, the movie belongs to the pre-Leone era, even though it was released two months after A Fistful of Dollars. When Demichelli got the offer to direct a western, Leone's groundbreaking movie had not yet been released and because he didn't know anything about the genre, Demicheli went to see all westerns - most of them American - that were shown in Roman cinemas at the time (*1).
One of the movies he saw, must have been Rio Bravo, an immensely popular movie in Italy. Not only the title is a reference to Howard Hawks' classic (*2), but Serato's character of the permanently inebriated sheriff is clearly modeled after Dean Martin's alcoholic deputy. Angie Dickenson's Feathers is represented by two damsels in distress, both of good virtue by the way. The story is one of the town taming kind: Guy Madison is Wyatt Earp (the character - or at least his name - was more often used in early eurowesterns) and he's asked by an old flame, saloon owner Jennie Lee (Madeleine Lebeau), to restore law and order in the small mining community of Rio Bravo. Jennie Lee faces a takeover by local tyrant called Zack Williams while her friend, mine-owner Clementine (My Darling Clementine was probably on the program as well), is terrorized by Mexican bandits who he repeatedly rob her silver shipments.
Sfida a Rio Bravo is a charming little movie, elegantly put together, with a sense of style and atmosphere, but it's also terribly clichéd. Of course the famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp travels incognito and of course he soon becomes romantically involved with the fiery Clementine (yes, the town tamer has a shrew to tame as well). But Madison looks relaxed and seems to enjoy himself; the former golden boy had priced himself out of the market back home with his drinking problems, but in Europe he was treated with respect: in the years to come he would appear in numerous spaghetti westerns and macaroni combat movies. Note that even in these early stages, the movie's villainy betrays the Italian touch: Sancho is a bandit, but he's still worthy of some respect, because he doesn't hide his intentions and holds up a certain code of honor; the real crook, is the two-faced businessman and dignitary Tichy, who hides his malicious intensions behind a respectable façade.
- The french actress playing saloon owner Jennie Lee is Madeleine Lebeau, not a name many of us will be familiar with, but most of us will know her face: twenty-years before Sfida a Rio Bravo, she appeared as Yvonne in one of the best remembered scenes of Casablanca, the singing of the French national anthem
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
- Like most spaghetti westerns, it's a movie of many titles. The title of the international English language version, doesn't mention Rio Bravo but (the) Rio Grande. The most charming title, is the alternative Italian title, Jennie Lee ha una nuova pistola, meaning: Jennie Lee has a new gun
Director: Tulio Demicheli - Cast: Guy Madison, Fernando Sancho, Madeleine LeBeau, Gérard Tichy, Carolyn, Massimo Serato, Beni Deus, Olivier Hussenot, Alvaro de Luna, Xan das Bolas, Claudio Scarchilli - Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino