Jim il Primo / The Last Gun Review
Often called the first solely Italian western, it was in fact the second: Albert Band's and Sergio Corbucci's Massacro al Grande Canyon has a lower registration number, but Jim il Primo was the first Italian western that was entirely filmed on Italian soil. Preceding Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (*1), it is important for historic reasons, but unfortunately it's a very modest production with little or no merit of its own.
A gang of cutthroats take over a western town, intent on stealing a gold shipment. While waiting for the gold to arrive, they start terrorizing the townspeople. Men are intimidated, women are sexually harassed, and the sheriff gets no support and is therefore powerless. A masked rider repeatedly turns up in the nick of time and some think that he is the legendary Jim Hart, the fastest gun in the West. But who is this Jim Hart really and why is he covering his face? Could it be that he is one of the townspeople? Or is it this guy called Guitar, who arrived in town in the company of the villains, but seems to have a hidden agenda?
The script is a hodgepodge of story snippets, taken from sources as various as the western serials (the Lone Rider type of avenger), the town under terror movies (the scared and passive townspeople) or a classic like Rio Bravo (the grumpy old timer, modeled after Walter Brennan's Stumpy). It all feels tossed together, without any sense of style or structure. Apparently director Bergonzelli tried to capture the feel of a Hollywood western, not to create anything new. The only signs that a new genre is making its first steps, are a particularly corny theme song (sung by Peter Tevis) and the amount of brutality towards women (it would become a recurrent theme within the genre). The bandits seem to have taken over the town for the women rather than the gold and even when they hold up a stagecoach, they try to rape one of the female passengers - the sheriff's beautiful wife - instead of stealing any money.
Apparently the masked avenger was an afterthought. Cameron Mitchell threatened to abandon the production (and finally did) because he wasn't paid at the agreed time. Director Bergonzelli then decided that this legendary gunslinger Jim Hart would be unrecognizable in most scenes, so Mitchell could be replaced by a body double if necessary (*2). No doubt this is also the reason that in post-production Mitchell's lines were dubbed by a voice actor. The character Guitar (he plays with the right hand, shoots with the left) looks promising, but Austrian actor Möhner can't speak a line without giving a chuckle and after a while this quirk becomes unbearable. The villains all seem to have ingested laughing gas because whatever's happening on-screen, murder, torture, rape, or any other sort of mayhem, they all double up with laugher.
In case you didn't get it: This one definitely falls into the category 'for completists only'
- (1) The film was released in Italy in October 1964, one month after Leone's movie, but its registration number is lower, so it was submitted prior to A Fistful of Dollars. Corbucci, who directed him in Minnesota Clay, declared in interviews that Mitchell's financial situation was deplorable at that time. I suppose Mitchell left the production precipitously and went on the make Minnesota Clay
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
Dir: Sergio Bergonzelli - Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Carl Möhner, Livio Lorenzon, Célina Cély, Kitty Carver, Mary Gordon, Dony Baster, Vic Nojaski, Paul Solvay (Luigi Batzella), Fanny Clair, Ugo Fangareggi, Calisto Calisti - Music: Marcello Gigante - Young Jim Hart sung by Peter Tevis