Last Ride to Santa Cruz Review

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An early European western, shot on the Canary Islands (1), but without any Spanish or Italian interference. It was an Austrian-German co-production, distributed in Germany by Constantin Films, the company that had also distributed the Winnetou movies. It was dismissed by German critics for its brutalities and sympathetic depiction of the villainous hero, Ortiz, played by German actor Mario Adorf. It almost completely sank into oblivion. There seems to be no English language version of the film, so fans who want to see it, will either have to learn German or get hold of a subtitled copy.

Adorf plays Pedro Ortiz, a sort of Robin Hood Mexican style: He steels from the rich and helps the poor, but likes to keep the money for himself. He has been in jail for ten years for a robbery, and after his release he is determined to retrieve the loot he had hidden previously to his arrest on a mountain called Santa Cruz. But first he wants to get even with the man who put him behind bars, the American sheriff Rex Kelly. He kidnaps the man's wife and son and takes them with him across the border, but Kelly (no longer a sheriff) is already in hot pursuit ...

The script was written by Herbert Reinecker, one of Germany's most prolific screenwriters, best known for his work on the long-running TV series Der Kommissar and Derrick, both detective series. His script is not really a detective story, but there are a few clever twists and complications, and the suspense is nicely sustained. For an early eurowestern, the characters are remarkably ambiguous. Before travelling South, Ortiz not only frees his cellmates, a nasty bunch of criminals, but also the son of a former friend, a young man who was sent to jail for defending his parents against a rich landowner who was after their properties. Grateful at first, the boy later turns against Ortiz, after he has witnessed the dark side of his liberator. It is suggested that Ortiz once was like this young man, a farmer's son who stood up against the forces of evil and injustice. There's still some good in him, but bad friends, liquor and greed have turned him into a bandit. There's one crucial scene, easily the best of the movie, in which we see Ortiz and José (Kinski, in a trademark, flamboyant performance) getting drunk during a seemingly peaceful robbery of a hacienda; things get worse and worse and it's clear that the situation will inevitably turn into bloodshed.

That all sounds very interesting, and it is, but I wouldn't get overexcited, the movie has a fair amount of flaws as well. British actor Purdom is a motionless hero and the director lacks all possible feeling for western action. The film has an Italian title (in fact it has two: La lunga strada della vendetta and Ortiz il bandito) and Leone most probably saw it. Both Marianne Koch (she plays Purdom's wife) and Sieghardt Rupp would appear in A Fistful of Dollars, while Kinski would get a small role in For a Few Dollars More. However, it's not really a transitional movie: it's far too violent for a Winnetou type of western, but it has none of the characteristics of the spaghetti westerns. Even the score, by two different composers, sounds like no eurowestern score at all. It's typical Hollywood bombast, seasoned with a whiff of De Sousa, Brahms and Bruckner (2). Last Ride to Santa Cruz is not a great film per se, but it was better than I had expected and it's also a rather unique film, in the sense that it bares little or no relation to other eurowesterns made at the same time. Definitely worth checking out.

Cast: Mario Adorf, Klaus Kinski, Edmund Purdom, Marianne Koch, Marisa Mell, Walter Giller, Thomas Fritsch, Sieghardt Rupp, Florian Kühne - Director: Rolf Olsen - Screenplay: Herbert Reinecker - Music: Charly Niessen, Erwin Halletz


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--By Scherpschutter

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