When two gunslingers are on the track of a notorious bandit for different reasons, it's anybody's guess that the film is merely a poor man's For a Few Dollars More, but this might change when you hear the following lyrics:
Like Giulio Petroni's Death rides a Horse and Tonino Valerii's Day of Anger, this movie combines the older man/younger man theme with a vengeance tale from Leone's masterpiece. While not as good as either of those movies, it's a very interesting genre entry. Its positive stance towards religion turn it into an almost unique spaghetti western.
The first person in pursuit of the bandit - a young bounty hunter - is after the reward, the second one - an aging gunslinger - has a personal account to settle. When the younger man proposes a partnership, the older one refuses, not - like Eastwood in Leone's film - for financial reasons, but because he doesn't like bounty hunters. Despite this refusal, Infante stays on Ghidra's track and even saves his life at a few occasions. Ghidra's behaviour changes when he sees that Infante wears a hanger in the shape of a pistol. It's also at this point that the mood of the film changes. Instead of tongue and cheek and violent, it becomes more serious and almost placatory in tone. When Ghidra finally kills the man he has been chasing for years, he does so reluctantly, and after he has revealed his identity to Infante and has explained his scorn for bounty hunters, the latter makes a decision that seems contradictory to all the genre stands for.
Being an Italian genre, the spaghetti western offers a lot of religious symbolism, but like most Italian (left-wing) movies of the decade (think only of Pasolini), spaghetti westerns are usually profane and virulently anti-clerical. Pistoleros is positively religious and unmistakably emphasises this position. This must have been a personal choice of writer/director Caltabiano and as such it is definitely a polemic film. It does not only pay homage to For a Few Dollars more, it also puts a few critical sidenotes to its 'message'. Like Corbucci in The Great Silence and Giraldi in A Minute to pray, a second to die, Caltabiano seems to disapprove of Leone's depiction of the bounty hunter. Caltabiano shows that it was a dirty job and the ones who did it couldn't keep their hands clean. He also seems to be questioning the way collateral damage is depicted within the genre: there's one very powerful scene (easily the best of the film) in which Ghidra pays his respect to the dead when he witnesses a funeral ceremony held in the streets after a bloody bank robbery.
The film is not without flaws. There's a barroom brawl that is completely out of sync with the rest of the movie and more in general the film veers too much from violent action to tongue in cheek humour and melodrama to be totally successful. But its assets outweigh its shortcomings. The gunplay is very convincing and Ghidra's 'shot behind his back' is impressive. Both Ghidra and Infante turn in excellent performances and their characters are far more interesting than those of the average revenge western. Even Caltabiano's villain is not stereotyped: he kills dogs and beats women (and beats them very hard!) but he's still concerned about his younger brother (Novelli, also in a great performance). The script often seems a bit choppy, but most separate scenes are well-executed and the finale is particularly fine. The familiar Almeria locations are substituted by Croatian locations that were also used for several Karl May westerns. The score, by Marcello Giombino, is very nice too. It's mainly a quirky guitar and a more dreamlike trumpet.
Don't expect a For a Few Dollars more or Death rides a Horse, but otherwise: Don't miss it!
Cast: Anthony Ghidra, Angelo Infanti, Mario Novelli, Dante Maggio, Alfio Caltabiano, Ellen Schwiers, Monica Teuber, Ivan Scratuglia - Director: Alfio Caltabiano - Music: Marcello Giombini