Starblack (1966) - View Database Page
According to Paul Simon there are fifty ways to leave your lover. I’m sure there are as many reasons to watch a spaghetti western, and a beautiful poster must be one of them. In my opinion the poster on the right, with the masked avenger and the skull with the crushed coronal bone, is the greatest of all spaghetti western posters. Another one, with a knife piercing a hand reaching for a gun is fascinating as well. When I first saw the two posters, long ago, I thought this was a movie I absolutely wanted to see. But in those days it wasn’t easy to trace a particular movie, let alone a spaghetti western, and when I finally managed to trace a copy, several people told me the film wasn’t that special, so I didn’t bother.
But last weekend I boldly watched the movie, and it turned out to be more enjoyable than I had expected it to be, but man, it is odd, very odd. Even the premise is an oddity: a valley in New Mexico is terrorized by a corrupt banker and his gang of cutthroats, but at the same time the banker and his cutthroats are terrorized by a mysterious masked man called Starblack, who leaves a distinctive black star on the spot (“Starblack was here”) as a symbol of justice. It seems obvious that the movie is an homage to the old-time serials writer/director Grimaldi had enjoyed as a child. In an early scene a woman, after our hero has saved the day, looks up at him adoringly, uttering “Starblack!”. It’s easy to imagine such a scene in a Lone Ranger or Batman movie (much easier than in a spaghetti western!).
The second story line, about the young Johnny Blyth returning home after a misadventure in Colorado (and discovering his father has been murdered), suggests that the Zorro movies were a strong influence; Johnny is accompanied by his loyal servant, who is closely modeled after Zorro’s Bernardo: he pretends to be a mute, which enables him to gather useful information for his master. Of course these two (attention: very mild spoiler) are Starblack and his companion. One of the nice laconic jokes of the movie, is Woods’s explanation (after he has revealed that he is Starblack) how he managed to be in two places at the same time: Starblack can do everything, even make a mute talk and sing (with the voice of his master, no less)!
However, what makes Starblack so very, very odd is the fact that all this goofy exuberance is seasoned with some spaghetti western violence worthy of the year 1966: a villain is killed by thrusting a knife into his forehead; Starblack 'nails' a man to a wall by piercing his hands with two knives (as if he’s crucifying him); and there’s an outrageous scene (echoing an infamous scene in For a few Dollars More) in which a woman who has been brutally raped is given the chance to shoot the rapist. I can only think of Sugar Colt as a pre-’69 spaghetti western with a similar concoction of violent and parodist elements. Of the two, Starblack is surely the more outlandish one. However, apart from the obligatory slapstick barroom brawl, the film is remarkably serious; some scenes may be tongue-in-cheek, but this is not a comedy.
Starblack was pulverized by critics upon its release, and although it was a co-production with Germany, it was only released in ’72 north of the Brenner. Unlike Black Jack or El Puro, two other films of the period starring Bobby Woods, it won’t ever become a cult favourite, therefore it’s simply too average in most departments. Still genre fans should give it a try; watched in the right mood, it’s not unlikable. Grimaldi was better known as a writer than as a director (1) and the film’s intricate (albeit silly) script is very lively and eventful; the final twist – an Agatha Christie like exposure of the least suspected person as the murderer of Woods’s father – will surprise many viewers. Benedetto Ghiglia’s score is wonderfully moody and cheesy at the same time, and so is the theme song, not written by Ghiglia, but by Woods himself, who also sings (2).
- (1) Grimaldi co-scripted Margheriti’s Castle of Blood – in collaboration with Sergio Corbucci! - and numerous other horror movies, peplums and comedies
- (2) You can listen to the song on Robert Woods own YouTube Channel. There you can also watch an ultra-short version of Starblack ('Starblack highlights') : http://www.youtube.com/user/RobertWoods1
Cast: Robert Woods, Franco Lantieri, Elga Andersen, Jane Tilden (Marianne Tuch), Harald Wolff, Renato Rossini, Ettore Manni, Franco Pesce, Director: Gianni Grimaldi - Music: Benedetto Ghiglia