The Gatlin Gun / Machine Gun Killers Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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  • 1968
  • Director : Paolo Bianchini
  • Cast : Robert Woods, John Ireland, Ida Galli (Evelyn Stewart), Claudie Lange, Gerard Herter, Lewis Jordan, Roberto Camardiel, Rada Rassimov, Georges Rigaud, Ivan Scratuglia
  • Music : Piero Piccioni


This is an unconventional and interesting, but often confusing genre entry, slated by some, received more benevolently by others, loved by amateurs of the unusual and unexpected, among them Quentin Tarantino. It was the dark horse on his personal Top 20 recently published here. The story is set during the American Civil War and involves such historical figures like Pinkerton and Gatling (1). Like Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power, it uses the historical background to tell a highly fictional story. Among the story ingredients are government agents, political intrigue, a defector, and a man on a secret mission. There’s also a furtive slant at racism.


The film opens with a pretty puzzling scene: a wounded Robert Woods rides a wagon into a fort, saying it’s all over. Answering a question of one of the people inside the fort, he also says that Wallace is dead. Who the hell is Wallace and what is all over? Only when I watched the film for the second time, I realized that this scene was the film’s logical conclusion. In other words: the entire action is presented in retrospect, which explains – to some extent - the entangled story-line and some of the erratic jump-cuts (in the version I saw). The film was released in Italy with a running time of about 100 minutes, but was re-edited for the international market: it was cut down to either 90 or 93 minutes, with several scenes allegedly abbreviated or edited in a different order. The French version lacks the opening scene and shows the opening credits against a monochrome background. The story is more or less as follows: In the second year of the Civil War, Gatling, the inventor of the device carrying his name, the gatlin’ gun, a rapid-fire prototype of machine gun (2), offers his invention to the Union Army. President Lincoln sends a commission to the place of Las Cruzas, New Mexico, for a meeting with Gatling, but during the night the commission members are killed and Gatling and his gun carried off by two men who work for a half-breed villain called Tarpas. A member of the Unionist Secret service, Chris Tanner, is suspected of the crime, but his boss, Pinkerton, masterminds a plan to set him free and give him a chance to prove his innocence. Tanner is soon on the trail of Tarpas, and finds out that he has an accomplice: one of the commission members, who was not killed during that fatal night in Las Cruzas. The two men try to extort money from the Union as well as the Confederacy, by asking $1.000.000 for both Gatling and his gun …


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Official director Bianchini refuses to talk about the film (he says he’s forgotten all about it), and there are some persistent rumors that Sergio Corbucci had a (small) hand in this production. The film does indeed feel like the work of several spiritual fathers. Some scenes are fine (well-staged and well-directed), others not-so-fine (note that oddly shot fistfight), and the film’s most infamous (and gory) scene, the extraction of a bullet from a hand, was – if you ask me – taken from an entirely different movie. Despite all confusion created by editing and re-editing the material, the story is interesting and if you manage to keep track with what is going on, it’s also quite engaging. More story-driven than most spaghetti westerns, it might not be the ideal movie of the average action fan. Woods is dragged by a horse, used as a boxing-bag and even buried alive, and although most action scenes are adequately staged, only the violent finale can really be called spectacular: It’s a humdinger of a ‘blow-away shootout’, with the gatlin’ gun rendering special services. Worth the price of an entry ticket alone, so to speak.


With the villains playing two warring factions off against each other, and Woods presented as womanizing secret agent, some have suggested that the Bond movies were a source of inspiration. Woods isn’t bad, but I had problems to accept him as an irresistible lady killer. Still one of the beauties (Claudie Lange, who plays the prostitute) was his spouse at the time, so probably I’m not a good judge on men. With both Rada Rassimov and Ida Galli around, the film sure isn’t devoid of beautiful women, and I can assure you that Galli is at her seductive best (I’m a better judge on women). But there’s no denying that the film belongs almost entirely to John Ireland. Spaghetti westerns always seemed to bring up the best in this actor, and in The Gatlin Gun he probably has his finest hour as the bearded half-breed who throws a knife with his toes (!) and is frustrated because the love of his life (again the prostitute played by Lange) won’t have him because of the color of his skin. The score by Piero Piccioni mainly consists of variations on a rather atypical (for a spagh) mood piece, driven by Hammond organ riffs with influences of jazz and lounge. It’s quite nice, but it often feels more appropriate for a French noir movie of the fifties or sixties. A nice touch is persistent buzzing of flies on the soundtrack, suggesting the oppressive heat in which the action takes place.



Notes:

  • 1. The official name of both the gun and its inventor seem to be Gatling, but the spelling Gatlin (with or without an apostrophe) is quite common, especially in relation to the gun.


--By: Scherpschutter

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