The Greatest Robbery in the West Review
The Greatest Robbery in the West (La Più Grande rapina del West)
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This is often called one of those movies which cannot decide whether it wants to be serious and mean or light-hearted and silly. For this reason it has been dismissed by most genre fans. Even today it’s a relatively unknown movie. It was made with a limited budget but with a good cast in fine form. According to director Maurizio Lucidi, the lead actors were chosen with different markets in mind: Barnes would be top-billed in the German speaking world, Hilton in most other European countries, and Powers was supposed to attract audiences in North America. It seemed destined to do well, but there were a lot of trouble with truncated versions and people didn’t like the combination of comedy and violent action.
With the help of a fake priest, who masterminded the whole thing, Jarrett and his gang rob the bank of Middletown. While Jarret tries to shake off the sheriff and his posse, the loot is smuggled out of town by the fake priest in a hollow statue of San Bernardino. The gang members take refuge in the isolated town of Poorlands, where they are supposed to meet an Indian who can guide them through the desert, the only way to Mexico now all other roads are blocked because of the robbery. At night the Indian is killed by the fake priest, who wants the money for his own, and also has an eye on Jarret’s girlfriend. While waiting for the Indian, the gang members start terrorizing the town. The sheriff is killed, but this enrages the sheriff’s scallywag brother Billy Rum, who is in fact a proficient gunman.
George Hilton’s character Billy Rum, is presented as a care-free layabout, but also as a heavy-drinker and trouble seeker. Early on, we get one of those interminable would-be funny fistfights in a saloon, with Hilton and his opponent performing acrobatic tricks and exchanging blows while getting drunk. In fact, the fight can only be stopped by the sheriff, Billy Rum’s brother, who throws his little brother in jail. This is all very light-hearted, but very soon we’re in much darker territory when the gang takes over the town and starts harassing women, children and even dogs. The atmosphere is quite nasty and there are a couple of graphic killings, rare in a spaghetti western from 1967. When Hilton hits the screen, the tone inevitably switches to tongue-in-cheek, but he also makes a few killings, and his scenes never slide off into slapstick. He has become a regular customer of the town jail and has found his own way in and out of it, so after his brother has been killed, he can leave his secure place, and prowl about in town, taking the enemy by surprise.
Hilton’s character is so acrobatic that I wondered whether the part was originally written for Giuliano Gemma, but I have not been able to find any evidence for this. And let’s not forget that Hilton had played a drunk who could shoot straight in Massacre Time. Barnes is convincing as the sadistic gang leader and Powers successfully hams it up as the fake priest and treacherous mastermind. Some tension is created in relation to his exact intentions: Is he a double-dyed, out-an-out scoundrel or not such a bad guy after all? The supporting cast is also very good, with Luciano Rossi and Tom Fellighi under the menace of heavies like Mario Brega, Sal Borgese and Rick Boyd. The ladies add a welcome touch of eroticism to the proceedings and Sonia Romanoff and Erika Blanc offer us a deliciously wicked catfight near the end. Apparently they hated each other and really had a fight on the set.
The Greatest Robbery in the West is uneven, but it’s worthy of some attention. The mid-section, with the hostage situation, is quite suspenseful and Lucidi, who would also make the two Pecos movies, directs with a certain flair. The film’s main problem seems to be that it fails to come up with a satisfying ending. We’re heading for a Mexican standoff with the three protagonists, but then, all of a sudden, Lucidi opts for a rather grotesque finale with an explosion and the dollars from the loot literally raining down on the town of Poorlands.
The Different Versions
Originally the movie had a running time of 115 minutes, but director Lucidi cut several scenes because of censorship problems, among them a sex scene with Powers and Romanoff, set in the church. According to Giusti, the scene is in the Italian version released on VHS. The film was released at various lengths in different countries, with most copies running some 105 minutes. Many copies run no more than 85 minutes. The German DVD, Ein Hallelujah für Django, has this version, but offers 7 deleted scenes from another German version, plus 21 extra scenes from the Italian version. Another German DVD, running 105 minutes, integrates some of the previously cut scenes, showing them with subtitles.
The Dutch Connection
For those who think Glenn Saxson (Roel Bos) was the only person from the low countries who made a serious contribution to the genre, there’s a nice surprise. Apart from Erika Blanc and Sonia Romanoff, the film offers a third beauty, the snow blonde Katia Christine. Who is she? Well, according to all possible sources, she was born in Holland (but nobody seems to know in what place) as Katia Christine van Kranenburg, in 1946. She was raised in France and started modeling at the age of fifteen. Soon French casting directors discovered her Zsa Zsa Gabor looks and offered her small roles in French productions. She would appear in more than 30 (mainly French and Italian) movies. The Greatest Robbery in the West is the first of two spaghetti westerns (she'd also appear in Alfio Caltabiano's Mamma mia è arrivato così sia). She was praised for her appearance, alongside Tomas Milian, in La Vittima Designata (1971), also directed by Maurizio Lucidi. Later she moved to New York, where she became a successful businesswoman in Real Estate. Until the mid 80's she would also appear in several TV series, among them Knight Rider and The Fall Guy. Today she still lives in New York and owns several apartment blocks in Manhattan.
- It's not easy to trace info on Katia Christine, I found most of it in New York Observer article by Carmela Ciuraru on New York Real Estate
- Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
- Più grande rapina del west, La/Comparison VHS-DVD (deutsch)
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