The Hills run red Review
Set in the aftermath of American Civil war and telling a revenge story, The Hills Run Red seems to have the characteristics of a spaghetti western, but in reality it owes as much to Hollywood as to Cinecittà. Officially it's a Spanish-Italian co-production, but the Spanish Cb Films Studios, located near Barcelona, were working under the umbrella of United Artists.
The film tells the story of two southerners, Brewster (Hunter) and Seagal (Gazzolo), who have laid their hands on a Yankee payroll. The Union army is on their trail and when they are about to be captured, they decide to split up: Brewster plays decoy and disappears behind bars, Seagal escapes with the money and promises to look after his friend's wife and child. Five horrible prison years later, Brewster finds his home derelict, his wife dead and his son missing. Seagal has become a powerful land owner and horse-trader; he has 'adopted' Brewster's son (and told the boy his father is dead). Seagal orders his psychopathic henchman Mendez to kill Brewster, but with the help of a mysterious stranger called Getz, Brewster survives the ambush ...
The weakest link in the affair, is the relatively unknown actor Thomas Hunter. Apparently he was a 'discovery' of producer Dino Di Laurentiis, who had great plans with him, but he never became a star and only appeared in a handful of genre movies (*1). The two other Americans in the cast fare much better. The aging Duryea (he died two years later of cancer) turns in a touching performance as the stranger Getz, whose identity and motivation are only revealed in the film's final scene. Silva overacts, but also dominates every scene he's in with his strong screen presence, his crazy laugh and dirty tricks. As a result the film's logical main villain, Gazzollo, is almost totally eclipsed. Giusti calls Mendez one of the greatest villains in spaghetti western history (*2). It's bizarre that Silva was never asked for a spaghetti western again.
The script, by Dean Craig (*3), combines Leonesque influences such as gang infiltration and warring factions with an Americanized story about revenge and redemption. The cycle of westerns by Anthony Mann starring Jimmy Stewart were most probably a source of inspiration (*4) and some have also noticed similarities on story level to Marlon Brando's One-Eyed Jacks (*5). Director Lizzani keeps up the pace and makes the most of some of the more sentimental story elements. The relationship of Hunter with his son is not too embarrassing (if the boy looks familiar: he also played the young Silence) and the scene, in which Duryea's identity is revealed and Hunter's character is redeemed, is very well handled. For the American market the final scene was: a couple of scenes featuring Nicoletta Machiavelli's character were cut in to suggest a happy ending (*6).
When I first saw The Hills Run Red, a decade ago, I didn't like it all; my thoughts about it are more positive now. Ten years ago, I had only seen 60-70 spaghetti westerns and compared to the Leones, Corbuccis, Ringos and Djangos this movie felt poor. A couple of hundred Italian westerns later, it's a different story. This is by no means a masterpiece, some of the dialogue is awful, but it's a solid mid-tier genre entry. Above all, it's a good-looking movie: Toni Secchi's cinematography is quite inventive with a camera shooting through windows, doors and interstices, giving the viewer the impression that he's in the middle of the action. The best remembered scene is a very sudden and bloody shootout in a saloon, introduced by Silva's hasta la vista.
- (1) Thomas Hunter, Wikipedia page
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario Del Western All'Italiana
- (3) In the past there has been discussion about the name 'Dean Craig', but today the general consensus seems to be that it was a pseudonym of Piero Regnoli, a prolific screenwriter who also contributed to the script of Navajo Joe.
- (4) To me Hunter's performance feels like a third rate imitation of one of the obsessed characters played by Jimmy Stewart in a Mann western; Howard Hughes also mentions Mann (and Boetticher) as a source of influence for the movie, but he's more positive about Hunter and thinks his performance is a Steve McQueen imitation (Howard Hughes, Spaghetti westerns, pocket edition)
- See for instance: Kevin Grant, Any Gun can Play, p. 166
- (6) Note what forum member Dillinger said about the scene: https://forum.spaghetti-western.net/t/the-hills-run-red-un-fiume-di-dollari-carlo-lizzani-1966/134/64?u=scherpschutter
Director: Carlo Lizzani - Cast: Thomas Hunter, Henry Silva, Dan Duryea, Nando Gazzolo, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Gianni Serra, Geoffrey Copplestone, Guglielmo Spoletini, Loris Loddi - Music: Ennio Morricone