The Tramplers Review
The second spaghetti baby of writer/producer/director Albert Band (Extra Note). His first spaghetti western, Massacre at Grand Canyon, had been co-directed by Sergio Corbucci. This movie is presented as ‘a film by Albert Band, directed by A. Whileys’. Marco Giusti thinks the film was directed by Albert Band himself (*1). Whileys was a pseudonym of the little-known director Mario Sequi, and his name was probably only used for the so-called quota (*2). The Tramplers is also a sort of twin movie of The Hellbenders (that was written and produced by Band/Antonini, but directed by Sergio Corbucci). Both movies use story elements from the same novel, Guns of North Texas by Will Cook. In both movies Joseph Cotten plays a Southern patriarch who refuses to give up the fight after Lee had surrendered to Grant.
In a post-war Texas, our patriarch is still fighting his private war, taking the law into his own hands, hanging everybody who infringes upon his authority: thieves, robbers, carpetbaggers, slaves ... (he has no shortage of rope, as we are told by one of the characters). In the opening scene, we see him hanging a newspaper man who has told the black people on his ranch that they’re no longer slaves. The scene is witnessed by the hanged man’s daughter (who wants to put the patriarch on trial) and the patriarch’s oldest son Lon, who comes back from the war and is appalled by the hanging (and attracted to the hanged man’s daughter). Lon tries to talk some reason into his father and his brothers first, but things go from bad to worse when one of the younger brothers and the youngest daughter turn against the rest of the family. The end of the movie is particularly tragic, showing Cotten as a man who has lost all sense of reality after he has witnessed how his world fell apart.
With story elements like the adamant patriarch and the prodigal son causing discord in the domestic circle, Band/Antonini tries to create a Biblical atmosphere of fatality and doom. Of the two movies based on Will Cook’s novel, this one has the better script, but the other one, The Hellbenders, most certainly had the better director. Thanks to a decent storyline, The Tramplers is watchable, and it also has some historic relevance as an early spaghetti western outing, but it’s mediocre in nearly all departments. Although the Cordeens are ranchers, it’s a rather town-bound western. The entire movie feels like a protracted episode of Bonanza (with some Rawhide effect). There’s still some confusion as to where the outdoor scenes of a cattle drive (that's the Rawhide effect) were shot. Some think Argentina, but according to Christopher Frayling, Antonini had acquired some footage of gauchos driving a huge herd of cattle through the Argentine pampas and integrated the material into his film (4). For this reason the cast members never appear in the same scenes as the Argentine cattle.
Gordon Scott (once Tarzan), in his last screen appearance, isn’t very convincing as Lon, the prodigal son, but Joseph Cotten turns in a very decent performance as the tragic patriarch and James Mitchum is much better in this movie than in his first spaghetti western, Massacre at Grand Canyon. It’s also nice to see Franco Nero in his pre-Django days, but his role as the suave lover of the rebellious daughter isn’t exactly memorable. Thanks to the presence of Cotten, Scott and Mitchum the movie was released theatrically in North America, where it was presented as ‘the first genuine large-scale American western to be made in Europe’ (in reality there was no American involvement). The action scenes are unspectacular, with all victims dying the same way, covering their faces after they are shot (Oh, my God, who’s going to look after my wife and kids now?). However, there are a couple of scenes – like Mitchum shooting a few wounded men in the back - that are remarkably violent for an early spaghetti western.
Cast: Gordon Scott, Joseph Cotten, James Mitchum, Ilaria Occhini, Franco Nero, Muriel Franklin, Claudio Gora, Dario Michaelis, Romano Puppo, Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia, Franco Balducci, Director: Albert Band (Alfredo Antonini), Mario Sequi (?)
- According to Marco Giusti Band was an Italian ex-patriate, but William Connolly sustained that Albert Band was not born as Alfredo Antonini, and that the name Band is on his birth certificate. There's still doubt about his origins, see: Who was Albert band? - Scherpschutter
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del Western all’italiano
- (2) In order to receive state subsidies, a production had to meet with specific requirements in relation to the nationality of the people involved. The law (Legge Corona) was changed repeatedly, but until 1972 (when it was stipulated that the production had to be 100 % Italian) a production needed at least an Italian director or co-director in order to receive funds. Antonini was born in Paris and had an American passport. See also A Man Called Sledge Review, note 1.
- Christopher Frayling, Once upon a Time in the Italian West