Thunder over El Paso (I Senza Dio) Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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THUNDER OVER EL PASO (1972)
Cast:
  • Antonio Sabàto
  • Cris Avram
  • Erika Blanc
  • José Rivas Jaspe
  • Paolo Gozlino (Paul Stevens)
  • Pilar Velázquez
  • Giovanni Cianfriglia (?)
  • José Canalejas

Director:

  • Roberto Bianchi Montero

Music:

  • Carlo Savina

Thunder over El Paso (I Senza Dio)

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A late spaghetti of the violent type. With two gunmen chasing the same - pocket watch wearing - bandit, this is also a late descendant of For a Few Dollars More. There’s some comic relief involving a nervous type, who’s at the same time the barber and priest of a small town, but overall this is a loyal homage to the house that Sergio built a decade earlier. The outlaw on the run, Curpacho, is terrorizing the El Paso region with a series of violent bank robberies. The two men on his trail are Minnesota, a black-clad bounty hunter, and El Santo, himself an outlaw, but only worth $ 9.000 and therefore of no interest to Minnesota, who never bothers with outlaws worth less than $ 10.000. The film’s script adopts some of the characteristics of a detective story. The two men interrogate people, and are always looking for objects, mentioned in testimonies, that could link the owners to that crucial bank robbery in Tucson. In the true style of the detective story, there’s a final twist when the two hunters find out that they have been trailing the wrong man …


The identity of the real perpetrator is a bit easy to guess, but it’s not the only ambiguous aspect of the movie. Sabàto’s character is called El Santo, but he’s no Saint, he’s a killer, capable of vicious torture. The ambiguity of his character is illustrated, in Italian, with a nice play upon words (not possible in English), which tells us he’s not dealing in “salmi” (psalms), but in “salme” (corpses). Minnesota isn’t a good sport either, he shoots people in the back and he’s also a bit of a maniac, with an unsound obsession for numbers. But the two men are more or less redeemed during the film's finale, when their true motivations to track down the man responsible for the bank robbery in Tucson are revealed. Of course the two men had different reasons, and of course one of them was out for revenge.

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Curpatcho’s pocket watch is not the only homage to Leone. A teenage boy is hung from a bell-rope, the bounty hunter is counting while piling up bodies on a wagon, and there’s a recurring flashback that will eventually unravel the plot and reveal the identity of the criminal mastermind. Still this is not a rip-off. Actually, I Senza Dio is not a bad little movie, but there’s something missing, an unidentifiable spark that could ignite things. There are a few quite furious shootouts, but the film nevertheless looks tame. It all seems to be there, but – as is the case in more of these late spaghettis of the violent type – the magic has gone. The casting is a little off-beat. Strangest of all things: most reference books list Giovanni Cianfriglia, but I haven't spotted him (1). I liked Romanian expatriate Avram best; he has a laid-back acting style that suits the material well (2). Sabàto is not a bad actor, but he seemed to fare better in the more lighthearted variations, where his athletic abilities could be used to better effect. The aging Jaspe - best known for his performance of a Munchhausen like villain in Light the Fuse … Sartana is coming – is quite a curiosity as Curpacho. With his tousled grey hair and long beard, he looks more like a Russian writer from the 19th Century than a Mexican bandit (3). Erika Blanc and Pilar Velázquez are, on the other hand, exactly what the doctor ordered; Erika is at her seductive best and Pilar burns up the screen in the few moments she’s granted.


There’s some confusion as to where the film was shot. The credits mention only the Elios studios, but in an interview Erika Blanc refers to her nights out in Madrid with some members of the cast, which would suggest that the outdoor scenes were shot in central Spain. The western town, is that of the Elios studios (for the occasion called ‘Canyon City’), but some of the landscape doesn’t look Italian to me, so I guess Erika is right. In the same interview, she describes Sabàto as a very nice person (and the personification of the Latin lover, always busy courting the ladies), and confesses that she was perplexed by Pilar Velasquez’ dazzling beauty; she had expected to draw some attention from the Spanish señores, but they had only eyes for miss Velazquez. In another contemporary interview, with the magazine Tempo, Pilar Velazquez, declared that she was fed up with playing the lovely señorita : I'm sick of playing a gipsy with castagnets. As you can see I'm not fat, I'm not timid and I'm not sentimental. I do not like bullfights and hate Andalusian folklore. On the contrary I am a very modern person: I take the pill, I am in favour of abortion and fight for women liberation (4).



Notes:

  • (2) Some notes regarding the spelling of the names of two actors: Avram's first name is spelled either with or without an h (Chris/Cris); his original, Romanian, name was Cristea, and his on-screen name is Cris, so without the h. Sabàto's name is usually written with an à to indicate that the stress is on the second syllable. Sabato (with a) means 'saturday' in Italian, and is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.
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  • (3) If you don't believe me, just look at this: left (or right?) Curpacho, right (or left?) 19th Century Russian writer Lev Tolstoy, the man who wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
  • (4) Both interviews are quoted by Marco Giusti in: Dizionario del Western all'Italiana


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