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And for a Roof, a Sky full of Stars Review (Scherpschutter)

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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The film opens with a scene that belongs to the most beautiful in the history of the spaghetti western. A stagecoach is attacked by a gang and all passengers are brutally killed. The gang members ride off but the camera remains with the victims, eventually lingering on the face of a blonde girl. A hand brushes the dust from her face and when a plaintiff musical theme starts filling the air, we look into the face of a young man in shock. He is joined by a second man, a passer-by who wanted to rob the victims from the valuable things the murderers have left behind, but is also swept of his feet by the sight of the massacre. While that plaintiff music continues, and the credits start rolling over the screen, the two men decide to bury the victims …

As a result of the mutual experience, the two become friends. The younger one, Tim, is a swindler, using his wit and charm to fleece people of their money. The older one, Harry, is a bad-mannered, but basically good-natured drifter who lives from hand to mouth. Tim does not carry a gun because – in his words - there’s less competition for a swift brain than for a pair of swift hands. Tim soon tricks his partner by stealing his dearest possessions, a few knuckles of gold. He invests them in a small circus (main attraction: a mermaid), and it seems a good investment, but when Harry catches up with him, he reduces the entire circus to ruins …

Like Death Rides a Horse, Petroni’s most famous western, And for a Roof … is a sort of alternative buddy movie. It’s also a very uneven one. Soon after the opening scene, the film takes an unexpected, light-heated turn. A few minutes into the movie, we’re in the middle of an unfunny barroom brawl, and throughout the movie, the tone veers from comedy to drama and back. There are some great comedy moments – like Gemma talking himself into the house (and bed) of a young widow – but overall the film struggles to keep up with the expectations created in that wonderful opening scene and lacks continuity. The drama only picks up when we find out that the stage coach robbers from the opening scene, were in reality looking for Tim. And then there’s a second surprise: Instead of a natural swindler, Tim turns out to be the fastest gun in the West, known to every man as Billy Boy. He has killed two members of the Pratt family, and ever since, the entire Pratt family is on his trail …

When I saw this film for the first time, I was disappointed, but I liked it (quite a lot) more when I rewatched it recently. Director Petroni has infused his comedy with a melancholic tenderness that eventually makes us care about these two rascals. Blending humor with hard-edged action, the movie (like many others of the period) is tributary to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Tim and Harry are still a sort of Blondie and Tuco, rivals yet ‘brothers’. At the same time the characterizations anticipate the different approach of the Trinity movies, in which the ‘brothers’ would become real brothers, but each others direct opposites: one handsome, skillful and cunning, the other chunky, clumsy and rough-mannered. Apparently it was Gemma who came up with this idea of so-called contrapuntal characters after reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Gemma is nearly at his very best here, combining his athletic skills and boyish charm to maximum effect, but he had played similar roles before and it was the introduction of Adorf’s character which created new ways of expression for the genre. The supporting actors are also quite good, with Anthony Dawson as the vengeful patriarch and Federico Boido a standout as his mean, ultra-mean son. The main theme has become one of Morricone’s most beloved compositions, but the entire soundtrack is fine. It got a limited LP-release in the 80s (only six tracks on one side) and it took some 20 years before it got a proper release on CD (25 tracks).

And for a Roof … is an essential spaghetti western, but due to its uneven nature, it got mixed comments. Most people would agree with Tom Betts, who calls the opening scene “one of the best of the genre”, but blames the movie’s lack of continuity (1). And for a Roof … is a forerunner of the Trinity movies, but the tone is bittersweet instead of ebullient, and the violence is still quite strong. Alex Cox recognizes its pivotal place in the history of the genre, but calls it a tedious buddy movie and concludes: “So if Gemma and Adorf anticipated Hill and Spencer (…) who cares?”. Others have been more positive, Giusti calls it a “great twilight western” (western crepusculare), Giré says “the fusion of the tragic and comic (even burlesque) elements for once has been realized with a lot of finesse.” Kevin Grant compares it to Michele Lupo’s Ben and Charley, made four years later and offering a similar mix of comedy and tragedy. Kevin thinks Lupo’s movie is the better of the two. I prefer this one.