El Desperado (The Dirty Outlaws) Review

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Set in a ghost town, near the end of the Civil War, the movie tells the story of an opportunist who steals the identity of a dying Confederate soldier to get to the money the soldier’s (old and blind) father is sitting on. A fairly interesting genre entry, gritty and mean, often sadistically violent, but also telling a story of redemption and repentance

El Desperado (The Dirty Outlaws, see Database Page is the only spaghetti western directed by Franco Rossetti, the principal author of the landmark movie Django (1966). It’s also a Tarantino favorite, ranked n°13 on his personal Top 20 of spaghetti westerns. The movie features an early example (probably even the first in history) of two people drawing simultaneously, resulting in an extended stand-off, the two man staring at each other, neither of the two having the courage to draw, a set-up we have learned to associate with the works of Quentin Tarantino or John Woo.

The film tells the story of a drifter, Steve, nick-named El Desperado, who’s asked by a dying Confederate officer to visit his father, who has lost his eye-sight and is living in a nearly deserted southern town. Steve is uninterested until the dying man mentions a large sum of money hidden somewhere in his father’s house. In order to get to the money, he steals the dying man’s uniform as well as the handgun, manufactured by the father, that could identify him as the old man's real son. The daring plan seems to work, but while searching for the money, Steve is recognized by an old flame, Lucy, who has joined a gang of cutthroats who have planned to intercept an army payroll passing through town. The outlaws force Steve to do a dirty job for them, but Steve double-crosses them and tries to run off with the payroll money ...

With its muddy town street and abandoned houses, the town is clearly modeled after the ‘dirty’ western town of Django, but director Rossetti turns Corbucci’s border town into a near-ghost town, only populated by an old man waiting for his son to come home and a young woman who keeps him company. Innocent people are tortured and humiliated before they are shot and with a an anti-hero who is as ruthless as the bandits, we get close to the nihilistic world of Questi’s Django Kill! We don’t even know who this young woman called Cathy is: she's looking after the blind old man, without being related to him, so we must consider the idea that she is - like Steve - an imposter who’s after his money (1). Rossetti gives his savage story of greed and deceit a positive twist by infusing it with the so-called doppelgänger motiv: Steve starts identifying himself with the person whose place he has taken and the process has a healing effect on him; he is shocked when he witnesses the brutal murder of the old man and also finds himself attracted to Cathy. In the last half hour the story turns into a revenge tale, but the revenge becomes a redemptive act: the avenger has become a reflexive and caring person who even gives his opponents a chance to redeem themselves. But the transformation is not yet complete: in a remarkable scene (that might have influenced the famous ending of Once upon a time in the West) he tells Cathy that he still has to work on himself and therefore can’t stay with her.

As you might expect from Rossetti, El Desperado is a cleverly scripted spaghetti western. The story is an interesting variation on the revenge tale and the characters have more depth than in most Italian westerns. Some of the fist fights feel redundant and the story detail about the blind father mistaking a total stranger for his own son is of course nonsense. Those who cherish historical accuracy will no doubt find a lot to complain about, but the cheap look and fake Southern uniforms somehow contribute to the atmosphere of decay and deprivation. For a genre movie, the acting is quite good; genre stalwarts Piero Lulli (as the blind old man) and Aldo Berti (as a con man who first saves Steve and is later saved by him) make nice cameo appearances. Giordana (using the rather funny pseudonym of Chip Corman) had played Edmond Dantes in the TV-series Il Conte de Montecrisso and would appear in a couple of ambitious spaghetti westerns, but never become a real western star. Giornelli is not a great villain, but Ghia makes up for him, as the femme fatale who fears she’s past her prime. And it’s great to see Rosemary Dexter again, the girl - Mortimer's sister - from the legendary flashback scene of Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More.

Director:: Franco Rossetti, Cast:: Andrea Giordana, Rosemary Dexter, Franco Giornelli, Dana Ghia, Piero Lulli, Aldo Berti, Andrea Scotti, Dino Strano, Giovanni Petrucci, Janos Bartha - Music: Gianni Ferrio


  • I thought I would be the only one to take this into consideration, but I noticed that Lee Broughton expresses the same idea in his DVD review for DVD Savant.

--By Scherpschutter

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