Gunman's Hands (Ocaso de un Pistolero) Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Gunman's Hands (Ocaso de un Pistolero)
An early Spanish western, for most part breathing a pre-Leone atmosphere, but using some of the locations and sets used by Leone in A Fistful of Dollars. It was the first directional effort of Rafael Romero Marchent, a brother of the slightly more famous Joaquin, who produced and scripted the movie. It was also the first European western for American actor Craig Hill, who would make a handful of spaghetti westerns in the years to come. It’s often caled one of the better early Spanish examples of the genre. The original title means Twilight of a Gunfighter, which would have been a far better title than the rather insipid Gunman’s Hands. With the melodramatic story in mind, it could also have been called Gunman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Dan Murphy is former gunslinger, a man with a price on his head, who has given up his gun in order to live a peaceful life. He is haunted by nightmares about an incident in which his newborn son was accidently shot by a sheriff who wanted to arrest him. Today Murphy lives with his wife Laura and their son on a remote ranch. Wasn’t the child killed during the incident with the sheriff? It was, but Murphy and his wife have stolen the sheriff’s son and raised him as their own, naming him (like the deceased kid) Davy. One day one of men who have been looking for him in the name of the sheriff arrives at the Murphy ranch, proposing a deal: if they are willing to hand over the child to his natural father, he’ll no longer be a wanted man. Laura urges her husband to accept the deal, because stealing the baby was wrong in the first place and they will never find peace until they’ve set things right. Murphy agrees, but then his neighbor is killed and he feels compelled to pick up his guns again …
Like most early Spanish efforts, it is still under the influence of Hollywood westerns. It often feels like one of those psychological Hollywood westerns from the fifties about gunslingers trying to forget their violent past. This premise is fused with a melodramatic storyline about a boy who is raised by a man who kidnapped him, and who eventually must choose between his ‘two fathers’. It’s a story device which already occurs in Nordic mythology but was particularly popular in 19th Century romantic and gothic novels. With a running time of no more than 77 minutes, it must also be one of the shortest examples of the genre. Various sources mention a much longer running time, but the Spanish database mundocine.net says 80 minutes (1). But maybe this is simply the longest version still available.
The first half of the movie offers a few fistfights but is otherwise rather tame, but things pick up with a rather bizarre scene, a sort of variation on Russian Roulette, in which Hill takes care of Lulli, the oldest and most dangerous of the evil Carter brothers, who have been challenging him all the time. We then get a quick succession of events, leading to a melodramatic, but quite effective finale that may still be Spanish in spirit, but is shot in the more baroque style of the Italian western. As French critic Jean-François Gire pointed out, the Spanish westerns have a cleaner, less ‘dirty’ look than their Italian counterparts, and the emphasis is more on honour and chivalry than the blood calls for blood philosophy of the common spaghetti western (2).
It’s not a surprise that this movie got some good comments from those who appreciate European westerns with a Spanish feel. Personally I thought the narrative felt a little disjointed here and there, while the different story elements not always engage very well with one another. Too long the storyline with the evil Carter brothers feels detached from the basic plotline about Hill’s decay from a peaceful man into a nervous wreck who brings about his own downfall. But the action scenes work well and Hill (otherwise not really my favorite actor) is quite effective as the troubled Dan Murphy. And the kid isn’t too irritating either. An above average achievement.
- (1) http://www.mundocine.net/Ocaso-pistolero-pelicula-2823.html
- (2) Jean-François Giré, Il était une fois le western européen, p. 128-129; for his review of the movie, see p. 113