A Pistol For Ringo & The Return of Ringo: Two Films by Duccio Tessari Review
The Western is one of the original core genres and much of what we understand about film, and indeed the success of cinema as an art form comes down to the Western. And yet this, the most purely American expression of film, has suffered mixed fortunes at home. Studios had a habit of complacency and indifference that saw the genre lose favour with audiences several times over the decades. Aside from the occasional pure horse-opera like Unforgiven, Open Range or the remakes of 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit, the modern Western is literally modern, with contemporary stories incorporating the traditional tropes of morals and outlaws. Hell or High Water is a superb recent example which I found breathtakingly good. Still, I wish Hollywood would realise there is still room for both Buzz and Woody and produce regular period pieces.
Pistol For Ringo is a very similar setup to A Fistful Of Dollars, with Tessari clearly sticking to what he knows from his work with Leone. Ringo (Giuliano Gemma, billed as Montgomery Wood) is a jailed gunfighter who does a deal with the Sheriff to infiltrate a bandit gang that is holding a family hostage, including the Sheriff’s fiancée. As Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” did, there is a sense that Ringo is playing one side off against the other, possibly for personal gain. This first film has some cracking action but is generally rather frothy and played for laughs. It’s a live-action Tex Avery cartoon with loads of inventive gags and terrific fun with an odd tone from the start thanks to it being set at Christmas, which isn’t the obvious backdrop for a Western, but the cast sells it well. Gemma’s charismatic anti-hero Ringo (or “Angel Face”) isn’t the lead for the first act or so, but he quickly steals it from straight-man Sheriff George Martin.
The sequel The Return of Ringo is anything but a direct follow-up; a sign outside a saloon reads, "No entry for dogs, Gringos and beggars" and that sets the mood. Filmed later in the year with the same cast, every part is different and the story bears no relation. In the case of George Martin, he was a fresh-faced American in Pistol For Ringo, now an enigmatic Mexican villain. As for Ringo himself, aside from being a bit tasty with a pistol, he is not the same character. It’s even more blatant than Eastwood’s role in the Dollars “trilogy” which also had no common elements other than his look. But no matter, because The Return of Ringo is superb. Whereas Pistol... was a bit of fun fluff, this is sombre, ambitious and powerful. It has a style similar to that of Pale Rider (1985) as Gemma’s Ringo (actually known as Montgomery Brown) returns home from the war to find his town in thrall to Martin’s ruthless Mexican landlord. Worse, he intends to marry Brown’s wife, just as soon as he can prove Montgomery is actually dead. And so Ringo poses as a stranger, just passing through, and takes a job with the florist to get close to what is left of his family.
There is a breathtaking sequence late in the film, where Ringo infiltrates a Fiesta held at his former home, a consummate piece of filmmaking as Tessari's camera moves through the cacophony and it's not the only scene that stands out. This is a film you’ll want to watch more than once just to marvel at Tessari’s measured direction and composition. The final shootout is necessary as they always are in the genre, but it almost cheapens the inventiveness of what came before.
The cast may be interchangeable across both films, but they are faultless. Manuel Muñiz stands out as the shrew-like sidekick. He is at his best as the florist in Return..., albeit a florist with rifle skills. Antonio Casas has notable roles and again, stands out in the second as a drunk sheriff. Not played for laughs in the slightest, his is a small tale of redemption, symbolising what Ringo’s plan means for the terrified townspeople. And so they should be terrified because Italian stalwart Fernando Sancho is a formidable presence. He plays the role of the bandit leader with a clown-ish edge in A Pistol For Ringo, tempering his exuberance for the sequel. Perhaps of all the cast, Hally Hammond has the biggest shift to deal with between the two films, but she flourishes as the widow Brown in the second film.
Both films feature a score by Ennio Morricone. As befitting the tone, A Pistol For Ringo is rather routine, but The Return of Ringo is a fabulous piece of music. Both also have ballad themes, which a lot of American Westerns also had a penchant for. The less said the better, but don’t let it detract you from Morricone’s work. With a more serious ambition, the cast working harder and a spine-tingling score from Morricone, it would be easy to say that The Return of Ringo is the more sophisticated film. That’s probably fair, but A Pistol For Ringo is not to be dismissed, Comedy Westerns are never this good. Duccio Tessari is far more workmanlike than his more famous colleague, but his talent is undeniable and both films are better than Leone's odd A Fistful of Dynamite.
Video quality shifts as you might expect from this era, but it's generally excellent, particularly more balanced on The Return of Ringo. Duccio Tessari’s use of colour and composition is extraordinary, with some Leone-style close-ups that reveal definition and detail etched into faces. There is always movement in the scene too, if only wind whipping up dust outside. Such scenes would suffer in a lazy reissue, but here they are realised perfectly on Blu-ray. The transfers do both films justice.
The mono soundtracks are in Italian with English subtitles and if you enjoy Spaghetti Westerns you’ll know exactly what to expect. The reproduction is bright and clear, voices distinct and no problems to note. But even in Italian, it has the effect of being dubbed and so lipsync can be comically slightly off. This is just down to the method of the time where sound would be recorded separately. To be fair though, as a fan of these kinds of movies, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Revisiting Ringo (with Tony Rayns) (38m)
They Call Him Ringo (22m) - an archival interview with stars Giuliano Gemma and Loretta De Luca.
A Greek Western Tragedy (27m) - An archival featurette with LDL and camera operator Sergio D'Offizi
Commentaries by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke