In 1964, Sergio Leone made history when he subverted the conventions of the American Western to make Fistful of Dollars. Two years later Sergio Corbucci took an even more revolutionary look at the genre in Django and in 1967 Giulio Questi left no conventions standing when he made Django Kill. Yet Italian film-makers did not always try to make such changes to the Western format and of the 500 plus films made during the Spaghetti Western boom, a large number were content to simply create a good storyline and an enjoyable film around the format created by the American films.
In the state of Utah, the coffin of the Drummond family patriarch is being taken to the cemetery when a group lead by Jonathan Griffith appear over the walls of the canyon and start shooting into the coffin as a sign of their disrespect - another chapter in the long running feud between the two families. Into that small town rides Jerry (Rod Dana), a violin player who performs at the bar but gets into a fight with Spott Griffith, the youngest of the family and a heavy drinker. Jerry is able to fight off Spott and his entourage, but riled up by the embarrasment, the group try to lure the violin player into a duel in the town centre - with amazing speed Jerry kills all four of them. Rather than leaving town, Jerry meets Lisa Drummond and decides to stay and look after her, but the angry, fast shooting Chester Griffith is not going to let the death of his brother go unavenged...
Written by genre regular Mario Amendola (also behind the impressive script for I giorni della violenza (1967)), Kill or be Killed eschews the action packed fast paced tone of many Italo-Westerns, instead using the time to build character and create a generally more realistic atmosphere - the villainous Grittith family in particular get some real depth and you can really believe the sorrow that Jonathan feels over the death of his son. Similarly, with no need to add action scenes, Jerry does not have to face off against the usual endless streams of inept bounty hunters. Together these factors combine to make the final showdown a lot more significant and genuinely tense.
The tone of the film is well balanced - many Spaghetti Westerns veered erratically between grim and slapstick scenes, but Amendola's script keeps the storyline serious (including a few brawls that were often the source of cheap laughs in other films), while using a couple of lighthearted characters to provide a welcome lighter tone in a few scenes. An interesting sign of the film's American stylings comes with the role of the Sheriff - perhaps a sign of the different country's cultural views on authority figures, the Italian Westerns usually had Sheriffs as minor figures and more often than not, corrupt or inept. Here the Sheriff is one of the main players in the storyline and very intellegent - often one step ahead of both hero and villain.
Behind the camera, director Tanio Boccia (credited as usual as Amerigo Anton) does some solid work - although only his second venture into the Old West, a resumé full of Pepla means he is more than qualified to direct fight scenes and this is something that the film does well, the brawl between Gerry and Spott's gang in a saloon is plausibly violent and exciting to watch - as mentioned above, it avoids becoming a mere comedy skit. Hard working Euro-cinema composer Carlo Rustichelli (Sei donne per l'assassino (1964)) provides a memorable theme song which is repeated throughout the film in a variety of styles, with some solid incidental music as well.
American actor Rod Dana (credited here as Robert Mark) travelled to Rome as a musician but soon found a selection of bit part film roles available, eventually gaining a leading credit in Eurospy flick Operation White Shark (1966). In Kill or be Killed he shows some fine acting abilities and of particular note are his fighting skills in the saloon brawl, moving like a professional wrestler. Considerably de-bulked from his better known roles, Peplum star Gordon Mitchell has a brief but memorable performance as a hired killer. A variety of familiar faces appear in the rest of the cast.
With its American influences and slower, character driven storyline, Kill or be Killed will not appeal to fans of the action packed Italian Westerns, but Western fans in general should find plenty to enjoy in this well written and directed story.
|Anyone famous in it?||
Rod Dana - travelled to Rome to sing, but ended up in the leading role of Operation White Shark (1966)
Gordon Mitchell - the American bodybuilder who remained in Italy after the Peplum boom to star in Westerns.
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Tanio Boccia - a little known Italian director who helmed a number of Peplum titles, including Caesar the Conqueror (1962) and later a few Westerns, including Dio non paga il sabato (1967)|
|Any gore or violence ?||A few fight scenes, no blood.|
|Any sex or nudity?||None.|
|Who is it for?||Western fans who like more character and plot than action should enjoy this.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour.
The print is very grainy but has good colours and plenty of details.
|Audio||English mono - has a lot of background noise and humming and a few brief drop-out (less than a second). Always understandable but not without some difficulty in a few places.|
|Extras||The disc includes:
|Region||Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC|
|Availability||Only available as part of a single disc, two film set along with Kill the Wickeds.|
|Other regions?||Available in Germany as Für eine Handvoll Blei from X-rated Kult, with English, German and Italian audio.|
|Cuts?||Cut status unknown - no apparent cuts. Print language is Italian.