So Sam came up with a “Spaghetti Westerns Week” (running from Sunday, August 16 to Saturday, August 22) . . . and me, with my Klaus Kinski-mania . . . well, it’s time for another “Drive-In Friday” salute to Klaus as we follow up our June “Drive In-Friday” tribute to the five-film oeuvre of Kinski with Werner Herzog.
Klaus made his first jump into the Western-pasta pot in 1965 as Juan Wild, the hunchback member of El Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonte) in Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More. Kinski then appeared in A Bullet for the General (1967; also starring Gian Maria Volonte), and Man, Pride & Vengeance (1967; starring Franco Nero).
As with Kinski’s oeuvre in other genres: I’ve seen some of Kinski’s westerns (the ones featured tonight), but not all of them (and probably never will), but seen most of them courtesy of the long since gone VHS grey market purveyor VSOM: Video Search of Miami, which excelled in making overseas films available in the U.S.
When it comes to these films, in terms of quality in cinematography . . . well, each try but none succeed in exceeding — or even matching — Sergio Leone’s filmmaking style displayed in the Dollars Trilogy of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). So, if you know those Clint Eastwood-starring films, well, there’s really not much critical analysis to be had with Klaus Kinski’s inversion of the genre. Just know you’re getting serviceable copies of Clint’s films and if you’re a Kinski fan — such as myself — you’ll want to spend your time watching them. All others will probably pass because, if you’ve seen one spaghetti western, you’ve seen ’em all. Between the one-sheets, my gibber-jabber about the films, and the trailers, you’ll figure it all out. The main goal, here, is to make you aware of and guide you through Mr. Kinski’s “spaghetti years” before he became a go-to actor for Werner Herzog.
Alrighty then! Let’s pop those RC Colas and ride, meho! The riches of the lands South of the Border await us!
Movie 1: The Ruthless Four (1968)
Known in its homeland as Ognuno per sé (aka, Everyone for Himself) — and in West Germany as Das Gold von Sam Cooper (aka, The Gold from Sam Cooper) — Kinski co-stars with Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Van Heflin (1942’s Johnny Eager), who wowed then little tykes (like myself) roasting under the black & white’s cathode ray glow of Pittsburgh’s WIIC Channel 11 with his roles in the iconic westerns Shane (1953), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and Gunman’s Walk (1958).
By the turn of the ’60s, Heflin’s star — along with his Gunman’s Walk co-star, Tab Hunter (1988’s Grotesque with Linda Blair) — had fallen, but there was a huge market for American actors in Italian cinema. So Heflin made his first film there, Tempest (1959) and, along with Tab, was billed under Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth in They Came to Cordura (1959).
The title — and alternate titles — of this one pretty much says it all: Four men embark on a suicide mission for a fortune in gold from a mine owned by Nevada prospector Sam Cooper (Van Heflin). Always the heavy, Kinski is one of the greedy four, Brent the Blonde, a faux-preacher with blood on his hands . . . and one more body means nothing to him.
Up next for Kinski: 1968’s If You Meet Sartana . . . Pray for Your Death. He also worked on the sequel, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969). (Sartana was, of course, Gianni Garko, that ‘ol space scoundrel Dirk Laramie from Star Odyssey.)
Movie 2: They Were Called Graveyard, aka Twice a Judas (1968)
Antonio Sabato (Escape from the Bronx and War of the Robots) stars in this film noir-inspired Spaghetti Western as Luke Barrett, a cowboy who regains consciousness with bullet-grazed head wound in the middle of the desert . . . next to a dead man — and a lone rifle with the word “Dingus” carved in its stock. Sabato gathers clues along the way to discover that a hired gunman is out to get him . . . and that he himself was a gun hired to kill Dingus. Yep: You guessed it: Kinski is Dingus and he’s out for blood.
Kinski also worked on Sergio Corbucci’s pasta-western, The Great Silence in the same year.
You can watch They Were Called Graveyard on You Tube.
Intermission . . .
. . . and, back to the show!
Movie 3: Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead (1971)
After working with Antonio Margheriti (1966’s Lightning Bolt) on the western And God Said to Cain (1970), Klaus Kinski received top-billing in this desert noir that Quentin Tarantino* ranked as his 16th personal “Top 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns.”
Kinksi stars as Dan Hogan, an ex-Ku Klux Klan member leading a gang of bank robbers on the run with $100,000 in gold bars. Hogan’s dark past comes back to haunt him in the form of John Webb (Paolo Casella, who also co-starred with Kinski in the 1970 western, The Beast, and the next film on tonight’s program: 1975’s The Return of Shanghai Joe), a stranger who killed the gang’s guide into Mexico and wants half of their gold for safe passage. And all of their blood. So he really wants all of the gold.
Klaus also starred in the westerns Adios Compañeros, Black Killer, Coffin Full of Dollars, His Name was King, and Vengeance Is a Dish Served Cold that same year. Next up for Kinski: 1972’s A Noose is Waiting for You Trinity.
You can watch Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dying on You Tube.
Movie 4: The Return of Shanghai Joe (1975)
The film noir-influence of Kinski’s previous pasta-westerns takes a turn into the then hot Kung-Fu genre — courtesy of Japanese-born martial artist Chen Lee (aka, Cheen Lie, playing a Chinese man here). As result of its martial arts plot, this also appeared on several ’70s Drive-In double and triple-bills, alongside more traditional Asian-action imports, as The Dragon Strikes Back (to trick you into thinking you’re seeing a Bruce Lee movie).
In the first film, 1973’s (My Name is) Shanghai Joe (aka, The Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe), Kinski was Scalper Jack. In the sequel, Kinski is his usual, sinister self as new character, Pat Barnes: a town boss whose stranglehold over a dusty, desert town runs afoul of Shanghai Joe (actually an uncover U.S. Federal Marshal), who’s assisted by a smooth-talking traveling medicine show man he saved from Barnes’s bully boys.
And, with that, Kinksi was off to the giallo weirdness that is Footprints on the Moon.
The Kinski Westerns Completist Department: We found free-with-ads streams on TubiTV of And God Said to Cain, Black Killer, A Bullet for the General, His Name was King, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, and If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. If you have a Vudu account, there’s a free-with-ads stream of Man, Pride and Vengeance.
* Back in July 2019, we had a “Quentin Tarantino Week” of reviews to celebrate the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Be sure to visit our “Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures” featurette that includes the links to all of our week’s reviews and examinations of the films that influenced Quentin’s work.