June 25: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is lethal revenge! We’re excited to tackle a different genre every day, so check back and see what’s next.
Why did I wait so long to see this movie?
Was I worried that it would disappoint me?
Did I need to explore the Italian west first?
I have no idea!
Simon Moore wrote this movie as a tribute to Sergio Leone and man, it comes through in every scene of the film. He had intended to direct his own script as an independent film and soot in either Spain or Italy when Sony Pictures Entertainment bought the script, got Sharon Stone as the lead and went with Sam Raimi after she was impressed with his work on Army of Darkness. She went so far as to tell the producers that if Raimi did not direct the film, she wouldn’t be in it.
Raimi would blame himself for the film’s failure, sayin “I was very confused after I made that movie. For a number of years I thought, I’m like a dinosaur. I couldn’t change with the material.” That said — it made $47 million on a $35 million budget and time has seen the movie be critically rethought.
The Lady (Stone) has come to the town of Redemption — a place where the only law is John Herod (Gene Hackman) — for a fast-draw single elimination shooting tournament in which no challenge can be refused and the gunfight goes on until a contestant yields or dies.
There are really only four people who can win the contest: The Lady, Herod, a former gangster turned preacher called Cort (Russell Crowe) — Herod’s former right-hand man who abandoned his violent career in favor of a peaceful religious life after Herod forced him to kill a priest — who is given one bullet per battle so he doesn’t shoot his way out of town and The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio), who just might be the best gunfighter of all time if you listen to what he has to say.
Each of them must battle their way through, however, as Herrod defeats Sergeant Clay Cantrell (Keith David), a killer hired by the town itself to murder him and The Lady kills Eugene Dred after he assaults the saloon owner’s (Pat Hingle) daughter. Afraid that she won’t be able to achieve her mission — which is more than the money in the tournament — she nearly runs away before Doc Wallace (Roberts Blossom, Old Man Marley in Home Alone) hands her her father’s badge and tells her that she must clean up the town. At the same time, Cort must battle Spotted Horse (Jonothon Gill), a man who says that no bullet can kill him.
The flashback that follows — Herod caused her to kill her father (Gary Sinise) — sets up the reason why she must destroy not only the man who murdered her father but destroy his entire town, which won’t be easy.
This is the kind of movie I love so much, packed with actors of true character, like Lance Henriksen as trick shot fighter “Ace” Hanlon, Tobin Bell as Dog Kelly, Sven-Ole Thorsen as “Swede” Gutzon, Evil Dead II writer Scott Spiegel as Gold Teeth Man and Italian western star Woody Strode as Charlie Moonlight. This was Strode’s last role and the movie is dedicated to him.
This movie is full of not only amazing gunfights, incredible dialogue and plenty of tension but a bravura ending — daylight through a shadow! — that literally made me jump out of my seat. It’s also packed with montages and a moment where there are so many extreme zooms and rack focus moments that I was sure that the ghosts of every beloved Italian director had risen from their graves and taken over the film.