ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Rochester is a librarian. Mad about movies and books and film soundtracks. His favorite film is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. This is his first article for our site and I hope it’s not the last.
Angelo Pannacciò’s 1972 Death Played the Flute, aka Requiem For a Bounty Killer, is not an easy film to find, unless you are ok with Greek subtitles that get in the way of the poor quality picture. Is it worth searching for, as I did recently? No, not really. It is certainly not one of the better Spaghetti Westerns, but it does have its moments – most notably the scenes in which the baddies are shot, knifed or, as in one scene, killed by a dart fired by the flute of our titular anti-hero, Kimble (played by Giuseppe Cardillo). Plot wise the movie leans towards the superb revenge westerns Death Rides a Horse (1967) and, particularly with regards to the ending, Cemetery Without Crosses (1969).
The film opens with Burton (the rugged Michael Forest, a regular in early 60’s Roger Corman features) returning to his ranch to find his family have been raped and murdered by a gang of cattle rustlers, with his daughter Suzy (Pannacciò favourite Susanna Levi) the only survivor. Vowing revenge, Burton soon encounters a mysterious bounty hunter, known as Kimble, (or Whistler to his friends, on account of his flute playing), who says that he knows who the culprits are. Burton, not realising that Whistler was part of the gang that killed his family, pays him $1000 to help him track down the murderers. From the grim, poorly shot/lit rape scene, that is repeated in flashback later in the movie, to the moment when Whistler unmercifully slits the throat of one of his bounty, the tone of this film is very dark with almost the only light relief coming from the Spaghetti Western regular – the elderly coffin maker rubbing his hands at more dead arriving at his door. Mixing with the wind whistling through the dry-looking, barren Sicilian hills is the superb soundtrack from Daniel Pattuchi, who also scored Pannacciò’s sleazy Sex of the Witch (1973). This score, however is much more reminiscent of his score for Lenzi’s Man from Deep River from 1972.
A beautiful main theme runs through the score, broken up by strange atonal, guttural, cat-like screeching sound effects that give the film a disturbing undercurrent that matches the twisted character of Whistler, around whom the film revolves. Half Indian, with long black sideburns, he could almost pass, on a very dark night, for Presley in Charro – but he is certainly no Teddy Bear – he is a sadistic killer with a nervous twitch and childlike, neurotic giggle who indulges regularly in some sort of kinky sex (though what exactly it is we unfortunately don’t get to find out) with a prostitute who asks him “Why do you always want to do it like this?” This guy has issues. But it is the bad in him that makes him an interesting character, particularly when teamed up with the more virtuous Burton. We know that at some point Whistler’s secret will out, and wonder if the bond developed between the two men during their adventures will save them from one another.
Points of interest – 1. Pannacciò’s 1979 soft-core sex flick Porno Erotic Western, is reputedly made up of scenes from a number of westerns, including Death Played the Flute. I did manage to find said Porno Erotic Western on a dodgy website, and, purely for research purposes of course, sat through it, but could not recognize anything from Death Played the Flute at all. Nor did I spot Peplum and Spaghetti Western favourite Gordon Mitchell, who is supposed to be in the film. 2. Ann Collin, singer of the fabulous title song from His Name Was King (1971) provides the vocals for Death Played the Flute with a song ‘A Man is Made to Love’, which unfortunately does not really fit the film at all, or the end scene over which it plays.