Tuesday, November 27, 2007

shoot the living and pray for the dead (1971)

Between the German "Last Ride to Santa Cruz" in 1964 and "Trinity is Back Again" in 1975, Klaus Kinski appeared in more than 20 European-made westerns. He was so active in the genre, his Western output nearly matches the number of horror films he was in. Of course, most of these were Italian "spaghetti westerns," and the films Kinski acted in really run the gamut. He was in some of the best that the genre has to offer- Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence," Damiano Damiani's "A Bullet for the General" and Sergio Leone's "For a Few Dollars More," to name but a few. But he was in his fair share of clunkers as well, and a fair amount of films that fall squarely in the middle, which is where we find our latest foray into Kinski-world, Guiseppi Vari's "Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" (aka "To Kill a Jackal") from 1971.

In a nutshell, this is the Italian knock-off of Budd Boetticher's 1957 classic "The Tall T." In that film, from a story by Elmore Leonard, Randolph Scott and Maureen O' Hara are among a group taken hostage by a gang of outlaws, including Richard Boone and Henry Silva. Here, the villains are led by Kinski, and the hero, played by Paolo Casella (billed as Paul Sullivan in the American version), is torn between the two groups, having been involved in whatever heist the Kinski gang is guarding their take of. Victoria Zinny is Eleanor, the woman between them.

"Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" is stylish, with some really excellent cinematography, but it's also kind of dull and hokey. Some of the hokiness has nothing to do with the film itself, but the poor dubbing and the fact that these fairly obviously European actors are saddled with character names like Dan Hogan (Kinski) and John Webb (Casella). Kinski is dubbed by another, inferior actor, though the physical aspects of the his performance still come through. I think had he been dubbed by his own voice or if the version I saw had been subtitled, he would have made a supremely effective villain here, aggressive yet ultimately craven.

Director Vari edited Fellini's Il Bidone before making numerous Sword & Sandal, giallo, Eurocrime, sci-fi and even an Emanuelle flick (Sister Emanuelle with Laura Gemser, in 1977). "Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" is one of about a half dozen westerns he did in the 1960s and 1970s. Screenwriter Adriano Bolzoni has a number of interesting Euro-titles under his belt, including "The Battle of the Mods" (aka Crazy Baby, 1966), Sergio Martino's "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key," Luigi Cozzi's "The Killer Must Kill Again," and Aldo Lado's campy sci-fi flick "The Humanoid." He also directed "Night of the Assassins" with Kinski and George Sanders (who'll probably get his own month or months on Negative Pleasure sometime in the near future). Vari and Bolzoni were frequent collaborators. Paolo Casella also starred with Kinski in Bitto Albertini's western/kung-fu hybrid "Return of Shanghai Joe" (1975).

In all, there're a helluva lot worse movies out there than this one, but they're are a helluva lot of better ones, too. Exploring the filmography of Kinski can be a bit depressing at times, as it was often clear that he cared less about what he was starring in than how much they were paying him, though for the most part he gives his all to performances in bad films as well as good ones. It's kind of crazy to see an actor of his stature in a film like this and not be able to hear his actual voice. I know this was normal in European films of the time, especially Italian films, but obviously it's not the way things are done today. Even so, this isn't the worse 90 minutes you'll spend in your life, and it is readily available (as "To Kill a Jackal") on DVD in the states...

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