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Freudian Drama in The West:

A Man Called Johnny

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the author)

(Some mild spoilers might pop up)

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Garringo (The Dead Are Countless) (1969) *** ½

Anthony Steffen: Lt. Garringo

Peter Lee Lawrence: “Johnny” John

José Bodalo: Sheriff Klaus

Solvi Stubing: Julie

Raf Baldassarre: Damon

Antonio Molino Rojo: Harriman

Lorenzo Robledo: Deputy Sheriff Tom

Luis Induni: Dr. Grayson

Maria Salerno: Nancy Grayson (as Marta Monterrey)

Barta Barri: Wilson the Barman (as Barta Barrey)

Frank Brana: Bill

Luis Marin: Pete, a Bounty Hunter

Written by: Arpad DeRiso, Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent (as Joaquin Romero Marchent), & Giovanni Scolaro

Directed by: Rafael Romero Marchent

Synopsis: As a boy, Johnny witnessed Union soldiers murdering his father, an accused traitor. When he grows up, he takes to a life of crime and kills any and all Union soldiers he encounters, putting their bars on his father’s grave. The army, horrified at these events, decides to send someone out to get Johnny. The only man for the job is Lt. Garringo, but he’s serving a jail term for excessive force. The promise of a pardon sends Garringo on the trail of the murderous youth, but he soon realizes the man’s adoptive father and sister will be collateral damage.

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What sets this one apart from most Italian Westerns is that it’s a Spanish one. The Marchent family, father Joaquin and sons Rafael and Carlos, were the driving force of the Spanish studio Westerns of the era, and this was one of their best efforts. This darker Western takes a more dramatic, character driven approach to the story, though it still offers a good bit of action. Protagonist Garringo spends a good chunk of the film finding out about his prey, and getting information, sometimes forcefully, from people who know him or have recently come in contact with him. Antagonist Johnny is shown going through what he sees as the daily motions of his usual days, spending time with his adoptive family, and going around killing Union soldiers to avenge his father. While the theme of revenge, a common plot device in Italian and Spanish Westerns, is on display here, it takes on a more psychological aspect as it’s not a man wanting revenge on a single individual or group (whether a gang or town), but revenge on a force and symbol of authority containing thousands of people representing it. This type of revenge is often fatalistic and usually only leads to tragedy, the individual seeking it often a nihilist hoping for the bliss of death.

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Freud, or at least one of his theories, is on display in the film, as the character of Johnny is essentially two people, one civilized, charming, and innocent; the other a murderous brute with no concept of right or wrong, willing to do anything to avenge what he viewed as a wrongful death and put a dent in a force he sees as corrupt. This element is fairly deep, even for an entertainment Western, and while could be seen as intellectual by many, it really isn’t as the characters don’t go in depth into the conflict going on in Johnny’s head, only commenting that what he’s doing is wrong. The more in depth factor of the film is most likely what led to it being easily forgotten, the Marchent family attempt at being socially relevant going against the grain of what the Western genre was about for the Europeans. Today this could be seen as odd as in 1969 the Zapata Westerns, films about individuals fighting against corruption, essentially being relevant with the happenings of the Students Riots of 68 in Paris, Chicago, Prague, were very popular, so why this film was overlooked makes no sense. Whether the Marchents were too early to the game or whether the subject just went over the heads of too many folks is anyone’s guess.

Image result for Garringo

Image result for Garringo

Anthony Steffen, seen by many Italian Western fans as a poor man’s Clint Eastwood, and infamously noted for his wooden acting style, is actually quite good in his role as Garringo. The character is initially a renegade who doesn’t play by the rules, who isn’t above even assaulting a woman and killing people outright, but he had redeemable qualities in that he has respect for the army itself, just not its rules, and sees Johnny as a disturbed individual who needs help, but also must pay for the crimes he’s committed. Showing emotion is clearly not one of Steffen’s better skills, but he’s able to convey that his character seriously doubts that he can bring himself to kill Johnny, feeling empathy for the young man. Garringo isn’t a completely conflicted character in what he should do, but at the same time realizes there are people close to his quarry who will be pained and feel suffering at whatever will happen to Johnny, so he does feel regret. The character may not have too much depth to him, but he has enough qualities to make him relatable.

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Image result for Garringo

Peter Lee Lawrence, a German actor whose rising career was cut drastically short by a losing battle with cancer, is excellent in the role of Johnny. A tragic figure in every sense of the word, Johnny is an individual driven by a seething hatred planted in him during his childhood, an event which scarred him for life. While not having a hatred for authority, as he congratulates his adoptive father on his promotion as sheriff of their town, his reluctance only because he fears putting the man in a compromising position should his criminal life become public, he sees the Union uniform as a symbol of murder and tyranny, that the leader abused his authority in killing his father. Many Italian/Spanish Western baddies weren’t complex individuals who had underlying reasons for their behavior, but Johnny is an interesting and refreshing example as it’s clear he never had definite intentions of becoming a criminal. That he genuinely cares about his adoptive family adds to this tragic feel for the character as he didn’t want harm to come to them, forces which he doesn’t have control over, or awareness of, driving him further and further to destruction. It’s only when he aligns himself with a group of double dealing outlaws that his fate appears to be sealed.

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José Bodalo, an Argentinean expate actor gives a good performance as Johnny’s adoptive father Klaus. Normally known for villains or characters with questionable traits Bodalo is convincing as the father figure for a lost soul type of character like Johnny. An honest fellow through and through, Klaus is the poster boy for the model citizen of an Old West town. The character becomes torn when he discovers the truth about his adoptive son, not knowing whether to act on his instincts as a lawman or as a father. This honesty is what makes the truth of the matter more heartbreaking and devastating for Klaus as he wants to save his son, but somewhere inside of him keeps saying that’s impossible. This is another rarity in the Italian/Spanish Westerns, as characters like Klaus either left the canvas at some point or get killed by the associates of the person they wanted to help, but Klaus survives because he only briefly sees Johnny’s associates and because Johnny would’ve gunned down anyone who harmed his father or sister.

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Many fans of the genre see the Westerns of the Marchent family to be generic and not expand much on story or elements like action, but still they’re very compelling and well made. Characters like Garringo and Johnny aren’t inherently good or inherently bad, each displaying actions that reveal them to be more than what the audience sees. The film goes into something of a morality play with the character of Johnny played as a deeply troubled youth who’d have probably grown up to be a distinguished gentleman had he not witnessed his father’s death. By showing Johnny as two distinctly different people, allowing audiences to see both sides, the Marchents create a figure in the vein of a Greek Tragedy hero who may not have been aware of how sick in the head he was. Even Garringo grows a little during the course of the film, realizing Johnny matters to some of the town citizens, and that while he intentionally was killing soldiers, something clicked there was more to his reasons than what was known. Not great, but not bad either, the film is well worth checking out and deserves to be in that great pantheon of Italian Westerns.

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(This Spanish made Western isn’t perfect, but it’s well worth checking out and being rediscovered. The German DVD and Blu Ray releases of the film offer the best viewing quality and offers an English dub for those who prefer it, as well as the Italian audio and the German dub. There is  Spanish Blu Ray, but it offers only the Spanish audio, and no English subtitles or dub.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information


For those wishing to try the Spanish Blu Ray




Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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