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Odysseus Goes to The US-Mexico Border:

Ringo Returns

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

By Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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Il Ritorno di Ringo (The Return of Ringo) (1965) ****

Giuliano Gemma: Capt. Montgomery “Ringo” Brown (also as Montgomery Wood)

Fernando Sancho: Don Esteban Fuentes

George Martin: Don Francisco “Paco” Fuentes

Nieves Navarro: Rosita, Fortune Telling Saloon Girl

Antonio Casas: Sheriff Carson

Lorella De Luca: Hally Fitzgerald Brown (as Hally Hammond)

Manuel Muniz: Myosotis aka Morning Glory (as Pajarito)

Victor Bayo: Jeremiah Pitt, Saloon Owner

Tunet Vila: Mimbreno, Apache Medicine Man

Monica Sugranes: Elizabeth Brown

Written by: Duccio Tessari, Fernando Di Leo, & Alfonso Balcazar (dialogue for Spanish actors)

Directed by: Duccio Tessari

Synopsis: Believed to have been killed in the Civil War, Union Army Captain Montgomery Brown comes back incognito to his hometown and discovers many changes. Racist Mexican bandit brothers Esteban & Paco Fuentes have taken control of the town and have killed all able men who’d stand up to them. Worse still, Paco has forced Capt. Brown’s wife Hally into marrying him or harm will come to their daughter Elizabeth. Initially thinking his wife unfaithful and the citizens having given up without a fight, Capt. Brown decides to let the town rot, but upon learning certain truths, decides to take on the Fuentes brothers and their gang of desperadoes.

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Initially thought of as a sequel to Duccio Tessari’s hit Western Una Pistola per Ringo (A Pistol for Ringo), Il Ritorno di Ringo is a completely different film with a totally different story and atmosphere. While the first film had a fun and lively atmosphere and tone, Il Ritorno is serious and dramatic piece, where the heroes are flawed, nothing is black and white, and everyone plays for keeps. Here the story focuses on a weary Civil War Vet who believes the community he loved so much has willingly submitted under the tyrannical thumb of Mexican bandit brother despots who’ve killed the Vet’s father and made second class citizens of the European settlers. Already disillusioned from fighting his own countrymen, the Vet assumes the surviving citizens did nothing to save his father or the town and decides to only see if his wife has remained loyal and save her, leaving the others to their devices. Issues of fighting and loyalty come up throughout the film and many characters wonder if the stigma of the recent War Between the States have zapped their ideals and concepts of right and wrong are blurred. When many things begin coming to light, and realizations some things are worth fighting for whatever the reason, the Vet decides to take on the outlaws and give the town another chance at life.

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An interesting plot point that Tessari adds in to give his story an extra zest is a play up of reverse racism. Here it is the Mexican bandits, particularly brothers Esteban and Paco,   who are anti-White and take much pleasure in degrading the citizens of Ringo’s hometown at every turn. By having their take-over of the town be based on Xenophobia and Aryan like pride gives the Fuentes brothers and their gang an extra villainy as it makes them no better than the Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans so long ago. That it isn’t just about reclaiming territory for Mexico, but about treating the settlers like dirt, even giving stray dogs better treatment, show it’s gone beyond preserving culture, but just plain tyranny and cruelty. Tessari isn’t making any form of statement with these characteristics but rather is turning a common plot point in many American Westerns on its head, showing a different side to the spectrum of the Frontier.

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Another interesting point of note is that Tessari and co-screenwriter Fernando Di Leo loosely based the story on Greek Poet Homer’s classic epic The Odyssey. Changing the setting from Troy and Ithaca in Greece to the American West and US-Mexican border, Tessari has the characters living in what could be viewed as a ghost town, overrun by bandidos. Odysseus (Ulysses in the Roman version) is now Ringo, the Greek Gods of Olympus become the Fuentes brothers and their gang, Penelope is now Hally, Ringo’s wife, the Sybil becomes Saloon Girl Rosita, and the various other characters make up soldiers and citizens. Much like Odysseus, Capt. Brown has been away for some years, and is believed to be dead. Also like Odysseus, Brown must find out if his wife has been faithful and to prevent lecherous enemies from trying to make her a bride. Unlike Odysseus, Brown hasn’t been cursed to wander and is in the midst of racist Mexicans keeping a small hamlet in the throes of fear and terror. There are quite a few similarities to the story, but what separates it into its own form and vision is the sometimes melodramatic, which once or twice borders on the heavy, moments in the film where Ringo is torn between what is right, and what is easy, including personal revenge. Tessari and Di Leo do Homer’s tale a good bit of justice in their translation of it to the Old West, and while it’s not 100% faithful, gets the major elements and themes across very accurately.

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Tessari reunites the majority of his cast from the first film. Giuliano Gemma once again showcases why he was a good actor in the role of Capt. Montgomery “Ringo” Brown. The complete opposite of the original Ringo, Capt. Brown is a man scarred by war and uncertain of the future of his community after learning his father has died. Gemma still maintains his essence of never backing down from his enemies, but is somewhat hesitant because of his experiences in the War. Gone is the fun-loving nature of the original character; this new Ringo is straight-faced, flawed, and full of anger. At first only wanting revenge for his father’s death and his wife being stolen from him, then going to bitterness at the town’s failing to keep the order his father wanted to finally realizing he has seen the whole situation wrongly, Gemma goes through a bevy of emotions that make the Italian Western Heroes and Anti-Heroes the favorites they are. Gemma also shows he was more than a pretty face with great dialogue delivery, facial expression and emotions, and stunts. Not overtly complex in nature, Gemma’s other Ringo offers an early glimpse at how some soldiers felt returning from Vietnam, and the difficulties they had readjusting and, in many cases, making sure their ideals didn’t die with what they saw in combat.

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Fernando Sancho, the great Spanish actor of the Italian Western genre, is once again in fine form as bandit leader Esteban Fuentes. A little more sophisticated this go around than in his previous role, Sancho still maintains that laughing, smiling menace that made him so popular amongst fans. By making his character a racist, Sancho gets to add an extra layer of meanness as he gets to play a truly despicable fellow who’d like to eradicate all whites from lands that once belonged to Mexico. That he walks around like a king throughout the majority of the film adds to this. George Martin, another noted Spanish actor of the genre plays the equally evil and bigoted Paco Fuentes, Esteban’s younger brother. At times even worse than his older brother as he kills and maims without discretion all while hiding under the guise of a devout Christian, Paco just seems to want to be the Zeus, Caesar, and Emperor of the little hamlet, and take as his woman, the wife of a man he despises. Martin shows here the underscored merit of his abilities as an actor as in the previous film he played a kind and just sheriff, and in the 2nd film playing a despot, two completely polar opposite characters.

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Antonio Casas, still another Spaniard who made his name in the Westerns plays the Sheriff. Sheriff Carson, unlike most Italian Western lawmen, still has a conscious, though the sadness and terror he’s witnessed the Fuentes inflict upon the town have reduced him to a drunken mess. In spite of being a coward, Casas still imbues Carson with a sense of responsibility to aid Ringo in giving the town a second chance at life, and in the process gives the character a sense of redemption and salvation. A very interesting performance that often goes unsung in the film is that of Spanish actress Nieves Navarro in the role of Rosita. The Italian Western version of the Greek Tragedy Sybil, or mystic, Navarro plays her role as a woman who doesn’t like what the Fuentes have done to the town, but at the same time wants to survive, and in the process, falls in love with the elder Esteban. Realizing her lover isn’t the man she thought or hoped he’d be, decides to give Ringo guidance and aid in making things right. A wonderfully, though sadly underrated, talented actress giving another fine performance.

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A little more depth and drama may be in the mixture, but this second Ringo film is still a lot of fun and really good watch. Characters with well thought out back-story and dimension and a finely tuned story with a nod to the great Poet Homer help the viewing experience be that much more enjoyable. One of the final attempts by Italian filmmakers and producers to re-create the American-style West over in Italy and Almeria Spain before the genre finally found its own voice shows early signs of Sergio Leone’s influence in the wake of the first two Dollars films, particularly with the brooding characters and the harsh imprint of life and experience seen all over their faces. A very unique and interesting film.

(It might have some heaviness and depth, but I still recommend this Ringo film as a template for what the genre would eventually become great for. I myself prefer the first Ringo film for its whimsy like nature, but the sequel’s uniqueness and different approach makes it as much a watch as its predecessor. Arrow Video’s Blu Ray double bill release of both films sports a wonderful transfer and nice extras as well as Italian with English subtitles and English dub audio options.)

All images courtesy of images and their respective owners

For more information of Ringo

For the UK and Region B areas




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

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