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Cain and Abel in The Old West:

Familial Problems in Bury Them Deep

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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All’ultimo Sangue (To the Last Drop of Blood, Bury Them Deep) (1968) *** ½

Craig Hill: Captain Clive Norton

Ettore Manni: Ted “El Chaleco” Hunter

Giovanni Cianfriglia: Billy “The Gun” Gunn (as Ken Wood)

Francesco Santovetti: El Cordero

José Greci: Consuelo

Luciano Doria: The Union Colonel

Ruggero Salvadori: The Union Lieutenant

Giuseppe Sorrentino: Jim “Double Whiskey”

Written by: Enzo Dell’Aquila (as Enzo Dell’ Aquila) & Paolo Moffa (uncredited)

Directed by: Paolo Moffa (as John Byrd)

Synopsis: When outlaw Billy “the Gun” steals a payroll belonging to the Union Army, the local area Colonel sends tough as nails, willing to break the rules Captain Clive Norton to bring him in dead or alive and recover the money. Norton asks that disgraced soldier Ted Hunter, known in Mexico as outlaw El Chaleco, be released to aid him in the hunt. Problem is Hunter is set to be executed by hanging for his crimes, which prompts Norton to arrange his old pal’s escape. Hunter’s connection as Gunn’s estranged older brother will help Norton to flush the elusive outlaw out. Complications arise when Mexican bandit Cordero learns of Gunn’s heist and wants the money for himself.

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One of the lesser known, but no less good, Italian Westerns of the late 60’s, All’ultimo is a story that mixes action and drama well and offers a different and interesting plot. Family angst and a cat-and-mouse game between two criminal gangs and the Union Army for a cache of money is an unusual but effective combination that really does have the audience wondering who to believe and root for. The journeyman aspect that Clive and Ted go through is a rare plot element in the Italian Western, though there is a similar feel one between Blondie and Tuco in Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), that duo doesn’t gain the camaraderie that Clive and Ted do. Another rarity is the more dramatic tone the film takes. Most Italian Westerns were action oriented with occasional moments of pathos, the drama aspects normally associated to Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, All’ultimo having the rare honor of being a drama action Western done by neither of the two titans of the genre. This offers a nice and welcomed differentiation in the genre and shows what direction the Italians could’ve steered more towards as the genre began to cannibalize itself on ideas and the slow decline into comedy. Granted what they were doing already was a big change from popular Hollywood film fare and the emergence of Television Frontier Dramas like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, and The Virginian were taking away from the Westerns novels of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, it would’ve been interesting what these Westerns could’ve been with more character driven pieces.

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An interesting note to this Western is the subplot of the blood feud between El Chaleco and Billy Gunn. Hinting a little at the ages old Biblical story of Cain and Abel, these are two men whose smoldering hatred of each other can only lead to violence and death. To make things a little more interesting to this idea is that this time it’s the younger brother tired of being in the shadow of his older sibling. More of a case of one brother wanting what the other has is the catalyst and powder keg for the events that eventually play out. The showdown that’ll happen sooner or later between the brothers will be devastating, but interesting to see play out at the same time. Whether this two men can really kill each other in spite of how much they hate each other is the real question that needs answering.

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Craig Hill, an expat American character actor most noted as the “One-Hit Wonder” of the Desilu produced series Whirlybirds is excellent in the role Capt. Norton. Hill plays Norton as a straight-talking, no-nonsense, doesn’t trust anyone type of individual, but is willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s because of all these traits that he’s asked by the Army to find both Gunn and the Army payroll. He’s not without redeemable qualities as he gives Chaleco the opportunity to set things straight, even warning him that he has to help bring in his own brother. Ettore Manni, a familiar face to Italian cinema fans in Peplums, Westerns, Crime, Drama, etc, until his bizarre death in 1979 does quite well in the role of Ted Hunter aka El Chaleco. His double-dealing and double life having finally caught up with him as the Army planned on executing him as a traitor, Hunter really begins to re-examine his life as he journey’s with old friend Norton. When he finds out it’s his brother he’s chasing, he doesn’t seem to mind too much, showing early on there’s bad blood between the two. He also shows affection for his brother, but at the same time can never forgive him for a past offense. This duality of wanting to destroy his brother, but at the same wishing to reconcile and aid him makes for an interesting conflict for the character.

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Giovanni Cianfriglia, better known to Western fans as Ken Wood and as Steve Reeve’s stunt double, is quite good as Billy Gunn. A bad guy through and through, Gunn also has points of compassion and humanity. Even though he’s stolen a woman very precious to his brother Chaleco, he did his best to avoid harming her at all cost. He too has affection for his brother, but living in his shadow his whole life has him doing what he can, including betrayal, to prove he’s as good as or better as Chaleco. This wanting to keep from ending up back as a poor imitation of his brother will eventually lead to his downfall. In a surprise one time only role is Francesco Santovetti as Cordero. Unknown if he was an aspiring actor or a spur of the moment replacement for an actor originally hired who had to back out for whatever reason, Santovetti is really good as the smiling and devious Mexican bandito. An old acquaintance of Billy Gunn whom he at some point cheated, Cordero is looking to take both Gunn and the Union Army unit out of the equation for the gold shipment. Nobody, not even Norton who makes a deal with Cordero, trusts this guy and he likes nobody trusts him. Like Gunn, he’s out for himself, but is a little more ingenious in how he handles his enemies.

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Some Italian Western enthusiasts have argued that this film uses a little too much stock footage from other classics of the genre, but the film is edited so well it’s not noticeable and maybe even nonexistent (This reviewer doesn’t believe in the stock footage theory). While average in its execution of story and action, All’ultimo is still an entertaining and somewhat dark Italian Western that offers the thrills the genre was rightfully known for. The combination of sibling rivalry drama and heist action mixes well and offers a rare change-up in the generic plotlines some of the later period Westerns were noted as having. Not original by any means but still very well executed and done differently enough it feels like a breath of fresh air. The cast is very good and each actor does his/her best with the material given to them, offering sympathy and hatred for whatever the character is doing or feeling. This is one of the few that varies in tastes, some will like it, others will hate it, but what is certain is that the film deserves to be checked out regardless and viewers can decide themselves whether it’s worthy of repeat viewings or not.

(I still recommend this one even if it doesn’t offer the standard action pieces the Italian Western normally offers. The film is a fun watch, even when it gets a little dark at times and offers good performances, especially by the four male leads. The German Blu-Ray/DVD combo is the best quality release thus far of the film and though some of the English audio is missing it’s still worthy to check out.)

All images courtesy of images and their respective owners

For more information’ultimo Sangue







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

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