Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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The Italian West Take On a Classic Theme

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Thompson 1880 (1966) **** PG-13

George Martin: Raymond Alec “Ray” Thompson

Gia Sandri: Shelia O’Conner

Jose Bodalo: Judge Lennox

Gordon Mitchell: Glenn Sheppard

Paul Muller: Jameson Brady

Ignazio Spalla: Pancho, Brady Thug (as Pedro Sanchez)

Pasquale Basile: Lucky, Brady Thug Leader (as Pat Basile)

Consalvo Dell’Arti: Sheriff Braddock

Osiride Pevarello: Augustine, Brady Thug (as Osiride Peverello)

Dino Strano: Axel, Brady Thug

Nino Nini: Mike O’Conner

Aiche Nana: Fanny

Written by: Jaime Jesus Blacazar (as Jesus Balcazar), from a story by Lorenzo Gicca Palli (as Enzo Gicca)

Directed by: Guido Zurli

Synopsis: A non-violent drifter learns how to use a gun to defend a town from a greedy businessman after the man’s goons beat him to a pulp.

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1966 proved to be a pivotal year for the Italian Western as films like Il Bouno, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Django, Le Resa dei Conti (The Big Gundown), and Navajo Joe were being released and becoming international hits, thus giving the genre a broader place in the cinema spectrum. Some lesser more “B” quality, but no less entertaining films such as Un Dollaro Tra i Denti (A Dollar Between the Teeth/A Stranger in Town), Mille Dollari Sui Nero ($1000 on the Black), Sette Dollari sul Rosso (Seven Dollars on the Red), Tempo di Massacro (Massacre Time), and of course Thompson 1880 also were released.  Thompson, the last of the bunch has often been seen by Italo Western fans as probably one of the least entries of the Golden Period of the genre. It’s lack of the edgier and darker material that had been in place since Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci gave the genre it’s success made it automatically 2nd rate, and the chosen director, while a success in other genres, wasn’t seen as a proper choice .That, and the decision to go a little more American style in the approach wasn’t seen as necessary with the genre now having its own voice.  While not inventive in any way, director Guido Zurli and screenwriter Jaime Jesus Balcazar still put together a good old-fashioned story about a wandering young man aiding a dying town against a greedy businessman intent on driving out the citizens so all the trading in goods goes to him.

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George Martin, one of the few Spanish leading men of the Italian Westerns, does good against type as Raymond “Ray” Thompson. A peaceful man at heart, Ray makes his living as a gunsmith, knowing the ins and outs of a gun, save for being able to use one himself. On his way to Mexico to sell some of his wares, Ray becomes embroiled in the town of Desert Springs’ problems when he refuses to pay the ludicrous price for two beers. When the goons of the greedy businessman Brady fail to intimidate him, even getting beaten up by him, they all realize Ray could get the town to rally against them. Using his wit, skill, and stoic determination, Ray agrees to help in the fight.  Martin was initially sold in the film as a contemporary to Giuliano Gemma, having him use his fists more than weapons to defend himself. While he would later be known for his brooding flawed heroes and his nasty villains, Martin handles being an acrobatic fighter well and is quite believable in the part.

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Gia Sandri, a lesser known Italian character actress, is a blast and a breath of fresh air as Shelia O’Conner. Shelia proves to be the only one in Desert Springs who openly stands up to Brady and his goons. Helping her father, an old honest merchant, Shelia is the only business owner in town who hasn’t given in to the intimidation that has practically left the town broke. The final straw for Shelia is when a much-needed shipment of goods is taken away, in spite of the seller’s refusal to be intimidated. While unable to fight like a man, Shelia constantly pushes the buttons of Brady’s thugs, hoping they’ll forget their boss’s orders of nonviolence so a Marshal can be brought in. Sandri’s spitfire, feisty, and independent woman of the West was a much-needed change up for the time. Women of the Italian West tended to be very generic, often times a punching bag for the rough neck bad guys or a scheming shrew who’s plans always seem to go wrong, so seeing an independent woman who wasn’t going to let men do all the work and thinking for her.

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Gordon Mitchell as Glenn Sheppard in Thompson 880 (1966)

Jose Bodalo, an Argentinian actor working in Spain, normally known for his roles as bandidos, also plays against type in the role of Judge Lennox. A fine Judge in the city of Desert Springs until a verdict made in haste lead to an innocent man’s death, Lennox laments his failure by drinking himself into a near constant stupor. Brady’s thugs generally leave him alone as he spends most of his time quoting playwrights like Shakespeare, which somehow amuse the intellect lacking brutes. Ray’s standing up to the criminal Brady eventually gives him the courage to face his demons. Gordon Mitchell, an American bodybuilder turned actor who enjoyed a 20-year period of steady work in Italy has a short but sweet appearance as the crippled Glenn Sheppard. A gunman by trade until Brady ordered his hands broken for standing up to him, Sheppard’s content to lick his wounds in the desert until he can pay Brady back. A meeting with Ray in the desert where Ray modifies his gun so he can use it despite his hands gives Sheppard back his edge and his gratitude.

Paul Muller as Jameson Brady in Thompson 1880 (1966)

Paul Muller, a Swiss actor mostly known for his work with the cult filmmaker Jess Franco, is a treat as the slimy and shifty Brady. Realizing Desert Springs potential as a hub for goods trading, Brady orders his men to offer fair prices to sellers to sell to him, with added “persuasion” for good measure. Brady seems unstoppable as he gives his men strict orders to never resort to violence and using guns as that would bring federal marshals which would lead to convictions for carpetbagging and monopoly. Knowing as long as everything is by the letter of the law, Brady is in control. Rays arrival in town puts a monkey wrench in Brady’s plan as since Ray isn’t afraid to take on Brady’s thugs in a fight, the shady businessman is forced to play his own version of dirty to ensure the town doesn’t unite to stand up to him.

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While not the most inventive, unique, or different Italian Western of the ’66 boom, Thompson 1880 still offers good old-fashioned entertainment, interesting characters even without the benefit of depth, and a nice simple story. The hero might not have the mysteriousness of a Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Franco Nero, or Anthony Steffen, but he’s someone audiences can relate to as he prefers using non-lethal means to resolve problems, but will act if that’s what needs to be done. The plot is basic, but told in a very exciting and interesting fashion that will keep viewers wondering how the situation will be resolved. Yes, it does lean a little more towards an American B Western, but like with the films of Enzo G. Castellari, the film’s main focus is to entertain and amuse, and allow the audience to root for the hero, sneer at the villains, and hoot/holler at the action scenes. Not perfect, but far from dull, Thompson 1880 is a sleeper hit fun ride.

(I highly recommend this film, and don’t need to add much more, save for the above, why it’s a worthy watch. The Koch Media DVD presents a fine audio and visual transfer, both points crisp and clear. Sadly, the DVD is long out of print, but I have seen new and sealed copies offered on Ebay, at fair prices. I’ll certainly list any sellers if copies are still available.)

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

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