directed by Carlo Lizzani
starring Lou Castel, Mark Damon, and Pier Paolo Pasolini
CIDIF / Arrow
The best and fastest way to get land is to steal it, and in the post-Civil War years that was an active profession out west where neither Mexico nor the United States has clear control over territory. Confederate Officer George Bellow Ferguson (Mark Damon) promises a peace treaty to some Mexicans near Fort Hernandez, and then he mows them down with a Gatling gun. Requiescant (Lou Castel) was a small child who survives the slaughter and grows up to seek revenge. Adopted by a traveling preacher, he seems simple and highly moral and when his step-sister Princy (Barbara Frey) is lured into Ferguson’s brothel in San Antonio he sets out to free her. He’s up against Ferguson’s posse led by creepy Dean Light (Ferruccio Viotti) and his sidekick Burt (Franco Citti). Burt always has a doll with him; that somehow makes him even creepier. Our questions boil down to these: can Requiescant save Princy? Can he defeat Ferguson? Can he bring justice to the immigrants? And how does he shoot so well?
While the plot moralizes, it’s no worse than any other Western, Italian or otherwise. What makes this special are the wildly imaginative scenes from the gun-scavenging locals who follow Requiescant’s trail of bodies, burying them and taking the guns or his careful gunmanship that takes out Ferguson elbow-by-elbow leaving him unable to commit suicide. But he does have mercy; he completes the kill by dropping a church bell on Ferguson. Requiescant is an uncanny gunman, he’s never touched a pistol yet opens his gun-slinging career by killing two henchmen with one shot each, behind his back, while they are rolling on the ground. He’s unnaturally calm, he never insists or demands, and he simply asks or shoot, as needed. He’s even saved from a bullet by his bible: Way to go, Jesus! Castel is a superb as an aristocratic sleaze ball, he’s good looking even as he’s strangely interested in Mr. Light and imperious when he demands his token black slave confess preferring slavery to a paying job.
Themes of honor and ownership and stark differences between and aristocratic South vs a Democratic North are played out here; all with a subtext of post-war Italian politics where Mussolini is still a fresh memory and Communists run the government. The story takes the elements of a Western and rather than playing them for action and blood Lizzani stages a ballet of honor and gamesmanship. We end with Requiescant challenging Light to a bizarre duel: they stand on stools with nooses around their necks, and shoot away at the legs of the stools. To shoot the other man would be an admission of dishonor. And for some reason, Light goes for it. You will too.