Arrow Video: A Pistol for Ringo/The Return of Ringo (1965) - Reviewed

Years before Italian director Duccio Tessari dabbled in the giallo subgenre with his ornate and celebrated murder mystery thriller The Bloodstained Butterfly, he worked as an uncredited screenwriter on the first entry of Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name spaghetti western trilogy A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood.  After the box office success of Leone’s loose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and of the sequels which inevitably followed, Tessari decided to write, produce and direct his own spin on the spaghetti western, offering up the antithesis of Clint Eastwood’s nameless hero in the form of two films made within the same year: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.
Starring Giuliano Gemma/Montgomery Wood from Dario Argento’s Tenebrae in the role of Montgomery “Ringo” Brown, the two-part action film series offer up a unique take on the swashbuckling lone hero in the old west.  Cited as one of Quentin Tarantino’s top 20 Italowesterns, audiences are provided with two sides of the same coin that couldn’t be more different while remaining inextricably bound by the sharp and fast shooter’s journey.  While neither film made a splash in the US marketplace upon initial release, Tessari’s Ringo series present both a solid and frequently humorous western before shifting gears entirely with the second entry, giving moviegoers two pictures that compliment and contrast one another a great deal and stand out as some of the finest examples the spaghetti western subgenre has to offer! 

A Pistol for Ringo

The first entry in the two-part film series, A Pistol for Ringo finds the clean cut, well dressed, confident, cool and often selfish wisecracking “Angel Face” Ringo (Giuliano Gemma) taking out four gunmen before being incarcerated for manslaughter.  His imprisonment is short lived when the fast-handed shooter is asked by the sheriff for help after a band of Mexican bandits rob the local bank and take refuge in wealthy Major Clyde’s (Antonio Casas) ranch.  After Clyde and his daughter Ruby (Lorella De Luca) find themselves hostage under the deadly grip of bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho), the film becomes a frequently comic thriller as Ringo must outwit the bandits in a race against time as hostages are picked off one by one until they’re allowed to go free.

An exceedingly simple and direct premise which freely mixes tragedy with wicked humor, Tessari’s formulaic but beautifully rendered Spaghetti western draws much gusto from Gemma’s performance as the fearless and sharp scoundrel Ringo.  Sporting a clean-shaven grin while only drinking milk as a ‘matter of principle’, Ringo is the polar opposite of the then popular Man with No Name featuring Clint Eastwood, frequently self-satisfied, amused and unconcerned about the future.  Unlike most swift gunman prominently featured in these Spaghetti westerns, Ringo is in it for the money and could either side with the hostages or the bandits depending on who makes the better offer.

With lush and scenic panoramic cinematography by Francisco MarĂ­n aided by a thrilling if not occasionally comedic score by Spaghetti western maestro Ennio Morricone, A Pistol for Ringo is a taut, entertaining and frequently amusing thriller that maintains a keen balance between satisfying expectations of the genre while providing fans with enough deadpan laughs to round out the package.  Second to the dusty Australian Wake in Fright, A Pistol for Ringo also ranks as one of those movies set during Christmas in a snowless desert heat wave, tinging some of the shootouts with elements of slapstick as tree ornaments explode amid the gunfire.  As such, it’s a bit of an escapist carefree entertainment but Tessari and Gemma are clearly having a blast with the subgenre as we find ourselves rooting for the wisecracking Ringo to make good on his reputation as one of the fastest hands in the west.


The Return of Ringo

After the surprising box office success of A Pistol for Ringo, within the same year writer-director Duccio Tessari reteamed with Giuliano Gemma and his prior cast and crew for a sequel which proceeds to subvert each and every expectation fans of the Ringo series came away with in The Return of Ringo.  A loose reworking of Homer’s Odyssey with a vastly different “hero” than the one people were used to, The Return of Ringo finds its hero returning home from the Union Army in the American Civil War.  Seemingly broken by the war, we find Ringo unkempt, quiet, depressed and having switched to booze instead of milk.  Going into hiding, Ringo disguises himself as a Mexican before sauntering into town to discover his wife Helen (Lorella De Luca again) has been kidnapped by Esteban (Fernando Sancho again) and his estate taken over by bandits. 

Ignoring the first film, it’s central character and the picture he inhabits all but completely subvert audience expectations, aiming for a far more mystical, less dialogue heavy and often moody endeavor we’re not always sure how to take.  Morricone’s score this time around is more prominently in the forefront with heavier (arguably overwrought) themes dominating the soundtrack and Tessari heightens the artificial realism with the constant use of wind machines blowing dust and hay about like a violent snowstorm.  As with most spaghetti westerns cranked out like no tomorrow in this period of cinema history, much of if not all the cast members from the previous film show up again here, some of whom switch roles from hero to villain while others simply reprise their parts from before. 

While a denser and more complicated effort compared to the first film, The Return of Ringo much like last year’s Twin Peaks: The Return spends a majority of the time delaying the hero’s return to the former self audiences know and love.  It’s a deliberately frustrating tactic given what we know about Ringo’s ‘principles’ and his character to see the once confident and alert gunman falling over himself in a depressed, drunken stupor.  Though based upon Homer’s Odyssey, unlike the previous film which set up the exceedingly simply premise within the first fifteen minutes, we’re not really sure where The Return of Ringo is going even well into the picture until maybe the last thirty minutes.  

The result is a genuinely strange, somewhat meandering and sometimes tonally messy but still engaging spaghetti western with a satisfying conclusion to the two-film series.  Not as satisfying as the first film but one has to laud the filmmakers for taking viewers on such a diametrically opposed direction.


- Andrew Kotwicki