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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Countdown to Django Unchained :Eurowesterns - Savage Guns AKA Tierra Brutal

Here at the Archive the excitement for Tarantino's Django Unchained is at fever pitch, and so I present this short series that will look at the European western boom that gave us, among others, the original Django movie. Tarantino makes no secret of his love for the spaghetti westerns and it is a safe bet that his Django Unchained will feature the operatic camera shots, the savage violence and grim humour that made the sub-genre so memorable.

"Quentin Tarantino's brilliant and brutal revenge western is a wildly exciting return to form: a thrilling adventure in genre and style climaxing in a bizarre and nightmarish scenario in a slave plantation in 1858" Early review from The Guardian Newspaper

And so we head West of Bognor Regis and start the series with the movie that is a strong contender for the title of the very first sphagetti western.

Savage Guns (1961)

Directed by Michael Carreras and written by Jimmy Sangster, you could call this a Hammer Western since both men will forever be associated with the iconic British film studio. In fact the film was very nearly a full blown Hammer production but the company relented at the last moment, saying they did not want to add westerns to their list of genres and so Carreras  founded an independent film company, Capricorn Productions, with the help of writer/director Jimmy Sangster . In Spain Carreras and Sangster found José Gutierrez Maesso ready to co-produce the movie, and they also secured money from MGM in exchange for North American rights.

Whilst not one of the best Euro Westerns (spaghetti westerns) it is an important one in the development of the genre. For one thing it was the first western filmed in the Spanish  Alemera Desert region, an area used effectively later by Sergio Leone and just about any European team wanting to create the American West. Thus Michael Carreras, the main motivator behind the movie can seriously be given the status of the man who invented the spaghetti western.  Though perhaps Paella western would be more appropriate since there is little Italian involvement.

Savage Guns then is the first of the spaghetti westerns.

The film is very much a traditional western in storytelling but it is much more violent than the American westerns of the time, and the conventions of the western were turned on their head by the fact that in this movie the good guys wore black hats, while the baddies wore the white. Why this stylistic element was introduced I'm not really sure, but it does sum up the fact that the Europeans were going to approach the genre from a different angle than the standard Hollywood fare.

American actors were cast in the lead roles which became a tradition with many of the European oaters, most notably Clint Eastwood's casting in the Leone trilogy. And the supporting cast were largely filled with Spanish actors alongside many Hammer contract players.

The scene where lead, Richard Basehart has his hands crushed by a wagon wheel is incredibly graphic and set a trend that many of the European westerns would follow. The film also toys with the idea of the anti-hero with the lead actually shooting enemies in the back and also starting gunfights by drawing first, effectively cheating.

Parts of the movie are insane - one scene where we see the baddies mown down with a Gatling gun is unintentionally hilarious - one bad guy takes about five hundred bullets to eventually die, and another throws his arms up, yells "Ahhhh" and then falls forward into a lifeless heap. It is also odd that given the extent of the violence there is actually very little blood seen on screen.

All in all, Savage Guns is a much overlooked spoke in the wheel that would turn and form the spaghetti western genre proper. And although the film wasn't a success with the North American market it was successful enough in Europe to influence the more notable genre luminaries who followed. And for that reason alone it is essential viewing for anyone interested in the European westerns.

Where to see it?

The film is available on DVD both as a standalone disc and bundled with three other westerns in the budget priced Brentwood Home Video box set, The Outlaws. It is a pity we don't get a remastered print but rather a video tape transfer, but beggers can't be chosers and this edition is one of the few English language versions of the film available.


B2B said...

Can't wait for this movie. Quentin has not delivered a dud so far and by the looks of the trailer, he seems to be back in top form.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Critics are saying it is his best movie

Javier Aguilar said...

It's look that this first spaghetti or Eurowestern filmed in Almeria belong to his producer, José Maesso. Maesso tells in book "José G. Maesso, the number 1" (García de Dueñas 2003) how produce this western. How he have the idea 20 years early in a travel around Almeria, and how he decided to make this movie looking for news stories to tell.