And God Said to Cain…
1970 Italian E Dio disse a Caino…
Starring: Klaus Kinski (Gary Hamilton), Peter Carsten (Acobar), Marcella Michelangeli (Maria),
Antonio Cantafora (Dick Acobar)
Director: Anthony Dawson (aka Antonio Margheriti)
Music: Carlo Savina
Theme Song Performed by Don Powell
Viewed: Streaming Amazon Prime
Transfer Quality: Good
A ghost returning
And he’ll have only one desire in his heart
Only one thirst. Revenge. –Maria
The quality of the anachronistic theme song in an Italian Western is always a good indicator of the caliber of the film to follow (i.e. Django, Keoma, any Morricone related Western, etc.), and this one is right up there. I would put this on any must see Italian Western list.
Gary Hamilton (Kinski) gets a pardon from the chain gang 10 years after being framed by power hungry Acobar (Carsten) who has stolen Hamilton’s house, mining operation, and woman, Maria. Naturally, vengeance must be administered. After Hamilton gains his freedom, an impending tornado serves as an apt means of foreboding his bloody return. It also creates a signature setting for the film where most of the action takes place at night in the midst of the ever threatening and violent windstorm. Every aspect of the tornado intensifies the anxiety surrounding Hamilton’s return; every utterance of his name evokes fear among his enemies.
The tornado also gives Hamilton’s vengeance an air of divine retribution. This is compounded by the Bava-esque eeriness of the night scenes and disorienting winds that add an other-worldliness to his nighttime attack. Using the cover of the storm and his familiarity with his old homestead, Hamilton is like a ninja, evading capture and keeping adversaries off guard while accumulating an insane number of kills single-handedly. Various trapdoors and hidden entrances allow him to move like a ghost through the mining tunnels under the town, constantly outmaneuvering Acobar’s small army. His name is repeatedly invoked in vain as he moves in the shadows, a seemingly supernatural force. The haunting effect is intensified by the tolling church bell and organ music that signal each wave of vengeful slaughter. Some other reviewers have derided the film’s mirror room shoot-out scene climax a la Orson Welles’ Lady of Shanghai (1949) as too predictable, but I think it’s great as it adds even more nuance to Hamilton’s ghostlike elusiveness. Even in the light he isn’t really there…until you’re dead! Plus, Bruce Lee’s mirror room climax in Enter the Dragon won’t come for another three years, and no one ever complains about that scene.
Beyond the excellent visual composition and well-paced action, it’s the complexity of the characters and their relationships that ensures repeated viewings. Above all, Kinski’s performance rules in this film. Unlike his askew characters in Westerns like The Beast and The Great Silence, Gary Hamilton is cool, collected, focused, and human. Also, beneath the narrative of revenge is a complex tale of family and loyalty. While Acobar’s son, Dick, sympathizes with Hamilton throughout the film, when he learns of his father’s treachery he ultimately chooses family over what he knows in his heart to be right. Ironically, after this turn, it’s Acobar who takes his own son’s life when he mistakes him for Hamilton.
Getting old, so having to watch midnight movies in two or three installments sometimes. Anyway, during my first watch, I must have slept through the exposition that explains why Gary Hamilton is seeking vengeance against Acobar. So, I had initially credited this with a meta-vengeance film genius it didn’t quite deserve. Still, this is a real standout in the genre with a great balance of genre predictability and innovation.
I’d be curious if someone has counted the number of times “Gary Hamilton!!” is uttered throughout the film…one of my favorite details in the film. I’m also wondering about the total number of kills he tallies.
Anyway, I’ll keep track next time and get back to you with some figures.
P.S. Apparently this is a remake of A Stranger in Paso Bravo (1968), the only film Salvatore Rosso ever directed. I’ll have to track that down for a comparison. (DC)
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill MA: Matt Average