Monday, March 9, 2009

THE HILLS RUN RED


UN FIUME DI DOLLARI
aka THE HILLS RUN RED
Director - Lee W. Beaver (aka Carlo Lizzani) 1966
Cast: Thomas Hunter (Jerry Brewster; aka Jim Houston), Henry Silva (Garcia Mendez), Dan Duryea (Winnie Getz), Nando Gazzolo (Ken Seagall, aka Milton), Nicoletta Machiavelli (Mary Ann), Gianna Serra (Hattie), Loris Loddi (Tim), Geoffrey Copleston (Horner), Sandro Dori, Guido Celano (Burger), Paolo Magalotti (Stayne), Gianluigi Crescenzi c.s.c. (Carson), Tiberio Mitri (Union Sergeant), Lucio De Santis, Fiorella Ferrero, Guglielmo Spoletini (Pedro), Vittorio Bonos (First Dice Player), Puccio Ceccarelli, Goffredo Matassi, Mirko Valentin (Sancho), Piero Morgia, Mauro Mannatrizio (Mitch), John M. Gaskins, Luigi Scavran.
A Dino De Laurentiis Production
Story and Screenplay by Dean Craig
Director of Photography Toni Secchi A.I.C.
Technicolor and Techniscope
Musical score Leo Nichols (aka Ennio Morricone)
Conducted by the Author
The song "Home To My Love" by Nichols-Nohra
Sung by "gino" and recorded on "Ricordi" recording
Edizioni Musicali "Dino"
Art Director Aurelio Crugnola
Costumes by Elio Micheli
Film Editor Ornella Micheli
Production Manager Alfonso Donati
Assistant Director Giorgio Gentili
Casting Director Harrieth White Medin
Script Girl Evelina D'Amico
Master At Arms Goffredo Unger
Set Dressing Franco Fumagalli
Sound Mixer Bruno Brunacci
Special Effects Eros Bacciucchi
Cameraman Giovanni Ciarlo
Production Assistants Ennio Di Meo, Eros Lafranconi
Make-up Supervisor Giuliano Laurenti
Hairdresser Elda Magnanti
Assistant Costume Designer Alida Cappellini
Assistant Art Directors Gisella Longo C.S.C., Angelo Santucci
This Picture was filmed in the Dino De Laurentiis Studios - Rome
Westrex Recording System
Copyright MCMLXVI "Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica S.p.A."
All Rights Reserved
(Not credited on print: General Organization Nino Crisman Unit Manager Marcello Lizzani)
Produced by Ermanno Donati, Luigi Carpentieri For Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica
Ital. Distrib. Dear-United Artists
Prod. Reg. 3720
U.S. Distrib. United Artists

While obviously inspired by American Westerns, the best Italian Westerns did not too closely emulate their look and feel. THE HILLS RUN RED did, resulting in a film filled with cliches. However, a terrific musical score and capable filmmaking helped to make the viewing experience enjoyable. And then there was Henry Silva's marvelously flamboyant performance.

Italian action film directors were notorious for urging their stars to give "big" performances, and one wonders how much of Thomas Hunter's over-the-top effort can be blamed on director Carlo Lizzani. THE HILLS RUN RED could have been his first feature film, but after becoming known in a Dino De Laurentiis production, he soon worked not only with other Italians, but with Germans and Spaniards as well. During this time, he got only one known American gig on a David L. Wolper TV show - the 1972 "Showdown At O.K. Corral" episode of Appointment With Destiny. He concluded his on-screen career with an Italian based film he cowrote about terrorists called THE HUMAN FACTOR (1975), starring George Kennedy. After that, he got story credit for THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (1979) starring Kirk Douglas. In 1979, Hunter worked in Hollywood as an acting teacher but has since disappeared from public view.

Possibly, Lizzani deliberately sought something different from what Sergio Leone had done with Clint Eastwood; so instead of a laconic and cool killer, Lizzani wanted an excitable and hot-blooded avenger. Unfortunately, the emotionalism, especially when captured in a huge Techniscope close-up, invited titters from sophisticated audiences. But what was the inspiration for that silly and over-elaborate "lucky" sign our hero made?

While Hunter's work verged on hysteria, Silva's contribution was equally lacking in subtlety. However, Silva exuded such a crazed joy that his performance didn't seem false; just over-expressive. And the wit shown in it, which wasn't as strong in the rest of the film, gave the impression that the actor may have contributed unique ideas to his role.

(As 12-year-olds, my best friend and I adored Henry Silva's performance as the villain's henchman Garcia Mendez. We could count on each other to join-in when one of us would spontaneously launch into our favorite speech, complete with heavy Mexican accent: "I will not kill you gringo, because you are a champion, and you don't kill champions. You race them. Bravo! Bueno! Bueno!")

This film was Dan Duryea's only contribution to Italian cinema, which suggested that his participation was specifically requested. Perhaps in keeping with the concept of making a rather traditional Western, the filmmakers wanted a traditional Western star. In any case, his performance was a respite from the intensity coming from Hunter and Silva, and he added an appreciated sense of warm humor. Tiberio Mitri, the European middleweight boxing champion who was the first contender to challenge Jake La Motta for the World crown in 1950, made an early appearance in this film as the Yankee Sergeant who captured our hero. Our hero was Jerry Brewster, a former Confederate who helped to steal $600,000 in government funds. Calling himself Jim Huston, Brewster sought to distract the Yankees while his friend, Ken Seagall, got away with the money. Using a riding crop, the Sergeant tried to get Brewster to talk - and Mitri was given a few lines to speak.

(After retiring from boxing in 1957, Mitri took up acting in films, painting, writing - two autobiographies, and divorcing his second and third wives. Living alone in the poor section of Rome, suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's deseases, as well as hearing loss and alcoholism, Mitri was killed by a commuter train in the early morning hours of February 12, 2001 at the age of 74.)

After five years behind bars at Fort Wilson, Brewster went back to his homestead to only find ruins. A note left by our hero's wife revealed that not only did Seagall break his promise to take care of her and the baby boy, but that the bank had foreclosed and sent the family packing. Luckily, the villain sent over two gunmen from whom Brewster - with the help of a seeming bum named Getz sleeping in the barn - could get more updated information before they died. The bum decided to help our hero in his revenge plan, by going to the villain's ranch with evidence of our hero's death, and getting a job, thus enabling him to work on the inside.

Almost completely by accident, Brewster finds his boy, Tim, who was played by Loris Loddi. This beautiful, blond and blue-eyed kid had not only played Julius Caesar's son in the gigantic 1963 release of CLEOPATRA, he was Hercules' son in 1963's ERCOLE SFIDA SANSONE (aka HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES), and co-starred in 1965's big Western hit 100,000 DOLLARI PER RINGO (aka $100,000 FOR RINGO) with Richard Harrison.

Tim informed his unknown father that his mother had died years ago. Living with a blacksmith, Tim would be used by his father in his plot against the villain, and would even save his father from being bushwacked thanks to his trusty slingshot.

Having changed his name to Ken Milton, the villain used the stolen money to set himself up as a rich landowner. Not content with two-thirds of the area, Milton was aggressively agitating for the rest, and had the town sheriff murdered. Only Horner, the saloon owner, was interested in organizing the opposition. After seeing Brewster kill two of Milton's men following a brawl, Horner believed that he found the man to lead his force.

Talking about being hired by Dino De Laurentiis to make NAVAJO JOE, Burt Reynolds commented on the producer's desire to make Westerns that were more successful than the ones directed by Sergio Leone. When Reynolds learned that he would have to return to the U.S. for a TV commitment, his director, Sergio Corbucci, reportedly worried that he wouldn't have enough time to film Reynolds killing enough bad guys. Then he had a brainstorm; he'd have Reynolds use dynamite - so he could kill the bad guys more quickly.

Considering how the big battle in THE HILLS RUN RED was staged, it would be interesting to know which film went into production first. Did Corbucci get his idea from Lizzani's film, or vice versa? In any case, Brewster and Getz end up taking on Mendez and his men in the deserted town of Austin using sticks and sticks of explosives. The stuntwork coordinated by Goffredo (aka Freddy) Unger was very impressive, as was the pyrotechnic efforts by Eros Bacciucchi. If no one was injured during the shooting of this sequence, then this production's safety record was alot better than many other like productions.

Unger appeared in this film's final scene as the Yankee Officer to whom Getz reported the conclusion of his mission. Rather than being a "Good Samaratan", Getz turned out to be an helpful Government agent ordered to shadow Brewster until the stolen money was located. Reporting that both Seagall and Brewster were dead, Getz appointed our hero the new sheriff of Austin, under this alias of Jim Houston. This left our hero to stand looking bewildered with his son by his side for the final fade-out.

While his name wasn't in this film's credits, Nazzareno Zamperla appeared to be Thomas Hunter's stunt double for at least the punch-up in the river. In addition to filming at about the same time - with NAVAJO JOE mostly shooting in Spain and THE HILLS RUN RED shooting in Italy, Dino De Laurtentiis' two Western productions also shared the lovely presence of Nicoletta Machiavelli. Her film debut was under Lizzani's direction in 1965's THRILLING, produced by De Laurentiis. And while she was not a strong actress, her beauty ensured her more film offers. De Laurentiis teamed her up again with Henry Silva for the comedic spy film MATCHLESS. She did another Western supporting role in UN MINUTO PER PREGARE, UN ISTANTE PER MORIRE (aka A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE) before becoming one of the few women to play the action hero in a Western. The film was called GIARRETTIERA COLT (aka GARTER COLT), which was the only Western to be shot in Sardinia. Machiavelli also appeared in the more famous films CANDY and THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES (aka MONTE CARLO OR BUST). Another element shared by De Laurentiis' two 1966 Westerns was the Leo Nichols pseudonym used by composer Ennio Morricone. Morricone's score for PER UN PUGNO DI DOLLARI (aka A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) had become popular under the pseudonym of Dan Savio, but his equally popular score for 1965's PER QUALCHE DOLLARO IN PIU (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) had been a hit under his real name. So how could anyone think it to be a good idea to give him a new pseudonym for these two films? Screenwriter Dean Craig was another person who worked on both De Laurentiis Westerns. Interestingly, while the DIZIONARIO DEL CINEMA ITALIANO had no trouble with reporting Craig's real name as being Piero Regnoli for the NAVAJO JOE listing, for the HILLS RUN RED listing, it quibbled about some believing Craig to be either Piero Regnoli, Piero Pierotti or Mario Pierotti.

Among the familiar faces in the supporting cast was Guglielmo Spoletini as Pedro, one of the villain's gang. In 1968, Spoletini would adopt the pseudonym William Bogart and star in ...E INTORNO A LUI FU MORTE (aka TIERRA BRAVA). He went on to play the hero in five or six more Westerns, and a recent documentary was made about his career - AMERICANO IN ROMA. Most of the faults found in Carlo Lizzani's direction of THE HILLS RUN RED were not evident in the other films made by this former film critic. Begun in 1949, Lizzani's career consisted mostly of serious subjects, and even his other Western, REQUIESCANT (aka LET THEM REST), did not burst with the melodrama of this movie. His best known films in the U.S. were on historical subjects: BANDITI A MILANO (aka THE VIOLENT FOUR, 1968 - which got a good review from Pauline Kael), CRAZY JOE (1973) and MUSSOLINI ULTIMO ATTO (aka THE LAST FOUR DAYS, 1974).

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