Duccio Tessari helms A Pistol for Ringo, one of the more successful of the Italian westerns to follow the trail of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. This 1965 picture takes a hard turn from the strong, silent types depicted in many genre pictures, however, and it presents an upbeat and comedic character with more than a few sequels to follow in his name.
Together with cinematographer Francisco Marín and a full-blooded score by Ennio Morricone, Tessari rides tall in the saddle and spiritedly knocks down a few of the most popular tropes in the process. There are bandits and there are damsels in distress, plus there are large scale shootouts and a whole lot of double-crossing fast talk.
Giuliano Gemma, billed here as Montgomery Wood is Ringo/Angel Face. He’s a dangerous gunfighter, but he drinks milk instead of whiskey and never shuts up. He’s thrown in the slammer for gunning down four men and waits out his trial as a group of bandits hits up the local bank. The bandits, led by Sancho (Fernando Sancho), take off to a nearby hacienda and take hostages.
Ben (George Martin), the local sheriff, is in love with Ruby (Hally Hammond) and wants to marry her. Unfortunately, Ruby and her father (Antonio Casas) live at the hacienda and are under the watchful eye of Sancho and his gang. The sheriff turns to the jailed Ringo for help and the gunman obliges so long as the price is right.
Tessari actually co-wrote Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars a year prior, so his path to the western is a sensible one. But the Genoa-born director actually cut his teeth in the Italian sword-and-sandals genus, which may explain why A Pistol for Ringo packs such a fun punch. He and Marín keep things off-joint, with the lens floating to the right or left. He seems to abhor centred shots and avoids zooms like the plague.
Gemma first worked as a stuntman, but he got his big break with A Pistol for Ringo. He portrays a smooth-shaven, dapper, chatty champion. When he’s introduced, he’s playing hopscotch. A few brutes are looking for him and he guns them down in full view of the nearby children. Ringo’s choice to drink milk also stands in stark contrast to other western heroes and the villains of Tessari’s flick.
Gemma’s charisma plays well off Sancho’s robust presence. The villain may be playing to a far-reaching standard, but Sancho snaps off several wonderful lines and tempers his ruthless streak with an almost affable weakness. He’s so easily taken by Ringo that the setups sometimes resemble the stuff of Looney Tunes, with the chortling Sancho waiting for his ship to come in.
Casas has a fine turn as the land baron Major Clyde. He takes an interest in the lovely Delores (Nieves Navarro), who seems to be Sancho’s sweetheart. Major Clyde enjoys the finer things in life and is always rattling off the year or origin of his possessions. He entices Delores away from her gang lifestyle and away from Sancho, but Ruby isn’t too fond of her dad’s new relationship.
Despite the humour and slapstick cartoon sensibilities, A Pistol for Ringo has more than its fair share of good old-fashioned violence. Dozens of characters meet their end. Some are shot in the back while they ride away on horseback. The thugs execute several innocent people as bargaining chips, while more than a few shootouts take on mass casualties.
At times, A Pistol for Ringo gets a little sloppy. There are some double-shots and the editing is on the messy side, with Licia Quaglia cutting things too close. Some scenes are just awkward, like when Major Clyde and his daughter erupt into an off-kilter version of “Silent Night.” Sancho joins the singalong and bowls it over, though, so Christmas is saved once more.
Tessari’s movie certainly carves out its own style within the spaghetti western construct. It lacks the political context of the Zapata films and doesn’t try to do too much, which concurrently diminishes it and grants it beaming appeal. A Pistol for Ringo is mostly about the hero as it smugly establishes a cavalier and coherent bag of ripostes as an Old West force to be reckoned with.