Friday, February 22, 2008


I've realized that the best way to get me to enjoy a spaghetti western is to dispense with the dreary, shopworn spags cliches and simply execute another genre in a western setting. Of the spags I've watched recently (and all enjoyed!), MAN, PRIDE & VENGEANCE was a take on 'Carmen' with a very noirish plot featuring an evil femme fatale and BLACK KILLER was more like a traditional spaghetti western but had some elements of a caper or sting flick flirting around its edges, while THE PRICE OF DEATH is like a private detective story/thriller/giallo set in the Old West.

Gianni Garko is great as Silver ("Call me Mr. Silver!" he insists more than once in the flick, occasionally slapping the person he's talking to after he says it.), a hot shot hired gun/private eye (?) who gets a job from his old pal Jeff – a frontier lawyer with a taste for the bottle – whose client has landed in jail, suspected of armed robbery and multiple murders. It's no surprise that the client is played by Klaus Kinski, and he infuses Chester Conway – town black sheep – with plenty of flippant, sneering attitude, even in the face of the gallows that are to hang him being built outside his jail cell window.

Silver comes to the town of Applebee Junction to get to the bottom of the casino robbery gone wrong that landed Conway in the pokey. Three masked men burst into the house of loose cards and looser women, killed a working girl and a bartender, then absconded with about $200 in cash. Two members of the trio end up dead in the aftermath and Conway is the lone suspect in the caper, due in part to the bloody money in his possession, but largely because he's widely reviled by the townsfolk. A long history of drinking, fighting, troublemaking and stealing other guys's gals has left him without many friends.

Naturally, the shifty good-for-nothing Conway has an alibi for the night in question, but he's unwilling to give up his whereabouts. Even to the lawyer trying to save his neck.

Thanks to some quick detective work (he buys the clothes the dead robbers were wearing from the undertaker) Silver deduces that the sheriff couldn't have possibly shot the fleeing robbers and that there's more to Applebee Junction than meets the eye.

While THE PRICE OF DEATH could have benefited from a few less amateurish performances from some of the peripheral townsfolk, the core actors are uniformly excellent in their parts. Garko (the star of NIGHT OF THE DEVILS, which couldn't be more opposite in tone) is charming as the two-fisted, derringer-packing outsider who finds himself at odds with the whole town. In their rush to hang Conway for a crime he didn't commit they conveniently overlook the real killer in their midst, not to mention the hypocrisy and corruption running rampant through the town.

Kinski plays most of his part from a jail cell but communicates more emotion and range with his eyes and contempt-filled sneer than the rest of the cast together could muster. Even when he's facing certain death he has time to flirt with Pollie, the luscious casino manager who disappears from the film far too quickly.

A highly entertaining detective western!

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