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August 27, 2008

Cinematic Denver: Dean Reed

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American Rebel
Will Roberts - 1985
United Documentary Films DVD

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Adios, Sabata (Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di...)
Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini) - 1971
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

"Nobody knows Me in My Own Hometown" may be still be the most emblematic song by Dean Reed. I missed out on seeing Reed's return visit to Denver for the screening of American Rebel in 1985 at the Denver International Film Festival. For most people, Reed was the rock and roll singer who left the United States to live in East Germany. Until I finally saw Will Robert's documentary, I did not know how popular Reed actually was in the Soviet bloc, or in South America. Nor was I aware that had I looked a little harder, I might have caught some of his acting career in Italian productions. One can only guess at what Reed's career might have been like had he not been a career expatriate. Unlike some stars of westerns, he was actually born in the west. His strong, faintly operatic voice probably would have been channelled to country music. Given his acrobatic abilities, Reed could have possibly done the kind of parts played by Burt Lancaster in his physical prime. What is known is that Reed's visit to Denver turned out not to be a re-introduction of a native son, but a farewell visit.

One of the stories about Dean Reed that is recounted in American Rebel is that as a young high school track star, Reed raced a mule, for over 100 miles, for a quarter, and won. Reed's own stubbornness in his beliefs was both his strength, and possible undoing. It was pure chance that enabled Reed to get an introduction to a Capitol Records producer, going from unknown to minor celebrity in the United States, to stardom in the countries where his peers never traveled. Even if one questions Reed's politics, the guy was absolutely fearless about performing in throughout Latin America and the Middle East. Did Yasir Arafat truly enjoy Reed's singing "Ghost Riders in the Sky"? I can't say for sure. What is certain is that Reed seemed to truly believe in peace, love, the brotherhood of man, which was his central motivation for stepping on the stage.

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The one film that Reed starred in that got major distribution in the U.S. was Adios, Sabata. The third of a trilogy of spaghetti westerns, the only known name in the cast was star Yul Brynner. Reed, second billed, portrays a gambler and sometime artist, who may or may not be working with Sabata to steal a shipment of gold from the Austrians who are ruling Mexico. The gold is suppose to be for purchase of arms for the rebels, but the gang of thieves think about benefitting themselves. Had I not known who Reed was, I would have assumed with his dyed blond hair that he we an Italian or German actor with an English language pseudonym.

What cannot be denied is that Dean Reed could do his own stunts, as demonstrated by some trick riding in one scene. As far as Italian westerns go, Adios, Sabata has a few unique bits, such as a Flamenco dancing outlaw, and a scene with Reed and Brynner playing a Schubert duet on piano. The political aspects, such as they are, probably appealed to Reed. American Rebel shows more clips from Reed's other films that he also wrote and directed, including his own version of the Sand Creek Massacre, the subject of Ralph Nelson's Soldier Blue. Not surprisingly, most of Reed's other films are westerns. The excerpts provide a bit of culture shock, not so much for the location shooting in Bulgaria, but the characters speaking German. One hopes that someone will be enterprising enough to make these films available on DVD. Even though Dean Reed left Denver, Colorado, that his filmmaking mark was primarily in westerns showed that parts of Denver had always stayed with him.

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Posted by peter at August 27, 2008 12:43 AM


This is a really fascinating story about a man I've never heard of. I definitely will check out the documentary and the Hanks film when it comes out. I'm a little leery of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death, though. Depression is an illness that may not have a specific trigger.

Posted by: Marilyn at August 27, 2008 11:42 AM

Fascinating piece, Peter. I've seen Dean Reed before in a couple of movies but I never knew much about him.

Posted by: Kimberly at August 29, 2008 02:29 PM

You can know about our beloved person more at E-Encyclopedia of Dean Reed!
I must say that Dean was killed. A story about his soucide is a dirty lie.

Posted by: Ioly at September 1, 2008 02:08 AM

I think if more kids these days raced mules we wouldn't have such an epidemic of purposelessness in our country. Win or lose, you're a better person for the contest.

Posted by: ARBOGAST at September 1, 2008 10:37 AM