« Coffee Break | Main | All the Colours of Sergio Martino »

April 23, 2018

Two Films by Duccio Tessari

ringo blu.jpg

A Pistol for Ringo
Duccio Tessari -1965

The Return of Ringo
Duccio Tessari - 1965
Arrow Video BD Regions A/B

My introduction to Duccio Tessari was in the mid-1970s with two of his crime films. The first, released in the US as No Way Out starred Alain Delon as a hitman forced to do one last job. The other, made a year later, was Three Tough Guys. Dino De Laurentiis was producing English language films with a combination of American and European actors, with Tesseri at the helm of this entertaining thriller featuring Isaac Hayes, Fred Williamson and Lino Ventura as the trio in question. No Way Out had some stylistic flourishes that made me more intrigued about Tessari's other work.

It was through reading Christopher Frayling's books on Sergio Leone and Italian westerns that I first learned that Tessari had an uncredited hand in the screenplay of A Fistful of Dollars. The connection between the two preceded that film, with both assisting the writing and production of The Last Days of Pompeii in 1959, and both also among the eight writers on Sergio Corbucci's Duel of the Titans (1961). Because of the delayed release, and general ignorance of trends in Italian genre filmmaking, stateside viewers were unaware that A Fistful of Dollars was one of several westerns produced at the same time, usually with Italian directors working in Spain with a multi-national cast. A Pistol for Ringo, produced in late 1964, was released in the US in November 1966, almost three months before US audiences were introduced to the man with no name.

Tessari's films feature essentially much of the same cast, but with two different stories, different locations, and two very different Ringos. In the first film, Ringo, also known as Angel Face, acts as the conduit between the townspeople and the bandits who have robbed the bank. His services don't come cheap as he negotiates a higher percentage of the loot, depending on which side he is ultimately assisting. Tessari's Ringo here is the opposite of Clint Eastwood's character, well-dressed, loquacious, clean-shaven. He is introduced playing hopscotch before gunning down a quartet that was after him. Tesseri makes use of Giuliano Gemma's charm and athletic ability - Gemma was a stunt man and does his own stunts here. What really impresses is the amount of visual detail Tessari crams into a shot, often with his actors moving in and out of the frame with the camera following the action. A medium shot of actress Nieves Navarro has her with her back against a window. Looking through the window, onto the street, one can see some activity in the background. When the bandits are eating dinner at the house of the town's patriarch, one of the bandits can be seen on the side still chewing on a big slice of meat still outside of his mouth. In this way, Tessari makes me think of Richard Lester, where he will have the main characters placed prominently within the frame, but the viewer needs to glance to the sides to pick up other bits of business.

I'm not even sure if Gemma's character is ever called Ringo in The Return of Ringo. Taking place just months after the end of the American Civil War, Gemma plays a Union soldier returning to his small Texas town. The story is a variation of The Odyssey and the original script even had Odyssey as part of the title. A more serious film than the first, the town is virtually empty of street activity, and in a perpetual dust storm. The screenplay by Tessari with genre stylist Fernando DI Leo, has the unusual racial component of having the town taken over by a gang of well dressed Mexicans who have reclaimed the area as part of Mexico, making the Anglo residents second-class citizens. While not as visually stylized, the second film is notable for the complex traveling shots, as well as some unexpected religious imagery.

The blu-ray includes interviews from 2008 and 2009 with actress Lorella de Luca, Tesseri's wife, and star Giuliano Gemma. Western film historians Henry Parke and Courtney Joyner provide commentary tracks on both films, placing both within the context of genre filmmaking in Italy in the 1960s. There is also a discussion on the Ringo films by the ubiquitous Tony Rayns.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 23, 2018 09:20 AM