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February 02, 2021

The Hills Run Red


Un Fiume di dollari
Carlo Lizzani - 1966
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The original Italian title translates as "A River of Dollars". At a time when Sergio Leone's first two collaborations with Clint Eastwood were successful in Europe, but as yet to get released in the U.S., producer Dino De Laurentiis tried to mimic the formula with both a similar title and the casting of an expatriate American actor as a star. Even though Carlo Lizzani had previously made his one other western, Requiescant under his name, this time some of the conventions of giving American sounding names too place with Lizzani credited as Lee W. Beaver, screenwriter Piero Regnoli as Dean Craig, and composter Ennio Morricone as Leo Nichols. The Hills Run Red was released in Italy in September 1966, but not screened in the U.S. until November 1967 when the popularity of Leone's films ushered in a flood of Italian westerns.

There is a double-cross involving a missing cache of $600,000 dollars transported by two rebel soldiers during the Civil War. One of the men is caught by Union soldiers and imprisoned for five years. Discovering his wife has died and his young son is missing, he seeks revenge on his former partner. Unexpected help comes in the form of an old codger with his own hidden agenda. Unlike Requiescant, or many of Lizzani's other films for that matter, there is no obvious political reading here. The closest Hills comes to thematically resembling Lizzani's work is in the corrupting influence of money, especially of conspicuous wealth.

Both of Lizzani's westerns do take on the basic narrative that appeared in several Hollywood westerns of the Fifties of the outsider who takes on the capitalist who owns a small town. Several Italian filmmakers were politically engaged as a result the schisms in Italian life during World War II as well as entering the film industry during the era of Neorealism. It may be more than coincidental that both of Lizzani's westerns take place in the American Southwest within a few years following the Civil War.

There are a couple of visual moments worthy attention. When the putative hero, Jerry Brewster, returns to his home, it is revealed to be a long abandoned cabin. The dusty interior is entirely gray. While he reads a letter from his late wife, the voiceover shifts to the voice of the wife, while the camera moves left, revealing an empty cradle, an open birdcage and a dust covered portrait. The voiceover shifts back to Brewster as he steps back into the camera frame. Later, during an outdoor square dance, Brewster causes a herd of horse to stampede out of a corral. Lizzani films several of the characters caught in the confusion in close-ups of their faces, while the horses running in front of them are large blurs. There are extensive close-ups throughout the film, the most given to almost operatic Henry Silva.

Reportedly a chance meeting with De Laurentiis propelled Thomas Hunter from a small supporting role in Blake Edwards' What Did You do in the War, Daddy? to top billing in what was only his second feature appearance. Perpetually unshaven, quick on the draw, Hunter is histrionic where Clint Eastwood would keep his emotions in check. Henry Silva's villainous henchman is sometimes a bit more broad than necessary but for the most part works within this film. Perpetual onscreen slimeball, Dan Duryea, is a good guy here, not immediately recognizable with a mustache, still using his established relaxed demeanor though not for ill-purposes. The blu-ray only has the English language track with the American stars dubbing their own voices.

There is a bit of unintended connectivity following the production of this film. As mentioned in Mike Peros' biography of Dan Duryea, The Hills Run Red was planned with Burt Reynolds in the lead role. Reynold's replacement, Thomas Hunter, also appeared in an episode of Reynold's short lived detective television series, Hawk, also in 1966.

Alex Cox provided the commentary track. Cox also wrote about The Hills Run Red in his his book on Italian westerns. He points out how the basic story resembles that of Marlon Brando's One-Eyed Jacks. Unlike the bulk of Italian westerns which were filmed in Spain as international coproductions, The Hills Run Red was entirely filmed near Rome at De Laurentiis' studio and western set known as Dinocitta. Cox offers brief information on the main cast and crew members. The source print appears quite good, with some of the abrupt fade-outs being part of the original film with its relatively short running time just under ninety minutes. Another reminder that not every Italian western worth seeing was directed by someone named Sergio.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 2, 2021 05:38 AM