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Wild East Productions of New York have included a double bill of George Ardisson films in their ongoing Spaghetti Western collection. Ardisson is perhaps best known for his work in the Euro-spy film genre but he also appeared in a handful of Italian Westerns. The two films featured here are May God Forgive You… I Won’t and Massacre at Canyon Grande.

May God Forgive You… I Won’t (Italy, 1968) 89 min. Directed by Vincenzo Musolino.

Old Man Stuart (Luigi Pavese) holds the mortgage on the McDonalds’ ranch and Cjamango McDonald (George Ardisson) has to travel to a nearby town in order to secure the money needed for the final payment. He bumps into Stuart’s daughter, Virginia (Cristina Iosani), and it’s revealed that the pair used to be a courting couple until a feud between their families drove them apart. While Cjamango is busy in town, six bandits attack the McDonalds’ ranch and his father and two siblings are killed. A devastated Cjamango makes the final mortgage payment on time and vows to avenge his family. It turns out that the massacre at the McDonalds’ place was witnessed by a mysterious Mexican called Barrica (Pedro Sanchez) and he offers to assist Cjamango by leading him to the killers. Cjamango begins his vengeance quest and he soon discovers that the trail of death leads directly back to Stuart.

George Ardisson’s best-known Spaghetti Western is probably Pasquale Squitieri’s Django Defies Sartana (1970). His turn as Sartana in that film was suitably impassive but his intentionally dispassionate performance meant that it was hard to judge his acting abilities. Ardisson plays a different kind of character in May God Forgive You… I Won’t: Cjamango is a tough guy who experiences a series of arduous tasks and violent confrontations but he expresses a wide range of emotions while doing so. As such, he remains one of the genre’s more rounded and interesting vengeance-seekers. But while Ardisson turns in a wholly impressive performance, the show is almost stolen by two other actors.

The first contender is genre stalwart Peter Martell who enjoys a great cameo role as a gun-toting maniac. Martell plays Jack Smart, a drunken villain who’s left alone in his local saloon when his gang-leader brother, Dick (Anthony Ghidra), decides that he’s too inebriated to accompany the gang on a payroll robbery. Jack is busy petulantly smashing up the saloon when three bounty hunters come looking for him. He soon takes care of them but he’s no match for Cjamango when he shows up a few moments later looking for his fourth target.

The second contender is fan-favourite Pedro Sanchez in his role as the mysterious Mexican, Barrica. It soon becomes clear that there’s more to Barrica than meets the eye but he does appear to have Cjamango’s best interests at heart. Sanchez expertly draws upon his talent for playing slightly humorous characters during the scenes where Barrica is seen slyly negotiating with undertakers and local lowlifes so that he can acquire the bodies of Cjamango’s victims and surreptitiously claim the rewards on their heads.

Although May God Forgive You… I Won’t is essentially another variation on the Spaghetti Western genre’s well-worn “vengeance for a slaughtered family” formula it is surprisingly original in its approach. There are lots of unexpected narrative twists and turns to be found here along with a number of impressive action scenes that are often staged in quite novel ways.

May God Forgive You… I Won’t is also a pretty smart looking show. Director Vincenzo Musolino and cinematographer Mario Mancini make good use of the widescreen frame while employing a number of stylishly angled shots. The film’s costumes are also noticeably good and its busy towns are suitably populated by masses of extras. All of these factors suggest that May God Forgive You… I Won’t had a decent-sized production budget. Felice Di Stefano’s excellent soundtrack score serves to complete this relatively obscure but highly satisfying genre entry.

Massacre at Canyon Grande (Italy, 1964) 89 min. Directed by Albert Band and Sergio Corbucci.

A former sheriff, Wes Evans (James Mitchum), returns home after spending two years tracking and killing the men who murdered his father. He passes by a new farm in Red Grass Valley and speaks to its owner, Fred White. It transpires that a local big shot, Eric Dancer (Eduardo Ciannelli), is grabbing land by force and White is determined to hold onto the plot that he recently bought from another local big shot, Harley Whitmore (Vladimir Medar). Evans gets a warm welcome in town and the stand-in sheriff, Burt Cooley (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), tries unsuccessfully to convince him to re-enlist as a lawman. When he discovers that his sweetheart Nancy (Milla Sannoner) had long since given him up for dead and married one of Dancer’s wayward sons, Tully (George Ardisson), Evans decides to leave town. However, it becomes apparent that Dancer is amassing an army of hired guns and Evans soon finds himself in the middle of a violent range war.

Massacre at Canyon Grande is one of a number of Italian Westerns that were produced before the release of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). These early Spaghetti Westerns tended to feature storylines that were inspired by Hollywood’s more traditional Westerns. Hollywood’s influence can indeed be found within this film’s fairly routine “range war” and “lost love” narrative strands. Massacre at Canyon Grande does sport more action, more violence and a much higher body count than you would expect to find in a contemporaneous American Western but the nihilistic tone and stylistic embellishments that Leone’s films would soon introduce to the Spaghetti Western genre are noticeably absent here. And the fact that Massacre at Canyon Grande was shot on location in Yugoslavia (as opposed to Italy or Spain) serves to give the film a look that is quite different to most other Italian Westerns.

The producers of early Spaghetti Westerns like Massacre at Canyon Grande often tried to pass their films off as American productions by casting a familiar American actor in a leading role. The familiar American actor in this case is Robert Mitchum’s son, James. James Mitchum was the spitting image of his father at the time of the film’s production and he acquits himself pretty well acting-wise. As such, Mitchum is definitely an asset here and his presence serves to distinguish Massacre at Canyon Grande from its competitors in a positive way. That said, co-star George Ardisson was well-placed to steal the show with his confident turn as the arrogant-but-charismatic bad boy, Tully Dancer.

Producer Charles Band and soon-to-be Spaghetti Western maestro Sergio Corbucci both reportedly had a hand in directing Massacre at Canyon Grande. However, neither director has left a particularly obvious auteurial stamp on any section of the film. Enzo Barboni, who went on to direct the Trinity movies with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, provides the film’s decent enough cinematography. Interestingly, a bar room brawl scene has the slim and agile Mitchum performing precisely the kind of athletic fight moves that Terence Hill would become known for. Genre stalwart Gianni Ferrio’s pleasant enough soundtrack score gets the job done but, as with most other aspects of the film, his music primarily bears the influence of American Westerns.

Massacre at Canyon Grande is a reasonably good Western and it works well as a second feature on a double bill disc. But genre fans will be interested in this film mainly because its content provides a useful insight into how Spaghetti Westerns looked before the release of A Fistful of Dollars.

Extra features: Deleted prologue and epilogue for May God Forgive You… I Won’t, an image gallery for each film, a trailer for each film and an interview with George Ardisson.

© Copyright 2017 Lee Broughton.

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