Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bad Man's River (1971)

If you've seen Horror Express (that amazing Trans-Siberian bigfoot-alien-zombie train ride from Hammer studios) you'll have some idea of the manic genre shape-shifting eccentricity that director Eugenio Martin brings to the western in Bad Man's River. I had seen a crummy, badly cropped, and faded budget label release of this movie a few years ago, and it was an incoherent, boring mess. Thankfully, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released a pristine Blu Ray that restores the pictorial beauty and visual wit of Martin's direction, which allows viewers to enjoy a fuller understanding of just how marvelously weird Bad Man's River truly is.

Set during the Mexican Revolution, Bad Man's River begins with Lee Van Cleef and his gang successfully robbing a bank. While celebrating on a train, Lee meets Gina Lollobrigida, falls in love, marries her in a whirlwind courtship, and is promptly robbed and institutionalized by his new bride. After being released, Lee takes up with his old gang, and is contacted by his now-bigamous wife who hires Lee to destroy the Mexican army's supply of weapons as part of a ruse to get them to buy more arms from her new husband, James Mason. Lee takes the job, but soon finds that Gina is just as crafty and duplicitous as before.

Much like Horror Express, Martin veers the film deftly between different moods, embracing both the savage and slapstick extremes of the Spaghetti western genre. Some critics have said the joke-y music feels out of place, I would disagree and say that it rightful situates the film's lighthearted mood, folkloric narrative, and verse-chorus-like structure that keeps coming back to Gina and her double-crossing beauty.

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