Thursday, May 6, 2010

THE PRICE OF DEATH (Il Venditore di Morte, 1971)

The Italian title means, "the salesman of death," and it refers to the man called Silver, played by Gianni (Sartana) Garko. This guy is Sartana in all but name. When he's on the job, he dresses like Sartana: dark suit, red tie, etc. He carries little trick guns like Sartana. But this film, written and directed by Lorenzo Gicca Palli, alias "Vincent Thomas," shows us something we never see in a proper Sartana film: the bounty hunter at his leisure. We find him at his hacienda, attended by two Mexican mistresses, in the middle of judo practice. His sparring partner throws Mr. Silver all over the mat until our hero gets up and lays the master out with a punch to the face. Then it's time to talk with potential clients: a poor couple who want him to track down the man who raped and killed their daughter. We saw this at the start of the picture in a giallo-esque POV attack scene.

The only clue the parents have is a decorative belt buckle that must belong to the rapist. They leave it with Silver, but he refuses to take their case: he's a bounty killer, not a detective.

Gianni Garko as Sarta--er, Silver in repose (above) and in his work clothes (below).

He's more receptive when an old friend, the lawyer Jeff Plummer, asks him to track down the man who shot up a saloon and killed one of the saloon girls. We saw that earlier, too. Two of the three robbers were shot down at the scene. The authorities think they have the third man in jail already: local no-goodnik Chester Conway (Klaus Kinski). Saloon proprietress Polly Winters (Gely Genka) has her own grudge with Chester, but she's convinced that he's being railroaded in this particular case. He claims to have an alibi, but won't divulge it. She wants to save him from the hangman so she can have her own revenge later. Because the authorities are aligned against her and Jeff, she sends him with money enough to get Silver interested. As he gets closer to the truth, a hooded gunman starts picking off his informants, including Polly. And as it turns out, Chester is a patsy, set up to take the rap for powerful people who were out to preempt a blackmail scheme. On the other hand, Chester isn't exactly an innocent man....

What kind of a town is it when they keep a poor soul like Klaus Kinski in prison (above, taunting Gely Genka), when they let the guy below run free?

Some of the subject matter here is pretty brutal, but just as you can see a sort of giallo influence in the rape scene you can also see the more direct influence of They Call Me Trinity in the more laid-back hero Garko plays and the broad comedy bits thrown in at odd moments. Consider this: Silver has brought a miner into town thinking that he can identify someone who can help clear up the mystery. The hooded killer promptly drills the miner. Silver chases the killer while a dumb deputy chases Silver, thinking him the killer. Caught between two fires, Silver ends up climbing to the second floor of the saloon and diving in through a window. He startles a prostitute who starts pelting him with intimate apparel while cutesy-funny music from Mario Migliardi tinkles in the background. Migliardi's score overall is actually pretty interesting, different from the usual Morricone-inspired sound with a sinister-sounding main theme. The film as a whole tries to strike a balance between the sinister and the satirical, maybe seeking to be more sophisticated than Trinity. It can't help being a mixed bag, with some good action sequences and the right kind of lead performance from Garko, but also with really pointless comedy bits like a subplot involving the constantly-brawling miners that ends up going nowhere. On the other hand, it's the sort of story that needs to throw potential plot threads all over the place in order to keep you guessing about who killed whom, who raped whom, etc. You can tell while you're watching that the movie's a bit of a mess, but there's enough going on, and you see enough of Garko and Kinski, to keep you interested over its reasonable running time. Il Venditore di Morte should end up on no one's list of top spaghetti westerns, but it should entertain fans of the Italian genre in their more undemanding moments.


venoms5 said...

I bought the X Rated Kult DVD of this one, Sam. I was really expecting something special with this one considering the cast. Needless to say I wasn't expecting more of a mystery thriller than a western. I had a fullscreen boot of it, too, which I should have watched beforehand. I should probably watch it again, though, since now I know what to expect.

Great write up as usual, Sam.

Samuel Wilson said...

I should note that I was looking at a Videoasia DVD from their Sartana collection, which means I was seeing the English dub option copied from a German disc, hence the titles were auf deutsch.

venoms5 said...

Those X Rated Kult DVD's have great box art, too, only they're in these oversized clamshell cases which wreck havoc on the shelves. I stay away from those VideoAsia things as so many people have problems with them skipping, freezing up, or simply not playing at all. I bought a few of their kung fu discs a few years ago and had a lot of problems out of them. George Tan runs that "company". The only thing I'll give him is he creates some very slick box art for his bootlegs.

Samuel Wilson said...

VideoAsia has gotten better recently, aesthetically if not ethically. The Spaghetti Western Bible sets, Thug City Chronicles and their Sonny Chiba set don't have the hideous defects that were common in the Grindhouse Experience boxes, but I can see why someone might still steer clear as a matter of principle.