Instead, Face to Face is reminiscent partly of Lawrence of Arabia, and partly of Delmer Daves's Cowboy. The Lawrence influence is obvious in Sollima's desert locations and the basic storyline of an intellectual outsider who teaches the natives -- outlaws, not Indians -- to be more effective fighters. As Fletcher grows more impressed with Bennett's courage and strength, he begins to see the outlaw life as a form of virile self-realization, and he makes himself into a criminal mastermind. The Cowboy influence will be less apparent because Daves's film is less well known. In short, Jack Lemmon's hotel clerk falls under the spell of Glenn Ford's trail boss and joins Ford on a cattle drive, during which he becomes disillusioned when Ford fails to live up to his romantic ideas of cowboy life, and eventually becomes a pitiless hardcase in embittered emulation of his role model. In both Cowboy and Lawrence, the outsider becomes hardened and even brutalized by experience to an extent that alarms the experienced natives. Just as, in Cowboy, the Ford character recognizes his own faults in Lemmon's exaggerated form, so Milian's bandit experiences a kind of intellectual awakening when exposed to the professor's learning and initial scruples, followed by a moral awakening as he sees the extent of Fletcher's corruption and ruthlessness, and its consequences for his friends.
Unlike in Lawrence, the outsider brings unmitigated disaster to his new friends, and unlike in Cowboy, reconciliation between the protagonists becomes impossible. Fletcher and Bennett hole up in the almost utopian multicultural community of Puerta del Fuego, which becomes a base for their banditry. When Fletcher plots a major bank robbery that turns into a bloodbath in part because Bennett finds himself unwilling to kill a child who recognizes him as an outlaw, a posse forms to destroy Puerta del Fuego and drive its people into the desert. Complicating things further is a righteous traitor in their midst: Charlie Siringo (William Berger) -- a rare spaghetti character based on a real person -- who plays a bandit but is actually a Pinkerton detective. He completes the classic spaghetti triangle, and the film climaxes with a threeway confrontation after a battle with the posse. Should a helpless Siringo be killed? If not, what does Siringo owe to his savior, and what does he owe to the law?
The different stages of the doomed friendship of Beauregard Bennett (Tomas Milian, top left) and Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volonte, top right) in Face to Face.