Sunday, September 8, 2019
DVR Diary: RINGO AND HIS GOLDEN PISTOL (Johnny Oro, 1966)
Sergio Corbucci's follow-up to Django feels more like a conventional American "adult" western than the more exotic product we think of as a spaghetti western. Its protagonist does have a sort of gimmick weapon or two -- in addition to the golden pistol he has a canteen he can convert into a grenade -- but the story is more character-driven and moralistic than Italian westerns in general are thought to be. Bolzoni and Rossetti's screenplay is less a celebration of the amorality of the bounty killer than an affirmation of the rule of law. Accordingly, it really has two protagonists: not just Johnny Ringo aka Johnny Oro (Mark Damon) but the sheriff of Coldstone (Ettore Manni), with whom Ringo, momentarily his prisoner, allies against lawless outsiders. Johnny Oro may seem not merely conventional but conservative in its treatment of Mexicans and especially Indians -- relatively rare figures in spaghetti westerns -- as pure villains. Matching the film's two heroes are two villains: the bandit heir Junaito Perez (Franco de Rosa), who seeks vengeance on Johnny for the deaths of his brothers, and the Apache chief Sebastian (Giovanni Cianfrigia), first seen getting thrown out of a Coldstone saloon by the sheriff. The crux of the story is Johnny's arrest by the sheriff for a petty crime that will keep him in jail for less than a week. During this time, Perez demands that Johnny be delivered to him for revenge, or else he and Sebastian's warriors will descend on the town. As a bounty killer, Johnny isn't especially popular with many of the townsfolk, some of whom, wanting to restore the modus vivendi that existed with Juanito's brothers, urge Norton to turn him over to Perez. They realize too late that it's no longer possible to negotiate with Perez. Having made his alliance with the Apaches, Juanito is committed to letting them sack the town, so long as he has his way with Johnny. This news provokes a mass exodus from Coldstone, while the remaning people, led by the sheriff and ultimately joined by Johnny, resolve to resist the invasion. Corbucci had what looks like a decent budget to work with here, so the flight and the subsequent attack are impressively if not excessively staged, the latter climaxing in some massive explosions before the final showdown between Johnny and Juanito. Johnny Oro doesn't appear to rank high in the Corbucci canon, perhaps because it's relatively square and maybe because Mark Damon lacks the badass charisma of Franco Nero or other Cobucci stars. But Damon is personable enough as a cynic who shows he has a conscience, or at least some compassion after all, and the screenplay boasts a nice range of well-defined, well-performed characters, including a saloon girl (Valeria Fabrizi) whose love-hate relationship with Johnny ends tragically without particularly embittering our hero. He keeps up his blithe front even at the ultimate moment, when he seems helpless before a gloating Juanito but for a convenient bit of reflective material. Johnny Oro -- or Johnny Ringo for those markets where the Ringo name had Django-like magnetism -- is a likable enough rogue who might have been worth following in later adventures had Corbucci not moved on to ultimately better things.