I finally got around to watching this and it took about three times to figure out what is going on with it. The first time through I didn’t like it much, the film seems to take itself way too seriously but doesn’t really come together at all. The second time I started to listen to the music more, or rather the soundtrack, and realized how much of a horror movie thing is going on for much of it. The third time through I figured out that it’s a Peplum film essentially with Mickey Hargitay and Gordon Mitchell dressed up like cowboys instead of Hercules. If you watch some of the scenes in the caves in particular they look like leftover sets from a Hercules movie with the same kind of goofy colorful lighting hiding the fact that the walls are just formed paper mache & plaster. I like how most of it is shot on these sets that are so garishly designed and overlit that you can’t possibly miss the decor, which makes sense once you discover than Emmino Salvi was a production designer and 2nd unit director on Pepla before he started writing and eventually directing. This is his first of two spaghettis and something tells me that midway through 1965 somebody read his script idea for a Peplum he was making and suggested a re-write to change the Greco/Roman setting into a western instead. They even kept the veil dance scene and the bit where they try to pull the kid into the fire reminded me of one of those “ordeal” sequences from a Hercules movie.
I’ll agree it’s not a particularly strong or even memorable effort but it represents an interesting bridge between the Peplum and spaghetti years where they were still establishing the plot conventions that would become the classic form. If you compare it with THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY it’s actually somewhat of a throwback and has little in common with Leone’s more sprawling vision: This reminds me more of a “potboiler” approach, which was more indicative of the Peplum fad. Eventually the arty approach that defines the classic spaghetti western form would take over but this still has the edgy freshness of a genre in it’s infancy. It doesn’t have the particular zing that would become the norm for the genre but like listening to early Beatles it’s fascinating to look at and think about how much more the genre matured in even just the one year between this film’s release and something like DEATH RIDES A HORSE, which is a much more mature and thoughtful film.
I’d even go so far as to say that what appeals to me about THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO is how cheap and artificial it looks. The cowboys are all wearing color coordinated costumes, everybody looks freshly shaved, the sets are all hyper designed to the point of being surreal, they use a lot of colored lighting to blend in the otherwise sparse backgrounds, there isn’t much extensive location work, most of it looks like it was shot on closed sets on a very tight schedule – it reminds me more of watching an old episode of “Star Trek” than anything else, and has the feel of kids playing a sick game of cowboys & Mesquilleros than an attempt to conjure up the Old West.
And I kind of like that approach, it’s different at any rate, with lots of horror movie moments (crashing thunder, howling wolves, screaming people, flickering fireplaces) though I would agree that Mickey Hargitay looks a little lost or confused, or maybe his pants were just too tight. Gordon Mitchell looks like he was having a ball though, and I’d love to find more of his very early westerns like this one. The Wild East DVD is dirt cheap too, I got mine for about $12 and it will definitely be one I put on again. I’m mostly interested in the experimental year spaghettis of say 1964 - 1968, so maybe I’m just partial to this one for that matter. I’d give it a five out of ten rating, neutral, with the understanding that some if not many will find it a bit bland.