It’s the end of the American Civil War and confederate soldier California (Gemma) has been released from a Union prison camp. He begins to make trails to no where imperticular when suddenly a younger ex-confederate soldier named Willy Preston (played by singer Miguel Bosé) runs into him and wants to befriend him. At first California wants nothing to do with Willy but they soon learn to bond after realizing Mercenaries are after the price on freed confederate prisoners’ heads (that includes them!). After dodging a fearsome and sadisitic Bounty hunter by the name of Whitaker, the two companians reach a ghost town where they are ambushed by Confederate hating Northerners. The Vigilantes shoot and hang Willy leaving California no choice but to make trails to Willy’s home in Georgia to tell the bad news to his folks and older sister.
After California tells of the grim news to the Preston Family he is welcomed to stay at the farm for as long as he likes. Willy’s sister Helen (who is played by Miguel Bosé’s real life sister Paola) predictably falls in love with California and the two share a budding romance… that is until Helen is kidnapped by the mean, nasty, terrible, ghastly and all around bad bounty hunter Whitaker.
California must saddle up and search for Helen even if he must side with the enemy to do it.
The film very much feels like three movies in one. You have the half hour relationship between California and Willy(which feels like the first part of a buddy movie), you have the sappy romance segment in the middle of the film and then you have the search party (which consist only of one man) stuff for the thrid act. Needless to say the movie rambles here and there and perhaps it’s a little too long for it’s own good but it’s a well crafted film with some very well done action sequences.
The fist fights are particularly excellent (Which is saying something in a genre that has some of the worst fist fights ever put to celluloid). During a scuffle you can be sure that wood planks, fences and even brick walls (!) will be destroyed to make way for the competitors to further duke it out without breaking a sweat or getting exhausted. It’s all good fun until somebody is beaten to death or impaled by a stake, then it just becomes down right COOL.
The gunfights are equally nice, always taking place in some deserted ghost town with buildings that crumble at the firing of a bullet. I must point out that set designer Carlo Simi did his best work for this movie. All the ghost towns are especially spooky with muddy streets and ram shackled buildings. One set even includes craters on the town street formed by cannon fire during some recent battle.
Gemma is great as the loner known as California. He seems to have some sort of past that he wants to desperatly put behind him but we never quite find out what that past is (shades of his character in “and for a roof a skyful of stars”) and we don’t need to. It’s not important. He tells us all we need to know about him through his performance.
William Berger has a small role as Willy Preston’s father. For you Berger fans out there don’t expect him to be shooting anybody or even take part in any action sequences. Fair warning.
The soundtrack is mostly mood music although there is an attempt to have some memorable score with the main title theme but it is an utter failure in the memorable department (shucks).
Director Michele Lupo made five other spaghetti westerns besides this one (three starring Gemma ). I have seen three of the five and so far this is his best effort. An enjoyable film, one of the last (if not THE last) good spaghetti westerns before the genre was buried on Boot Hill.