At long last I found a chance to get to see this incredibly obscure effort by Margheriti, which I believe was his first western after delving into the Spy Movie territory. And in fact it is very much in the tradition of a James Bond type spoof, with Rik Van Nutter (who played CIA agent Felix Lieter in the 007 film THUNDERBALL) hamming it up wonderfully as the silver haired explosives expert Dynamite Joe Ford called in by the feds to protect a gold shipment from a scurrilous band of comancheros. Barta Barri has a ball – as usual – as Joe’s comic relief sidekick, and fellow frequent Spanish horror personality Ricardo Palacios (best known for his appearances in Paul Naschy’s gothic horrors) steals the show in the third act as an unkempt slob of a gang boss brought in to eliminate Joe at the behest of the crooked bankers & politicians who are in fact behind the gold heists. Regular Margheriti eye candy actress Halina Zalewska (LONG HAIR OF DEATH, WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS) gets to wear a blond wig as Joe’s love interest … well, one of them at any rate: for a gray haired man he sure gets around. And Carlo Savina composed a boisterous musical score with ample opportunity for the dancing girls at the saloon to strut their stuff & show off their knickers.
And in contrast to Margheriti’s other westerns from the 60s – VENGEANCE and GOD SAID TO CAINE most notably – the movie is refreshingly light hearted without reverting into the gonzo style of Euro comedy that never really does much for me, at any rate. The film was also made with younger audiences in mind: There is no overt violence and Joe’s coolness of character plays as much of a role in getting him out of various jams as his more explosive tendencies. There is even an extended sequence where he and Ms. Zalewska are trapped in a mine where he has to concoct an escape method which is actually quite ingenious, climaxing in yet another big Margheriti flood as an underground river is set loose to sweep the bad guy’s ranch into oblivion, ala sequences from such films as YOR, KILLER FISH and WILD WILD PLANET.
One aspect of the film that I also enjoyed is that it is a nice representation of the formative years of spaghetti, circa 1965 - 1968, with an emphasis on visual design & color that is at once gloriously absurd and yet easy on the eyes. The whole movie resembles a graphic novel or cartoon, a sentiment highlighted by the movie’s funniest moment where Joe inadvertently blows up a government building because the servants weren’t told to handle his luggage more carefully. I was actually just commenting on how BAD MAN’S RIVER fails as a comedy because the laughs are forced & pre-determined, whereas with DYNAMITE JOE Margheriti was happy to let the absurdity of the whole situation result in some unexpected belly laughs that just sort of develop on their own.
If there was a complaint that I had about the movie it’s that it goes on for about ten to fifteen minutes too long – the story isn’t really complex enough to warrant the last few plot twists, which come across as contrivances drummed up to pad out the runtime. That in itself got me thinking about the episodic nature of the movie; it feels very much like it could have been a television project that got a bit out of hand and was condensed down to a theatrical event instead, with a couple of odd segues here and there that feel sort of like a commercial break (or end of an episode) would have been the original intention. Or perhaps the movie ran even longer in it’s original Italian version. The Greek subtitled LBX print I saw ran about 93 minutes, incorrectly framed to about 1:66:1 where the film is credited as a 2:35:1 Techniscope shoot. It was still a pleasure to see it but after about 85 minutes I was sort of wondering where it was all going to go.
All in all though it’s a very enjoyable film, certainly more fun than the brooding VENGEANCE and a bit more hip than TAKE A HARD RIDE, and a hella lot more funny than THE STRANGER & THE GUNFIGHTER. Rik Van Nutter had previously worked with Margheriti on his pioneering ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE (or SPACE MEN) and was a great choice for Dynamite Joe, even though we hear about Joe’s legendary use of explosives more than we see it. But he had a great presence with his lanky frame sprawled over his carriage and posed in his impeccable suits, which never become dusty or tattered even after having to crawl out of an collapsed mine shaft. Like James Bond he always manages to stay one step ahead of his antagonists even when roped up & condemned to death, and again there is something to be said for his silver haired appearance, which to me was probably the most interesting aspect of the film – Margheriti deliberately gives us an action hero who isn’t a twenty five year old hotshot but a seasoned, experienced specialist who apparently stages his explosions with advanced knowledge of what the usually younger antagonists might have in mind. There is something to be said for experience, and just because you’re going completely gray that doesn’t mean you can’t still make the ladies swoon.
All in all an enjoyable film, remarkable for it’s legacy in Margheriti’s portfolio than for any specific memorable scenes. He even goes so far as to stage the opening confrontation/teaser sequence as a direct homage/ripoff of the Leone Man With No Name films, dressing Joe in the inevitably Eastwood evoking poncho and hat with the little cigarillo smokes. But after that he sets off into new territory, blending overt comedy with some good natured heroics. The final scene even has Joe riding off into the sunset with his partner after ditching the girls, suggesting that the boyish sense of adventure that runs deep to the core of westerns was more important than a romantic happy ending. It’s still happy, but Joe is just as delighted to be back on the trail in search of new adventures, new pretty girls and new opportunities to make suckers out of the bad guys.
6/10, and very much deserving of a DVD restoration simply because Margheriti was the guy who made it.