Sunscorched / Tierra de fuego (Jaime Jesús Balcázar / Mark Stevens, 1965)

I’m starting to think there are no more hidden gems left to find. Black Jack and El Puro have finally got the status, as dark moody minor classics, that they so justly deserve (from most of us anyway Colonel), and many were pleasantly surprised at Vengeance for Vengeance or Bullet in the Forehead. Myself, I was thrilled at finding No Graves on Boot Hill to be worthy, in my eyes at least, and even more so at being recommended Quanto Costa Morire by my furry brothers Bluntwolf and Silver Wolf. And if not classics, then there’s been plenty to entertain. I’d always had brother Romaine to rely on for a bit of gratuitous whipping or somesuch. But are these days sadly gone? I’m down to watching the last few of my 350 or so films. Those that are left are the worst copies, almost unwatchable in their graininess – or simply ones that my Samshit dvd player randomly rejects. I myself have rejected the post-Trinity nonsense. But most of these, have been seen, and maybe reviewed, by people whose opinions I respect. This has been a weird genre to venture into – big enough and confusing enough – and up ‘til now surprising enough – to include unknown territory – previously unexplored or forgotten lands that may deliver silver or even gold. The terrain is dangerous, and littered with the bleached out bones of the unwary, and of course there’s the mad ramblings of those that have stumbled upon a Crea or a Fidani without the contextual firepower to shoot their way out, and these poor damned souls may never recover from the shock. The review I present here does not purport to have found one such gem. Far from it! But I wanted to come back to the fold by putting something in the pot. What I really wanted to dish up was a thick meaty Spaghetti Bolognese cooked in a bitter-sweet sauce with ‘that special elusive secret ingredient’. Unfortunately all I could find was this bit of sickly, somewhat chewy bland meat of dubious origin. Lean times indeed!

Also known as Jessy Does Not Forgive … He Kills - Sunscorched is the version I have. (Maybe) interestingly, despite what both imdb and our own database say, the credits here do NOT mention our spaghetti favourite Frank Brana being in this. And if he is, well I didn’t see him - tho’ at a mere 73 minutes long maybe he turns up in a longer version? Mind you, this vid copy (of quite poor quality) also only has Mark Stevens down as the director, and fails to co-credit Jaime Jesus Balcazar? Yet an Americo-Spanish hybrid it is in all probability, - although with the amount of English spoken with Germanic accents in this, one might be forgiven for thinking this also a German co-production.
Swiss-born Mario Adorf (Italian father and German mother, educated in Germany) plays Abel – the baddy band-of-four’s leader – and he speaks his own part undubbed, with a heavy German accent, as does FOD babe Marianne Koch – the decent well-meaning stable-girl Anna-Lisa, who’s got a couple of bad hearts a-fluttering in this, although hers (of course) flutters elsewhere.
And now for the next German connection … but there’s summat wrong here surely? Even the film’s credits (as has imdb) has the Reverend Dietrich in this being played by Spaniard Julio Pena … but surely this is the Albert Bessler that we are also told is in the film?? Anyway, that’s the thickest German accent I’ve ever heard on a Spaniard if not! Unless he’s maybe the barkeeper then - who must’ve also previously serving steins down Rhineland way the previous year, judging by the accent – but I think they’ve got this wrong though ……. Or am I confused?
Anyway, those without German accents include Mark Stevens (again) as the sheriff with a secret, and his beautiful younger wife, Lily, played by Vivian Dodds in her only film outing … I wonder what happened to her? (Or was this film so bad it put her off?)

So what’s it all about then? (Probably some spoilers here then … but you know that by now I’ll reckon?!)

Well, the film starts up with some horrible un-spaghetti American sounding music as our 4 nasties head towards town – the town that will bring ‘em into eventual conflict with our cowardly(?) sheriff, something Abel (Adorf) is looking forward to as he plays it out in what appears to be some sort of sadistic revenge motive, linked to our sheriff’s hidden past? This law-abiding town of 1,200 (all of ‘em pussies) is afraid to challenge these four dangerous hombres as they commit such terribly heinous crimes as looking lustily at the womenfolk, Abel getting his man-boobs out as he washes himself in a barrel, and putting their booze and food on the slate ‘cos they ain’t got any coin. (Well, not yet anyhows …)
Sheriff Jess gets so darned annoyed at this naughtiness he goes off to shoot four metaphorical bottles, and to impress the Reverend’s son Sepp with his half-baked philosophy about being a man, not wearing a gun unless you’re prepared to be called on to use it, and what it’s like to kill a man. By the way, in case you’re all wondrin’ …“It’s something you never forget … something you live with all your life.” So there ya go!

The ugly four then get a bit nasty with the barman after Adorf asks for a couple of pints of Heidelberger Lager in a stein, only to be told he’ll have to settle for a bottle or two of Stella Artois – or summat like. Anyway he gets a slap for this barkeepery faux pas. So pissed off, and popped up on a few pints of wifebeater, the four go off to petrify the townsfolk some more at the local disco. Here they provoke and indulge in a bit of fisticuffs which amounts to nothing more than Abel pulling his gun on Jess, and then leaving …. Sigh, now’s the time to get something off my chest here – amazingly, I was almost hoping for a bit of the dreaded, and usually hated, gratuitous choreography that passes for a fistfight and pisses me off in nearly every other western. And you know why? Cos I’m getting battered down by the sheer gloomy melodrama-ery-ness of what is turning out to be a very tedious storytelling. It’s not that they can’t act – they can! Adorf is great; Marianne shimmers with a subtle eroto-sensuousness which we know is jus’ gonna have to come a-bubblin’ forth at some point. I suppose it’s all just a bit too fuckin’ wordy (and worthy) to be spaghetti (which I suppose it truly isn’t … more of a pumpkin-paella really of course). Maybe ‘cos of Stevens’ American upbringing and this being early days for both Balcazar and the Eurowestern, they haven’t yet learnt the ‘spaghetti-style’ - whereby a grimace, a glower or a shadowy glance can say more than words can, and instead rely on making the bleedin’ obvious even more so. Everything is just so miserably melodramatic with music to match, and if you’re gonna do m’s – I prefer them to be mean, moody and muddy. There’s not enough ambiguity of character here to make the inter-relationships anything less than obvious.

Anyway, back to the story, everybody breathes a sigh of relief when Abel and his thugs leave town and then everybody gets concerned when they return – having relieved another town of a few bags of gold, presumably so they can pay their bar-tab back here. But Jessy’s starting to act a bit more sheriffy and goes off to confront both Abel and his past, and we get to see a glimpse of how good this film could actually be if it was made more in spaghettiland, and maybe a bit later … post-Django.
Abel’s gang though consist of a reasonable enough bunch of misfits, but as with nearly every other relationship within this film, not enough is made of their idiosyncrasies. Except maybe that is, with the exception of Twitch – who’s a sort of clumsy simpleton, built in the mould of Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men . And our Twitch quite fancies a go on Anna-Lisa … Oh dear, oh dear! There’s also a subplot going on here that involves a hothead called Kurt, who also gets turned on by the thought of Anna-Lisa in her hay barn, and being around, and rubbing down all those sweaty horses, and the suchlike. But he sees that she’s really simmering gently for our sheriff and that she realises that he’s more of a man and less of a coward than he seems. Our Kurt disagrees of course, and after a deep and meaningless baring of his soul to Anna-Lisa, and getting an equally deep and dour rejection, he goes off to rage about a bit, throwing extra-marital accusations at Jessy and calling him a “bastard”. Kurt gets a smack on the nose for this of course, but then the Rev. goes and ruins it all and gets all moralistic about bringing his son Sepp up around fists and guns, and Jessy and Anna-Lisa meet up and add to the melodrama with the “You’re a good friend, Anna-Lisa” bit, whilst she shows she has the potential to go a bit moist at both ends for him. The problem again, is not the content of the story per se, but the lack of style – that elusive spaghetti-ism that we all love.
Except, there’s a bit of hope here as the gang start to get a bit frisky … after molesting one of the townsfolk women, the rev goes to confront the gang – calling them “beasts” and banging on about them “being maggots feeding on the bodies of the living”… etc. – and this time the moralisticky stuff ain’t so bad – he is a fuckin’ reverend after all and is allowed to! Although Abel and his men don’t see it this way, and so they take him outside for a bit of fresh air and a severe beating. Now, what would we expect son Sepp to do now - him being torn betwixt the teachings of the Lord via his dad on one hand, and that glamorous gunlaw justice, as represented by his hero, Sheriffy-pants? Doesn’t bode well, does it? Anyway – he doesn’t get beyond “Two!” on his way up to three. Maybe the ridiculously pompous music put him off. Then the gang member responsible realises that there’s no honour amongst thieves, and fearing a mob (do we now have the potential for the townspeople to react?) Abel laughs as Jessy follows him into the barn and says of him “he’s got two chances … slim and none! Ha ha!” I mention this as this is about as near as we get to a humorous aside in the whole film. Not a tongue in cheek in sight.

So, to Sepp’s funeral, this is yet another excuse for a veritable flood of even more unnecessary breast beating, remorsefulness, and overall general glumness - which involves Kurt and the townsfolk – and even his wife, Lily, thinking their sheriff has done too little too late. After this vote of no confidence, Jessy hands in his star and heads of to the bottom of a whisky bottle, but he can’t even do this right – what we want is Robert Woods in El Puro, or Ghidra in Tequila. But, instead of any ambiguity that should now seriously creep in to confuse the right/wrong; black/white balance, he just reacts back into the ‘a man’s gotta do’ mould of old, punches Abel for calling him “yella”, tells his wife the truth … (DON’T LOOK!!! … FLASHBACK (hurrah) … that he used to be (shock) a gang member along with Abel, and used to hold up coaches and suchlike – Abel now holds him responsible for their later (coincidental) arrest and imprisonment, after Jessy had got sickened by it all and left the gang.) Of course more talky-stuff follows and a bit of blarting her eyes out from Lily, and Jess leaves via a shed-load more emotional heart-wrenching (should that be retching?) soppiness in the stables with Anna-Lisa. “I love you Jessy … I love you so much … for such a long time” and more, as her lovejuices ooze out yet again to stain this film further with its slimy sentimentality.
Whereas any henpecked wifey-rejected ex-sheriff/gang member in their slightly demented right mind should have gone all spaghetti on us and given our Marianne what she’s a-wanting – right now, down an’ dirty, in the stable … smelling of horses and leather an’ all (calm down Rev!!!) …. (phew) … he goes all righteous and clears off to find himself and his inner-manliness, leaving pheromone exuding Anna-Lisa to try to ward off Twich, who’d been observing from above, and thought maybe he could take the sheriff’s place in her emotions and undergarments. Of course, being that clumsy simpleton type, he’s not really her thing – she much more preferring the inner angsty turmoily talky type. Needless to say, being pinned down and face-slapped, in what is quite a true-to-type and uncomfortably realistic spaghetti-ish (potential) rape scene, is not gonna win her over, and when she bites him back, the brute in him is unleashed. Now, in this bit (as with the Rev’s bit) the film rightly allows for a bit of dramatic soul searching and emotion, as the child within the beast tries to fathom the enormity of his awful actions.
This action is now the catalyst now for the townsfolk to ‘mob-up’; Kurt to get to face Abel; and Jess to avenge both Kurt and Anna-Lisa’s deaths. There’s a reasonably done finale and it’s quite violent – punching open wounds and the use of pitchforks … but it still lacks some stylistic revengefulness … but at last, FINALLY … Jessy does not forgive … he Kills! Will it end happily for Jessy now he’s done his man-thing and will Lily still be there for him for a happily miserable ever after, or (fingers crossed), will this be a prototype nihilistic shocker.
Well, what do you think?!

A half out of 5 – for reference and historical completists only.

The Rev is back!

Sounds like you threw yourself on a grenade for us with this one mate. It was a repeated fault of some of these early (especially spanish) examples that they were far too wordy and lacked that ‘spaghetti style’ we all look for. This one sounds like a typical stinker. Pity. Adorf and Koch should have promised something more pleasing.
But don’t give up. There could still be gold lurking at the bottom of your dwindles ‘to watch’ pile yet.

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I did watch this a while back and cannot remember nothing about, so time for a re viewing I think.

Just re viewed this one. The story of a Sheriff who has to face up to his past life and confront the local bad guys. To dramatic or boring which ever you prefer and therefore not a memorable film.

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