Finally examining the new Eyecatcher/NEW PAL release of this long neglected title. It’s a fullframe transfer that looks a tad dark in spots, probably a 16mm reduction print that was then blown back up to 35, and it may even be an old analog transfer prepared for home video but who knows. There’s some surface noise issues to the print and the color is a bit odd but it’s a pleasure to simply be able to finally see this movie. English and German audio with optional German subs + you also get an English language theatrical trailer … The English audio track is very crisp and clear with what has to be Stelvio Cipriani’s most offbeat musical score yet to grace my ears.
The movie itself is extremely odd, I’m not really much for these spaghetti/karate hybrids but from what I can tell this was one of the first (1968) and is unique from the others that I’ve seen (STRANGER & THE GUNFIGHTER, FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE) in that instead of importing the martial artist into the west they import a gunslinger into a samurai war. Naturally everyone still ride horses and they also manage to work a Gatling Gun into the festivities, and there’s even a couple of early examples of the old “Just shoot the guy with the sword” gag that Speilberg got so much mileage out of in the Indiana Jones movies. There’s still a sadistic bad guy with lots of nasty henchmen to kill off, and Tony Anthony is up to his old tricks again, and even managed to find a little part for Raf Baldasarre, who’s always one of my favorite supporting characters.
Working against the film is the BLADE RUNNER syndrome Unnecessary Voiceover Narration in spots where Anthony sort of needlessly explains what’s happening onscreen: The movie is only called THE SILENT STRANGER. I can understand the impetus for including it for English language distribution in skullf*cked idiot markets like North America, but I found the narrations intrusive on the idea of the Stranger literally being a stranger in a strange land where he doesn’t understand the language, customs, methods of fighting, etc. It would have been better if we’d had to learn our way around along with the Stranger, and I wonder if the voiceover technique was also used on the Italian language original … Knowing Allen Klein, probably.
One of the things that works to compensate, however, is the uniqueness of the production design. Instead of dry, dusty tumbleweeds it’s a very lush and green world, with a lot of the action happening in pouring rain which I see a bit of Kurosawa in. The fight scenes are all impeccably staged too, it’s too bad we aren’t seeing it in widescreen because I’m sure some of the chaos is lost by losing the 1:85:1 compositions, but there’s enough offbeat mayhem to keep anyone happy. And then there is that big, weird blunderbuss type firearm he eventually gloms onto, which has to be seen to be believed.
It also looks like Anthony had a lot of fun making the movie, which comes off at times as justification for a nice vacation to Japan for Tony and some of his friends, with Allen Klein picking up the bill in exchange for having a movie to distribute. Sadly from what I have read he chose not to distribute it after getting into a tiff with MGM so the movie wasn’t released in the States until after the spaghetti era had come to a close. So for that reason alone the DVD might be worth checking out, hardly anybody ever saw it at the time and I’ve never heard of another English language home video release so there you go: If you like Tony Anthony “Stranger” movies, here’s another reason to re-arrange your shelf. Gorgeous box too, though again some may find the transfer to be unsatisfactory. Until something else turns up however it will have to do, and I’m glad to have it.