Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Gli Uomini dal passo pesante / The Tramplers

The casual viewer can be forgiven for confusing this 1965 spaghetti western from hypenate writer-producer-director Albert Band with Sergio Corbucci's 1966 entry The Hellbenders, also produced and co-authored by Band.

Both films see Joseph Cotten playing much the same character, the southern patriarch who refuses to accept that the war is over and that things are changing, spurring a familial and generational conflict that pits father against son and brother against brother.

The chief differences are that here Cotten's character is less interested in making the south rise again as in re-establishing his iron rule over his own little community and that the lines of conflict are quicker to be drawn.

The story starts with the men of the Cordeen clan returning to the Texas town, El Crossing, that Temple Cordeen (Cotten) had built up, along with his cattle business, from nothing.

Their first act is to take advantage of a legal technicality to lynch Fred Wickett for having spread abolitionist messages at a time when it was illegal to do so, thereby sending a strong message to northerners, ex-slaves and other 'undesirables' that their presence is not welcome here. “Cordeen's waiting for them all and he's not running out of rope,” as the sheriff, powerless to do anything, later explains.

One of the family, Lon Cordeen (Gordon Scott), is late to the necktie party and proves to take a dim view of the rest of his clan's activities, even attempting to express his regrets to Wickett's daughter Edith, who has resolved to have Temple brought to justice for his actions: “I'll build me a scaffold with the help of the law. The real law.” But when Edith learns of Lon's parentage she rebuffs him. (“That's my family, not me,” you can almost imagine Lon saying.)

The battle lines are confirmed when Temple then sends Lon and another of his sons, Hoby (James Mitchum), to convince Charlie Garvey (Franco Nero, billed as Frank Nero) that he should not marry their sister, Bess, and ought to leave the territory and his new ranch for the good of his health.

Temple's plan that this will effect Lon's return to the fold backfires however when he sides with the good-natured Garvey and convinces Hoby to go along with him.Worse, Garvey also brings his new brothers-in-law in on a lucrative cattle driving scheme that puts them in competition with Temple for control of the town and its future...

Unfolding almost like an Elizabethan or Greek Tragedy at times, The Tramplers is a curious example of its type that blends the traditional generic material of fist fights, gun fights and so forth with a rare degree of dramatic weight and rounded characterisations that give the players plenty to work with.

Though Cotten probably takes the acting honours, he is pushed every inch of the way by the other leads, most notably James Mitchum's Hoby, who returns from his mission to track down an elusive drover minus an arm and with a whole load of new psychological hang-ups. Nero's role is a small, straightforward one.

While the pan and scan presentation doesn't help, Band's direction is unfortunately more routine, with the budgetary limitations show through in the presentation of the cattle drive via stock footage accredited to Bovril Argentina (!)

Angelo Francisco Lavagnino's score is effective, though again somewhat more generic than it might be.

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