Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Quintana / Quintana: Dead or Alive

This 1969 Euro-western entry comes across as a hybrid of the spaghetti western and the Zorro film, with the former supplying most of the iconography – duster coats, ponchos, six guns – and the latter the bulk of the plot, which revolves around the conflict between the titular masked hero and ruthless landowner Juan De Leyra, happy to see a man executed for a crime he didn’t commit and / or to use this as leverage against the man’s beautiful fiancée.

The result is something which is especially interesting historically, if not always as successful on aesthetic or entertainment grounds.

In his seminal study Sixguns and Society, Will Wright proposes that the structures of western films from 1930 to 1970 could be seen as passing through four broad phases in terms of the relationship between the protagonists, the antagonists and the wider society. In the first phase, the classical western, the protagonists fought on behalf of a weak society. In the last phase, the professional western, society was essentially an irrelevance. Wright saw this shift as relating to changes in the structure of US capitalism, in particular the post-WWII rise of the technocracy.

Being based on the biggest box-office earners in the USA, Wright’s study only included one Italian western, The Good the Bad and the Ugly. He classified Leone’s film as being closest to a professional western, on the grounds that society plays little part in the three men’s treasure hunt. While there are obvious issues here in translating between the US and Italian contexts, as Frayling and others have emphasised, it is nevertheless notable that the protagonist of the spaghetti western is after vengeance – another of Wright’s plots, with another configuration of protagonist, antagonist and society relations – and / or money the majority of the time. Though the wider society might benefit as well, it tends to do so indirectly.

Quintana surprises his American would-be killers

Here Quintana is very much integrated into the society he is both a member and defender of. Though he might thus be understood in terms of the kind of bell tower loyalty seen in the spaghetti, the difference is that his action is selfless – few know his real identity, although the viewer does – and not geared towards the benefit of a family type group but rather the class of the peasantry as a whole. The defeat of De Leyra and his forces is thereby more a collective rather than individual good.

One particularly significant scene in this regard is the one where Quintana mounts a daring solo raid on De Leyra’s stronghold that results in the successful rescue of one prisoner – admittedly the one he was primarily concerned with – and the gunning down of a dozen or so others. Back home, Quintana’s actions and motives are called into question, whether his display of individualism wasn’t that of a glory seeker detrimental to the wider goal.

Another point of note here is the relationship between Quintana and the local monks. If the poor man’s choice is between becoming a bandit or a beggar, as per the discussion between Tuco and Padre Ramirez in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, both bandit and priest are here presented as social roles.

Actor turned producer-writer-director Vincenzo Musolini / Glen Vincent Davis's visuals are dominated by zooms and Dutch angles. Unfortunately these tend to come across style for its own sake more than style that adds to substance. Nonetheless, it can at least be said that he tried hard and had the potential to develop into a decent filmmaker had he learnt some restraint – a potential that was to remain unfulfilled by his death in 1969 aged only 39.

Leading man Osvaldo Ruggieri / George Stevenson’s film career appears to have been even similarly short, with only one other film to his name according to the IMDB. He spends most of his time here beneath a mask and unfortunately doesn’t do much to bring his character to life beyond it.

Felice de Stefano’s at times over-emphatic music takes obvious inspiration from Ennio Morricone, with strongly-strummed guitar, a pipe organ in some of the religious scenes, and a borderline plagiarist cue taken from For a Few Dollars More.

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