The somersault yanked me right out.
Franco Nero plays Tom, a prospector who receives a vague message urging him home. Once there, he finds his brother Jeff—played by George Hilton—has sold the family house and lives as a drunk in a small hovel. Even worse, the town cowers in fear of a land baron named Scott and his psychopathic son.
A familiar setup, but the script offers novel twists. Early on, Nero echoes Clint Eastwood’s man-with-no-name character, but when push-comes-to-shove he’s whipped like a dog. By the third act, his performance skews closer to Bill Holden, opening the door for Hilton, whose physical and charismatic turn steals the film.
Twists aside, the script has an unfortunate habit of introducing characters only to kill them minutes later. It’s a short-cut to frame Nino Castelnuovo as Scott’s sociopathic son—and he’s terrific in the role—but it doesn’t engender any sense of rage in the viewer.
But Fulci overcomes these shortcomings through sheer craft. His formal discipline shines from the opening scene. Castelnuovo, leading a mounted hunting party after a fleeing man for sport, pursues in psychotic glee. Fulci’s use of close-ups and low angles lends a sense of menace, which he balances with wide shots offering a sense of space while introducing the landscape as a central character.
Fulci’s prowess remains on display throughout, culminating in a masterpiece shot that closes on the brothers, framing them through a window as they prepare to face a coming onslaught, communicating both their unity and the film’s transition to a more typical western.
But about that somersault. I couldn’t get past it. Fulci shoots it like an ’80s Cannon film, a low POV with Nero flipping through the air like a ninja. I guffawed. Maybe future viewings will prove kinder.