Night Flight brings you Italo-West from Wild East: Imported Spaghetti Westerns

By on June 24, 2016

Night Flight’s resident expert on all things Spaghetti Western, Eric Zaldivar, tells us a little about our new distribution partner, Wild East Productions, and some of the Spaghetti Western titles you can now see streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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First, here’s a little background on these Italian-lensed, hyper-stylized versions of the most American of film genres, popularized during the 1960s.

Westerns made in the previous decade (the 1950s) had seen six-shooting heroes in American horse operas dabbling in not-so-heroic scenarios, but the prevailing cynical attitude towards any kind of principles seemed like a natural progression for the western genre, and, specifically, for Spaghetti Westerns.

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The Italian western terrain was its own unique thing, however. These landscapes were not the familiar sights of America’s former frontier… and them-there Italian hills were now being populated by dirt-caked characters whose lips usually didn’t match the dialogue they were speaking, even when the films were made in their native tongue: most were shot in English with non-English speaking European actors phonetically delivering lines that were motivated by money and caring little of human life.

The plots ranged from sparse to convoluted– rarely was there a happy median — and abounded with historical inaccuracies.

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During its reign at the international box office, the Spaghetti Western went through three stages before reaching meltdown in the midst of the next decade, each level representing a facet of the genre.

The first was the (now) more traditional plot of the lone gunman — with a meaningless name like Sartana, Sabata or even Shango — who rode into a town with a greed or revenge-based agenda (sometimes, confusingly, with both) and started cleaning out the bad elements.

Essentially these narratives came down to one thing: two sadists (hero and villain) trying to out-sadist the other. The money — or act of revenge — was a secondary consideration. This presentation was largely considered the birth of the “anti-hero” character which has been a mainstay in action cinema ever since.

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The second wave came at the end of the tumultuous Sixties, an era that spawned storylines that dealt with the Mexican revolution of the early 20th century, in which the people revolted against a corrupt government (popular during the heyday of flower power and the like). In these movies, the usually left-leaning politics were center stage, while the previous “avenging angel” pictures had been pure escapism.

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Finally, by the early ‘70s, the Italo-West had reached its saturation point. The last major innovation was the comedy-western, parodies in which previous, more-serious entries would be goofed on, most popularly, by a pair of Italian actors calling themselves “Terence Hill” and “Bud Spencer” (Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli, respectively).

Coming along at the turn of the new century, Wild East has established itself as a DVD company dedicated to bringing hard-to-find, English-language-friendly Italian westerns to North American audiences.

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Before they realized their main goal, they tested the waters first with A Fistful of Trailers — a DVD showcasing a compendium of Euro-western trailers — which was successful enough for the company to dive head first into a restoration of what would become their first feature release, Boot Hill (1969), the third in a trilogy of films that, nonetheless, stood on its own and required no prior viewing of the previous two entries of the trifecta.

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Boot Hill had previously been available in the U.S. as a pan-and-scan budget disk, with murky picture quality (it was also usually partnered with two other budget spaghetti titles), but thanks to Wild East, Americans were now able to see the film, for the first time, in its correct aspect ratio, with clear picture and sound. Because of this, the once universally-derided Boot Hill has gained its admirers for being a masterfully-shot shoot ‘em up.

Wild East then set their sights on something that would solidify them as the go-to Spaghetti Western specialist for region 1 viewers, releasing pristine copies of inarguable classics like Day of Anger (1967), Kill and Pray (1967) and The Grand Duel (1972). These films all had great reputations but like Boot Hill were only obtainable as poor quality sets, or simply weren’t available at all.

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Wild East Productions’ impressive back catalog of titles now runs the gamut, from straight-shooters to films with a quirkier slant. Some are even essential.

They are always English-language friendly and always look and sound great, instead of being the kind of poor quality transfers that typically plague most grey market titles you can purchase.

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Eventually, all of Wild East’s massive collections will be available to Night Flight Plus subscribers to stream, but to start us off, we are proud to bring you these heavy hitters, and all of them available for streaming right now:

The Wild and The Dirty (1968) is essentially Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” transposed in the violent and dust-caked Italian oater terrain (in fact, an alternate title of the film is Johnny Hamlet). It is directed by genre stalwart Enzo G. Castellari, a helmer of outright classics like Keoma (1976), High Crime (1973) and Inglorious Bastards (1978).

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Don’t Turn The Other Cheek (1971) is a so-called Zapata Western, a sub-genre of films depicting the Mexican Revolution during the early 20th century. It is unusually light on the politics that normally reign in this sub-category of horse opera, and instead showcases a level of buffoonery that must be seen to be believed, but nonetheless brings home the action. The film stars Franco Nero — the international superstar who recently was included on a list of the “top deadliest actors” by Entertainment Tonight — and co-stars American actor, Eli Wallach, in a role similar to his Tuco character in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966).

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God May Forgive You… But I Won’t (1968) is a stand-alone sequel to the previous year’s actioner Cjamango (1967). This time, however, a different actor takes over the protagonist’s role, but even more people are riddled with bullets than before, especially in the well-edited machine gun finale. The film boasts some of the most mean-spirited poster art we’ve seen.

The Brute and The Beast (also known as Massacre Time) (1966) is an excellent early effort from Lucio Fulci, a director who would gain infamy in the next decades as a deliverer of splatter films. Like the director’s later work, The Brute and The Beast is deliberately paced, but once the action kicks in …watch out! This Franco Nero-starrer is considered a classic in Japan, and it’s high time for everybody else in the world to catch up.

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My Name Is Pecos (1967) is a mean and nasty picture starring genre favorite Robert Woods as a Mexican pistolero (it was rare to have an ethnic protagonist in the genre). This one is a bare-bones affair that, nevertheless, delivers the goods.

Pecos Cleans Up (1967) is a quickly produced a sequel that sends Pecos (again played by Woods) on the hunt for Montezuma’s buried treasure. Though considerably lighter in tone than the previous entry, Pecos Cleans Up manages a higher body count. Overall, a pretty fun entry.

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About Eric Zaldivar

Eric Zaldivar is a filmmaker, screenwriter, researcher and Spaghetti Western film historian. He co-wrote the original screenplay for Django Lives! and remains involved on the project as a producer (writer/director John Sayles is also now involved). He also co-produced The Scarlet Worm (the world's first "abortion Western"), assisted on the documentary about Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie, and was the second-unit director on Mike Malloy's Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s documentary. Zaldivar has also penned film reviews for Spectacular Optical and other cinema publications. He lives in Miami, Florida.