Italian Poliziotteschi favorite Tomas Milian goes FACE TO FACE with arthouse star Gian Maria Volonté in Kino Lorber's Blu-ray of Sergio Sollima's long-neglected spaghetti western.
Forced out his job as a Boston college history professor by poor health, Brad Fletcher (Volonté, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) leaves rainy New England for sunny Texas to convalesce. His stay at a remote guest house is disrupted by the arrival of bounty hunters who have captured the infamous Solomon "Beauregard" Bennet (Tomas Milian, ALMOST HUMAN) and are on the way to collect their reward. Fletcher's humane act of giving water to the parched Beauregard inadvertently aids his escape with the professor as a hostage. When the getaway coach crashes and Beauregard is injured, Fletcher drags him to a river and tends his wounds before being coaxed by the outlaw into shooting away his manacles. Although secreted in one of Beauregard's many woodsy hideouts, they are nevertheless tracked down by Charlie Siringo (William Berger, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON) who wants to join his gang when he rounds them back up but Beauregard does not trust him. Beauregard sends Fletcher to catch a train back to Boston, but they cross paths again in Purgatory City where the outlaw has come looking for Aaron Chase (José Torres, DEATH RIDES A HORSE) and the professor once again saves his life and demands to join his new gang. Beauregard is able to get back old gang members Maximillian De Winter (Ángel del Pozo, HORROR EXPRESS), Vance (Nello Pazzafini, THE BIG GUNDOWN), and Jason (Frank Braña, GRAVEYARD OF HORROR) and join up again with Siringo, but cohort Zachary Shawn (Aldo Sambrell, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) no one know where he is being held. Siringo, actually a Pinkerton detective, conspires with the government to catch Beauregard by moving Zachary to a jail near Puerta de Fuego – a town of forgotten outlaws and gold prospectors – where Beauregard and his gang are holding up. Fletcher suspects a trap and instead masterminds a bank robbery in which they will not have to fire a single shot. When Siringo's intervention causes the heist to end in a bloody shootout, he is able to capture Beauregard while Fletcher gets back to Puerta de Fuego with the money. When Fletcher forms a new gang out of the Puerta de Fuego townspeople and criminals recruited from elsewhere, the government decides to recruit hundreds of vigilantes to massacre them. Beauregard and Zachary escape and head back to Puerta de Fuego to warn them and discover the tyrant and dictator Fletcher has become.
The second in Sergio Sollima's trio of spaghetti westerns, following THE BIG GUNDOWN and preceding RUN, MAN, RUN (all three featuring Milian), FACE TO FACE was also produced by Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy" producer Alberto Grimaldi. Having played more overt spaghetti western villains in Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Volonté is afforded a more complex characterization here as a passive, compassionate intellectual who becomes a cold-blooded, calculating, proto-Fascist dictator who is able to hold those under him in thrall with his intelligence ("The plan was perfect, the people were not, and they can be replaced," he surmises of the bungled bank robbery). Brimming with resentments, Fletcher mistakes seeming brute Beauregard's concern for his health and his naïve outlook to be challenges to his manhood. He responds by honing his shooting abilities and raping Chase's girl Maria (Jolanda Modio, A STRANGER IN TOWN). Milian's own character arc is less showy because he is not "no more than an animal" to start with, and demonstrates a degree of compassion early on in not killing all of the bounty hunters when he escapes and in not killing Fletcher when he is no longer of any use. The desert standoff ending is well-played and tragic given Beauregard's realization of how far Fletcher has fallen and his part in it. Morricone's jangling score also seems a tad more giallo-esque than western owing to the film's psychological focus, and the cinematography of Emilio Foriscot (BLADE OF THE RIPPER) foregrounds character over Leone-esque camera angles. BLACK SABBATH's Lydia Alfonsi appears briefly as Maximilian's Southern Belle sister, SLAUGHTER HOTEL's John Karlsen plays Fletcher's Boston college dean, and stuntman Goffredo Unger (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) has a brief appearance as a gunslinger. Although all three of Sollima's westerns had budgets and pedigrees similar to the Leone ones, FACE TO FACE is perhaps the only one that is truly the equal in scripting, performance, and overall effect. Sadly, the film has not been seen in its complete form outside of Italy and some other foreign territories, with the English version receiving limited distribution from a smaller American distributor – THE BIG GUNDOWN was released here by Columbia Pictures – missing about twenty minutes.
Released theatrically by Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises in an English-dubbed version that ran almost twenty-minutes shorter than the original Italian version, FACE TO FACE went unreleased stateside on home video. In the UK, Eureka announced the film for a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack but producer Alberto Grimaldi was unable to supply them with a satisfactory HD master; so the film ended up being released by Eureka in a DVD-only edition of the Italian version. The same problems plagued the Kino Lorber release, so it is the American theatrical version that is presented here in HD (93:19) while the Italian cut (112:02) is presented in standard definition at 480i (if only Kino had done the same with the longer cut of A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE! which only contained the American cut).
Although Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of the American cut is certainly an upgrade visually over previous DVD transfers – the yellowish cast of which diminished the detail of Fletcher's sickly pallor (the make-up of which is more apparent in HD) – the cut itself is not so much cut down for pacing as simply dumbed down. For example, the first cut to the film is the sequence of Fletcher and Beauregard arriving at the latter's hideout, Beauregard shooting a rabbit after Fletcher refuses (stating that they have people to do that in New England so their conscience remains clear), and spotting Siringo arriving. The last bit is important because it seems in the American cut that Beauregard sets up Fletcher as a diversion when Siringo arrives, but the Italian cut shows that the diversion is Fletcher's idea as he asserts himself when Beauregard plans to shoot the man without knowing his intentions. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is mostly fine apart from a digital glitch at around thirty-eight minutes. The aforementioned Italian cut is presented in 480i with Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian audio and burnt-in subtitles. Although it does not look as good as the American cut on an HD monitor, it is the preferable way to watch the film (although it is unfortunate that Kino did not attempt a composite of the HD American elements and the Italian scenes from SD like their bonus on the Redemption Blu-ray of THE ASPHYX). There are no extras except for a trailer for NAVAJO JOE. (Eric Cotenas)
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