Director: Luigi Vanzi
Warner Archive Collection DVD+R

Tony Anthony is "The Other Man With No Name" in a trio of spaghetti westerns that make up Warner Archive's two-disc THE STRANGER COLLECTION.

American-born actor Tony Anthony got his start in a pair of films he co-wrote that were directed by friend Saul Swimmer (MRS. BROWN, YOU'VE GOT A LOVELY DAUGHTER), co-starring under Robert Alda (HOUSE OF EXORCISM) in FORCE OF IMPULSE and starring in WITHOUT EACH OTHER, the latter produced by burgeoning music mogul Allen Klein (who had worked as an accountant on the former production). Anthony had gone to Italy to appear in two films – the American co-production WOUNDS OF HUNGER (produced by actor Mark Damon, with who Anthony would later produce Zalman King's WILD ORCHID) and the French/Italian ENGAGEMENT ITALIANO. Latching onto the spaghetti western trend, Anthony would star as "The Stranger" in a three official entries (and one unofficial follow-up in the seventies by Anthony's then-collaborator Ferdinando Baldi), co-produced by Klein and Italian director Carlo Infascelli (ROBIN HOOD AND THE PIRATES) and his son Roberto. Taken together, the films that make up THE STRANGER COLLECTION are entertaining while separately they may seem rather ordinary entries in the genre.

A STRANGER IN TOWN (also known as A DOLLAR BETWEEN THE TEETH) finds "The Stranger" (Anthony) riding into a seemingly deserted Mexican village and witnessing the machine gun slaughter of Captain Cordoba (Fortunato Arena, THEY CALL ME TRINITY) and his men by bandit Aguilar (Frank Wolff, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) and his lash-wielding moll Maruca (Gia Sandri, HERCULES THE AVENGER). They dress up in their uniforms in order to impersonate Cordoba and his regiment who are meeting with the American army for an exchange of gold to the Mexican government. The Stranger swoops in and introduces himself as the representative sent to confirm Cordoba's identity for Lieutenant Stafford. When the American army arrives, it is actually headed by Ted Harrison (Lars Bloch, NAVAJO JOE) but The Stranger intercedes before there is a massacre and Harrison (uncertain of The Stranger's intentions) reluctantly surrenders the gold with Aguilar none the wiser. While it seems foolhardy to the point of suicidal for The Stranger to request his share as half of the gold – for which he is soundly beaten and left for dead – spaghetti western viewers know that The Stranger has his reasons (be they for some obscurely-motivated pursuit of justice or for profit). The Stranger trails Aguilar and his gang through the desert – with a hostage (Jolanda Modio, Sergio Solimma's FACE TO FACE) in tow – making his presence known as an annoyance and swiftly blowing away two of the men left to catch him by surprise (and letting the third survive to tell Aguilar). The Stranger infiltrates Aguilar's lair, a ruined abbey, with the intent of snatching the gold, but drops right into a trap that will require both wits and gunfire to escape.

Although A STRANGER IN TOWN came mid-way through the spaghetti western phase, it seems more indebted to the "Dollars Trilogy" which had been produced between 1964 and 1966 but only just making their impact stateside in 1967. The direction of Luigi Vanzi (credited as "Vance Lewis") – who had previously helmed the pre-MONDO CANE Gualtiero Jacopetti-"scripted" documentary WORLD BY NIGHT and one of the more obscure pepla SEVEN FROM THEBES before this trio of films – is as pedestrian as the scripting, as is the photography of Marcello Masciocchi (THE MURDER CLINIC) with the exception of a few effective close-ups. The scoring of Benedetto Ghiglia (PORCILE) is half-hearted in its attempts at Morricone-esque instrumental experimentation but introduces a nifty leitmotif that accompanies The Stranger's kills (becoming more frequent during the third act). A spray-tanned Wolff attacks his part with abandon but Sandri and Aldo Berti (AN ANGEL FOR SATAN) as Aguilar's smirking second-in-command are rather underused. Western/pepla regular Raf Baldassarre (THE GREAT SILENCE) appeared in all three Stranger films in different small role.

Anthony, with his hangdog expression, is not really a flinty "Man with No Name", seemed more at home in his character in the two sequels which he co-wrote. THE STRANGER RETURNS (also known as A MAN, A HORSE, A GUN) finds The Stranger coming across the corpse of Postal Inspector Ross who has just been double-crossed after informing bandit En Plein (Dan Vadis, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) that wealthy Mr. Stanley (Giuseppe Addobbati, THE CONFORMIST) is traveling across the border to give $250,000 in gold to the Mexican government and is stopping over in Moon Village to change horses. Sneaking into town, The Stranger discovers En Plein and his men intimidating the villagers and postal official Good Jim (Daniele Vargas, CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES) to prevent them from warning Stanley of an ambush. Things go as planned, and Stanley is gunned down along with his wife and guards, but the bandits ride off before the arrival of the army lead by Lieutenant Stafford (Ettore Manni, HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN), whereupon we learn that banker Stanley was actually on the run to Mexico with the loot. The Stranger supports Old Jim's version of the story about anonymous bandits before going off in search of the gold himself. He finds an ally in the only man unintimidated by the bandits: the eccentric Preacher (Marco Guglielmi, HOW TO KILL A JUDGE) who, while powerless himself, is looking forward to hastening En Plein's final judgment.

Taking some plot turns from A STRANGER IN TOWN like The Stranger stumbling right into another trap set by villains expecting him to follow them, THE STRANGER RETURNS is just as ordinary in plotting but Masciocchi's photography is a little more interesting and the scoring of Stelvio Cipriani (BAY OF BLOOD) more energetic. Vadis, who got his start in Italian pepla like HERCULES VS. THE GIANT WARRIORS and was later a regular in Clint Eastwood's early directorial efforts like THE GAUNTLET, makes for a more cold and ruthless villain (and gets a clever sendoff). As with the first film, the few women here have little to do, which is downright criminal in the case of Jill Banner (SPIDER BABY) as Good Jim's daughter who gets roughed up by En Plein's men. The climax in which En Plein's men stalk Anthony around the town at night as he takes them out one-by-one is lacking suspense but makes up for it in some of the humorous ways in which The Stranger ambushes his victims. Guglielmi's Preacher is worth some extra chuckles, but most of the humor feels forced and the final gag suffers from poor editing and special effects.

Produced in 1968 but not released stateside until 1975 – the same year Cinemation released the fourth "Stranger" film GET MEAN (forthcoming on Blu-ray from Blue Underground) as BEAT A DEAD HORSE – THE SILENT STRANGER finds The Stranger searching the Klondike for Pussy (his horse). He comes across a dying Japanese man who entrusts with him a scroll that will net him twenty-thousand dollars if he returns it to Matori in the Japanese village of Kosaka. Taking off from the Far East from the Old West, The Stranger is almost immediately ambushed as soon as he regains his land legs. Forcefully taken to the village of Kosaka, he witnesses clan leader Koheida taxing the locals under threat of a machine gun operated by a myopic American (Lloyd Battista, LOVE AND DEATH). The Stranger barely escapes being cut down himself as he makes it to Matori's guarded fortress where he is promptly paid for the scroll and offered twenty-thousand more to kill Koheida (translation reluctantly conveyed by Matori's niece Asaka). Setting up in town, The Stranger is once again ambushed and taken to Koheida and learns through The American that Koheida is the princess' cousin and Matori her uncle by marriage. He offers The Stranger twenty-thousand to kill Matori – pointing out that the money Matori gave him was counterfeit – and tosses him out the door. Sick of foreign travel and just wanting to go home, The Stranger sets about playing the two clans against one another hoping to profit from whoever wins.

Boasting more action and an exotic setting for a spaghetti western (although it would not be the only entry in the genre to travel east or import martial artists to more familiar climes), THE SILENT STRANGER is anything but silent as one of the few English speakers in the cast. Anthony spends the first half of the film either making smart remarks to characters who cannot understand him or making voiced-over observations in the style of his follow-up film COMETOGETHER (co-directed by Anthony with Saul Swimmer) in which he plays an American stuntman working in Italy who has a threesome with Lucianna Paluzzi (THE GREEN SLIME) and Rosemary Dexter (Jess Franco's JUSTINE). It's actually a breath of fresh air when Battista comes in to translate for his boss, convey some exposition, and plot with and against The Stranger (Battista would actually have made a more interesting villain). This entry throws swordplay into the battles amidst the gunplay, but the choreography is often clumsy and captured in longshot, but the climax is suitably rousing. The photography of Mario Capriotti (WEREWOLF WOMAN) is undistinguished but Cipriani returns with supportive if unspectacular score that surprisingly exploits little of the "oriental" flavor of the film. After THE SILENT STRANGER, Anthony would collaborate with Klein on two more films: the spaghetti western make-over of the Japanese blind swordsman Zatoichi series as BLINDMAN (with Ringo Starr) and the aforementioned COMETOGETHER. With Luigi Vanzi, he would do the mobster film 1931: ONCE UPON A TIME IN NEW YORK but the remainder of his Italian efforts would be helmed by BLINDMAN director Ferdinando Baldi: the aforementioned GET MEAN and Anthony's two eighties 3D revival films COMIN' AT YA (co-written by actor Battista) and TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS for Cannon.

Released theatrically by MGM, the three Luigi Vanzi "Stranger" films were part of the pre-1986 MGM library that Ted Turner kept after selling the studio (which he had acquired just the year before). The films were out of circulation for quite some time – as were several other titles produced by The Beatles' business manager Allen Klein – until the first two started showing on television a few years ago in anamorphic widescreen transfers. Bootlegs of these recordings followed from Alfa Digital, but the only official releases were a German DVD of the first film in its 72 minute German cut and an uncut Japanese disc with only Italian and Japanese dub options. Official versions followed in Germany from Colosseo Film with an open-matte English-friendly disc of the first film and a two-disc of the second film with an open-matte transfer and a cropped 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (both with German-subtitled audio interviews with Anthony), and an English-friendly German DVD of THE SILENT STRANGER followed.

Rather than the expected three single-layer DVD-Rs, Warner Archive's THE STRANGER COLLECTION presents the first two films on a dual-layer DVD+R and the third on a single-layer DVD+R. All three transfers are progressive, anamorphic 1.74:1 widescreen transfers. The framing of first film appears to be somewhere in between the 1.78:1 four-sided cropping of the Alfa Digital boot and the 1.66:1 of the Japanese transfer. The first two films look a bit more rough with grainy opticals, scratches at the reel changes, but it is the day-for-night scenes that are quite inconsistent from shot to shot. The third film looks more consistent and cleaner. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks are all in good condition. There are no subtitle options. The sole extra is a trailer for the second film (2:19). While the German imports may be the way to go for the first two films if you care about extras, the Warner Archive release seems to offer the best presentation of the third film. (Eric Cotenas)