Actor Tomas Milian was one of the giants in the spaghetti western genre. Born in Cuba in 1932, he was the son of an army general arrested in a dictatorship overthrown in 1933. The father committed suicide in 1945 which the boy Tomas saw happen. Trained at the Actors Studio, he’d appeared on Broadway in several plays and was spotted by Italian director Mauro Bolognini which led to a long career in Italian cinema. THE BOUNTY KILLER(also released in the U.S. as The Ugly Ones) was his first western. It had a better plot than a lot of spaghettis, probably because it was based on a novel by Marvin H. Albert, a fine writer in a number of different genres.
As a long time fan of spaghetti westerns, and having seen more than a few starring Milian, I saw the beginnings of the character he forged in most of his movies(after the fade of Eurowesterns, he carried it on to other types of films). A barely controlled psychopath, calm one minute, a laughing hyena the next. Violent and nice at the same time. Charismatic to most people he encountered.
The film opens with two men being pursued by a third. That man is bounty hunter Luke Chilson(Richard Wyler). He kills one, the other getting away. That man goes to the small town of New Chacos to find a young woman named Eden(Halina Zawlewska, billed as Ilya Karin), to tell her that Jose Gomez(Milian) needs help. He’s being transferred to a Federal prison and will stop at a way station the next day for the noon meal.
They call New Chacos a village. But we only see a few buildings: a blacksmith shop run by Miquel(veteran spaghetti actor Mario Brega), a saloon with rooms upstairs run by a man named Novak(Enzo Fiermonte, billed as Glen Foster) where Eden works, a general store run by an older couple(no credits on IMDb), and a young cowboy, Marty Hefner(Manuel Zarzo). Jose grew up there when his family came north from Mexico for a new life. The parents ended up being murdered and the town folk remembered the quiet young man who killed a soldier in self-defense, but went to prison anyway.
At the stage station the next day when the transport ferrying Jose stops, there just happens to be a young woman having lunch. Eden of course. Five guards with him, they come in to eat, Jose sitting at the table where Eden, during a distraction she arranges, slips him a gun, then leaves. The next distraction is a couple of men riding up, warned off by the deputy in charge, just enough for Jose to kill the pair left inside with him while the pair of men charge in guns blazing. No one is left alive, the five guards, the two innocents running the stage stop, and we begin to get the idea of the sort of man Jose has become.
Chilson gets word of the escape and that Jose was aided by a mid-twenties blonde with blue eyes. It gives him thought and when he hears of the reward, three thousand, he heads back to New Chacos, arriving ahead of Jose and his band of outlaws. The townspeople are not receptive to him. The bar owner Novak has been recognized by Chilson as a respected ex-lawman who’s renounced violence. The blacksmith is a childhood friend of Jose. The elderly couple remember the quiet boy and the cowboy Marty doesn’t like the way the bounty “killer” is questioning Eden. They all conspire to knock Chilson unconscious, tie him up, and wait for Jose to arrive.
A move they soon come to regret as Jose barely restrains his men from killing Chilson, promising they can have him when they are ready to leave. he grows increasingly erratic as the drink to excess while waiting for a wagon load of goods to arrive< The plan is to empty the general store and take all to Mexico to sell. Jose laughingly promises to send the old couple the proceeds from the sale.
Chilson has been strung up and taunted with gunshots all around, a knife barely missing him, kerosene from a lantern dripping onto him from a punctured lantern hanging over his head, all the while Jose lies on a bed pulled outside, drinking and laughing insanely.
It's Eden that cuts him loose during the night and he's seen riding off the next morning, setting the whole pack of outlaws after him. It was amusing to the the old wife of the general store owner outraged that he would ride off and leave them at the mercy of those cutthroats. Novak points out that they were responsible for being under the thumb of the outlaws.
Not to fear. Chilson is not about to let a bounty that size go easily. He’s merely setting up for the final showdown with Jose and his outlaws, aided bu Novak and Eden. A nicely choreographed explosion of violence.
The reviews on IMDb were all over the place for this one. From badly acted, badly filmed, never should have made it to film to slow at the beginning with a great ending to an overlooked classic. I enjoyed it. It was neither the best spaghetti western I’ve seen or the worst.