BALLAD OF A GUNMAN was an entertaining spaghetti western, but I did have a few problems with it. It’s the story of two men after the same outlaw for different reasons. Rocco(Dragomir Bojanic, billed as Antony Ghidra) has a personal score to settle with El Bedoja(Alfio Caltabiano, billed as Al Northon), a man who’d double-crossed him when they had caught up with a band of robbers, taking the money from the corpses and leaving the lawman holding the bag, along with a fifteen year prison sentence. Hud(Kid Nigros in some releases because of his entirely black clothes)(Angelo Infanti) is a bounty killer.
Though there are elements of a number of genre films, DAY OF ANGER and DEATH RIDES A HORSE for their older man/younger man dynamic, and Sergio Leone’s Dollar pictures, this film portrays the bounty men with a bit more scorn. Hunter isn’t used at all, killer being the favored term. No one likes them and are quite vocal about it at times.
Bedoja is a thoroughly disreputable character, he shoots dogs, annoyed at the barking, wipes out a stage coach load of people simply because he can, wipes out whole families. Even he has a redeeming side though. He feels tender towards a kid brother, Chiuchi(Mario Novelli, billed asAnthony Freeman).
The two brothers and their gang have robbed a bank in a small town where the local rich man keeps all his cash in a safe with a time lock, the most impregnable bank west of the Mississippi. Bedoja soon disabuses them of that notion by grabbing a stage with a load of cash headed for the bank, then puts two men aboard to drive the stage into town, claiming they’d been hit but managed to escape, those two, with the money.
It takes two keys to open the safe when the time lock opens. The rich man and the bank president have the only two keys and are on hand when the time, two o’clock, rolls around. The outlaw gang are on hand as well and well staged around the bank. Needless to say with a man on the inside, the robbery comes off and the gang ruthlessly shoot down a number of townsmen making their escape.
Hud wants to team up with Rocco, who refuses because he hates bounty killers. Then he notices the young man wearing a small gold pistol on a chain around his neck and asks him about it, where he got it. He gets this story: his father won two of them in shooting contests. One he gave to an older brother that left when Hud was a baby, the other to Hud after he taught him everything about using a gun, whether a short gun or rifle. Rocco’s attitude changes then about partnering up and when the big reveal comes at the end, I, and everyone who’s ever watched this film I would imagine, knew the answer long before then.
The gang is hidden out in an old played out gold mine with a hostage, Maruja(Monica Teuber), the lone survivor of a family that had been rescued by Rocco and helped plan the assault on the mine, only to have the outlaws return and wipe out the family.
They need someone versed in the use of dynamite and are sent by that family to a man named Explosion(Dante Naggio, billed as Dan May). An odd fellow with a Rube Goldberg like set-up to get the ore down from his mine to ground level. The ore is dumped into a cart where the weight sets off a small explosion of dynamite and allows the cart to roll down the track to a stop where the box, on a swivel, dumps the ore into a second box. Repeat the process several times and the ore is at ground level.
Now on to the gang at the gold mine.
Now those problems I mentioned.
There’s a protracted barroom brawl played mostly for slapstick in the middle of the film. Started by Explosion when he downs a huge man’s shot of tequila and announces he’s going to let the fellow pay for it. Rocco has to save him and it soon devolves into a fight with a couple of dozen participants, people rushing in to get in on it. One fellow places his hat on a bronze bust and another tries to headbutt that same bust, too drunk one assumes to notice it’s just a head sitting on a mantle. While the battle goes on, Explosion stnds by tallying up all the hits Rocco makes on a cash register, Really a strange sequence. The movie was deadly serious other wise, before and after that scene.
Another was when Rocco saves the family from a small group of the outlaws, led by Chiuchi, who’d taken over the ranch to get help from a wounded comrade. He wipes out everyone but Chiuchi, who he knocks out after a long fist fight, then leaves him lying there, not finished off or even tied up, allowing him to escape. Rocco and Hud ride off without a thought for the family to find Explosion, allowing the gang to return and kill them all but Maruja.