A Pistol for Ringo (1965)
Director: Duccio Tessari
Writers: Alfonso Balcázar and Duccio Tessari
Starring: Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, and George Martin

The Plot: A Pistol for Ringo tells the story of a young sheriff named Ben (George Martin) who begins his day by arresting a young man named Ringo (Giuliano Gemma), also known as Angel Face, who has killed four men in self defense. This isn’t anything new for Ringo, however, because he has been in front of the judge numerous times for similar incidents. Later, we are introduced to a lunatic bandit known as Sancho (Fernando Sancho) who pulls off an elaborate heist that sees him and his gang robbing the local bank of everything that they have. As Sancho and his crew try to get away, they wind up at the home of a wealthy land-owner who also happens to be the father of Sherriff Ben’s current love interest. Knowing that she will die, along with all of the other innocent hostages, if the Sheriff comes running in to save the day, he concocts another plan. He inevitably promises Ringo 30% of the bank robbery money, and without delay Ringo is undercover inside of the villa where these bandits are hiding out. Will Ringo settle for the 30%, or will he attempt to play for the bad guys in an attempt to get a larger percentage?

The Review
Although it is a lesser known title in the west, in comparison to the works of Sergio Leone, A Pistol For Ringo was certainly one of the earliest and most successful of the Spaghetti Westerns made in the wake of the initial success of A Fistful of Dollars. The legacy of Duccio Tessari’s film was so rich that the name “Ringo” would pop up amidst numerous other films that were not actually connected wtih this movie. Similar to Sabata, Sartana, and Django, Ringo is a character who became quite the popular fixture in Italian pop culture. When audiences actually sit down to watch A Pistol For RIngo, it is still just as easy today to recognize why this turned out to be the case. A film that easily epitomizes the things that made the Italian western so special, A Pistol For Ringo is a very simple story that manages to explore some very interesting ideas without actually being confrontational. A genre film that attempts to reinvent itself without actually stirring the pot, A Pistol for Ringo is a fun western that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.

Although Ringo may be our titular character, he isn’t the main focus of our story from the very beginning. Instead, the early half of our story focuses on Sheriff Ben, who is played by George Martin. A svelte and handsome man who is easily identifiable as a hero cut from the same cloth as John Wayne, he barely seems the perfect mold for an Italian western star. The character of Ben is the definition of a “white hat” protagonist, and unfortunately he seems very bland in comparison to the interesting world that surrounds him. This is where Ringo comes in. He is a secondary hero at first essentially, but he is everything that one expects from a Spaghetti Western leading man. Beginning our film as a cocky showboat gunslinger, we see Ringo fighting off his reputation as a murderer by winning yet another self defense case in court. In a very interesting sequence, we see him kill four men in cold blood when they approach him playing a game of hopscotch. The Ringo character, who shows the same selfish streak that the majority of Spaghetti Western leading men did, is a defiantly rebellious character. He doesn’t drink, as it dulls the senses, which is an interesting twist for the character. Although this sort of dedication to sobriety would normally hint towards a “goody two-shoes” character, Ringo shows no interest in attempting anything remotely heroic. Instead, his aversion to the drink seems more like an attempt to create conflict. Throughout the movie his enjoyment of milk leads him into some interesting discussions, to say the least.

Set right around Christmas, there is a recurring reminder of the oncoming holiday as the movie goes along. This is something that is constantly referenced for the audience, but there is very little within the film that gives the viewer any idea that Christmas is only a day or two away. The weather, which is humid within the desert atmosphere of the movies, is of course far from reflective of the Winter spirit, but there is also relatively little in terms of decoration throughout the movie. Barring a Christmas tree in the home of the aristocratic family, we are never given specific details about the Winter holiday. Instead of presenting a world filled with equality, love, and peace amongst men, the filmmakers instead contrast the brutality of the Old West with the most celebratory tradition within the Christian world. The Italians loved the shading and contrasting of Western ideals with the actual logistics and reality of this very brutal era. A Pistol For Ringo may not be a film that viewers run to for subtext, but it is a fine example of what made the Italian western such a drastically different beast than its American counterpart.

The movie is shot with a very distinct visual style. Although it occasionally delves into the mundane, there are moments throughout that awake the viewer to just how talented these filmmakers really were. Although this wasn’t a film made by amateurs, it was one made by a cast and crew who were in the process of proving themselves. Director Duccio Tessari was not a new name within the Italian film industry, having grown to some popularity by co-writing Sergio Leone’s first western masterpiece A Fistful of Dollars as well as many other Sword & Sandal pictures during the sixties, but this was the first time he delivered his very own western and probably his first large-scale success that could be wholly attributed to him. It is certainly the first film of his as a director that has seen any sort of release within the states. Showing promise as a filmmaker, he manages to craft a very visual feature that is thankfully quite intelligent in its narrative devices. Featuring a very solid cast of Spaghetti Western regulars, this feature was one that would catapult Giuliano Gemma’s name into the echelon of great Italian western leading men. Starring as the titular character Ringo, Gemma is on fire in this role. In a role that produces a tremendous amount of charisma, Gemma is a superstar here. In every scene he seems to radiate, and his performance is absolutely golden.

The Conclusion
What makes A Pistol for Ringo the experience that it is? What sets it apart from the other Italian westerns that populate the cinematic world? It is hard to answer. Ultimately, I think that the movie finds all of the beats that made this genre great, and it nails every single one. The performance of Gemma, the writing behind his sarcastic humor, the catch phrases (“It’s a matter of principal, really!”), the visual style, and the small hints of subtext, these are all things that make the movie that incredibly fun experience that it is. It may not be amongst the top three titles of the genre, and arguably not even top ten, but it is a ton of fun. It is still absolutely worth searching out, no doubt about it.

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