Killer Kid (Leopoldo Savona, 1967)
aka CAPTAIN MORRISON
The ruthless and cruel Captain Ramirez hunts down and kills revolutionaries in his search for The Saint, the righteous leader of the Mexican insurrection against the Federales. Adding complications to Ramirez’s pursuit, a group of American gunmen secretly steal weapons from US encampments to be sold to the freedom fighters. Enter Killer Kid, the most dangerous gunfighter in the west, biding his time in a military jail but soon escapes and ingratiates himself in the company of the elusive Saint ultimately joining them in their fight against Ramirez. However, one of the Saints men, Vilar, doesn’t trust the American whose motives and actions are relatively unclear till the finale.
“This film is dedicated to the Mexican people who in humble valor allowed for the birth of a modern, independent, democratic republic”. So begins this 1967 Italian western. KILLER KID was one of a handful of political westerns that saw release during the heyday of the ‘Euro oater’ which, despite many entries being highly derivative or low rent affairs, successfully altered the way westerns were perceived around the world. With such a bold and patriotic statement to begin the film, Savona’s movie never quite reaches classic status settling instead for a typical western affair albeit with a convoluted plot akin to those seen in the SARTANA films. However, a handful of scenes are deftly managed by the director such as a great scene involving the Kid and his love interest, Mercedes, the niece of the Saint. The Kid gives a grand speech about his change of heart in regards to the peasants who fight for a righteous and just cause. This scene is accompanied by a very nice romantic musical piece by composer Berto Pisano. Their are a few other nicely orchestrated sequences that manage to elevate the film above the average spaghetti sagebrush saga, but never quite proves itself worthy of the company of such noted classics as Damiani’s A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1967) and Corbucci’s THE MERCENARY (1968). A fair number of characters and minor sub-plots litter the hot and arid landscape depicted in KILLER KID (1967). The title character, for example, is as complicated as the plot itself.
Anthony Steffen essays another one of his archetypal western hero roles which only required him to remain silent much of the time with an occasional sly grimace to carry his performance. He’s best when playing characters such as these and unlike American performer Richard Harrison, Steffen could successfully pull off a wooden performance turning it to his advantage. Having starred in some 27 westerns, Steffen also displayed some flair in the quirky and fun A MAN CALLED APOCALYPSE JOE (1971) which, like KILLER KID (1967), was also directed by Savona. This is definitely one of Steffen’s better movies of the near dozen I’ve seen. Like his other colleagues who enjoyed domestic popularity, Steffen crossed over into other genres for films such as THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971) and THE KILLERS ARE OUR GUESTS (1974). He will most probably be remembered most for his prolific career in Euro westerns.
Former sword & sandal actor and stunt man Giovanni Cianfriglia has a larger than usual role here as the main antagonist–Captain Ramirez. Cianfriglia is a strong presence during the first 30 minutes or so but then disappears midway through before showing up for the bombastic finale. He also got to play the main villain in HERCULES THE AVENGER (1965) in which he duelled with British born Reg Park. He did get to partake as the lead hero in the Italian superhero/spy action films SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLIKUS (1966) and SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS (1968). Cianfriglia was gifted with a great look but although his career spanned 40+ years and covered every genre, he never made it as a leading man regardless of being one of the most recognizable faces of Italian genre cinema.
Fernando Sancho needs no introduction to spaghetti western fans and his role here as Vilar is one of the best he was ever given. An unusual turn in that he plays a good guy and a somewhat complicated one at that. In addition, he gets quite a bit of screen time and dialog almost taking the film away from Steffen with his lively and spirited portrayal of the anxious and hot-tempered Vilar. His character’s name is very similar to the word ‘vulgar’ and it suits him perfectly.
The film itself seems to have had a decent budget; at least bigger than a lot of similar films made at the time. Savona and his cinematographer do a fine job capturing some great scope shots in addition to some well handled character interplay and several nicely choreographed action scenes. Although there are a couple of sloppy bits here and there; such as one of the soldiers leaping from the blast from an explosion just before the detonation takes place. Also, it appears the hideout for Sartana’s gang (no relation to the series character but also played by Gianni Garko as a villain here) seen in BLOOD AT SUNDOWN (1967) is used here for one scene after the insurgents have fled their initial sanctuary. That film, incidentally, also starred Anthony Steffen and may have been shooting at the same time as KILLER KID (1967).
This restored version from Koch Media is comparable to any of the recent Italian westerns released from MGM. It’s a beautifully restored print and easily one of the best foreign DVD releases for Italian westerns. The main extra is home movie footage of Steffen entitled “A conversation with Anthony Steffen” in which he discusses his career with family and friends. There is also the catchy Italian trailer and a photo gallery. The film itself is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Italian and German audio options, and supported by English and German subtitles.
KILLER KID (1967) is a slightly above average film with a number of elements to set it apart from the run-of-the-mill entries of the genre and is definitely one of Steffen’s better films.