The Stranger and the Gunfighter (Là dove non batte il sole)

One of many hybrid movies from the Seventies, called a soja western by some (what’s in a name?). Its credentials are quite impressive: among the producers are Carlo Ponti and Run Run Shaw, and it stars both Lee van Cleef, the actor most identified with the spaghetti western genre, and Lo Lieh, the most charismatic star of the Kung Fu genre (except for Bruce Lee). The script tells a familiar treasure hunt story of a lost fortune that can be located by piecing together the info entrusted to different people, in this case four women, one Russian, one Italian, one American, one Chinese. The Italian title is Là, dove non batte il sole, in English There, were the sun doesn’t shine, and that’s exactly the place where the info was tattooed, by a Chinaman called Wang, the owner of the treasure.

In the opening scene, a thief called Dakota is trying to pull off a heist, but the safe is very well protected and every new safety device is accompanied by a photo of a woman showing her well-shaped behind (now what the hell is that?!). When he finally decides to blow up the safe, the owner, a Chinaman called Wang, shows up and is killed by the blast. Dakota is convicted to the gallows for robbery and manslaughter, but he’s saved by Wang’s nephew, who’s sent to America to find out what happened to his uncle’s fortune. The two go looking for Wang’s former mistresses, to study the messages on their buttocks, and of course they attract the attention of other money-hungry competitors, such as a group of Mexican bandits and a ex-con turned priest, who travels the West with a mobile church …
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A Mobile Church …

The movie is a bizarre concoction of comedy, martial arts and straightforward spaghetti western action, half-baked and blockheaded, but not entirely without entertainment value. Most of the comedy is daft, but there are a few inspired jokes too. The script’s rather repetitive, but never wastes too much time in one spot, leading the two heroes from one set piece to another with admirable pace; they hop, so to speak, from bottom to bottom and end up in the villain’s lair, located in an old mission post. It makes the best of the opposition between the polite, dutiful easterner and the selfish, roguish westerner, but without making any serious socio-cultural statements. Actually, Kipling’s famous line East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet is denied in the film’s finale, when Van Cleef insists on accompanying his new buddy into the mission post (and eventually even follows him to China!).

Lo Lieh had become a star thanks to his appearance in the classic King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death), the movie that had started the Kung Fu craze in North-America (1) (2). He had appeared in many martial art movies in the sixties, and yet he was not a real martial artist. He was born in Indonesia and had only started martial arts at adult age. Obviously director Margheriti didn’t know what to do with the Kung Fu action; he opts for slapstick (the comedy western was at full swing), emphasized by silly sound effects. The abysmal fight scenes almost kill the movie, but Lo Lieh’s easygoing charm and the chemistry with Van Cleef saves it. Van Cleef is at his most buffoonish here, wearing a wig, signing ladies’ underwear and even singing a song. He also seems to be in good shape (or was it just the wig?).

The Stranger and the Gunfighter is a mixed bag. It’s far from great, but Alejandro Ulloa’s photography of the Almeria locations give the film a paramount look and thanks to a script that keeps things moving and a couple of good jokes it’s surprisingly entertaining. Even the most repetitive joke of Lo Lieh studying that place where the sun doesn’t shine is saved by a hilarious scene with him showing the healing effects of acupuncture to Femi’s Benussi’s sore bottom. If only Shaw Brothers had sent in an expert for the chorography of the fight scenes …