$1,000 on the Black (1966)

Johnny Liston has just finished his twelve-year term in prison and returns back to his hometown to find out his brother Sartana rules the nest and has married his woman. Knowing that his brother framed him, Johnny with the help of his old girlfriend’s mute brother Jerry, goes about trying to restore the justice to the ramshackle towns.

The typical staples show up prominently in this surprisingly well-made and rather hard-boiled showcase of spaghetti western bravado. A bit of everything is chucked for good measure in this baroque and rather intense soap opera, which oddly enough has a bemusing amount of developments going on. As its always incident packed (some quite bizarre too), where the high stakes never really take a backseat. Its rough around the edges, but this only enhances that grand guignol splendour of grit, dirt and being soaked in sweat. Albert Cardiff’s kinetically snappy and surefooted direction engineers some cracking visuals and paints a very atmospheric mood (like the cracking final confrontation that was meant to be). He makes sure it quickly moves on without bogging us down. Gino Santini, who gets many actively singular zooms and earthy framework shaping it, brightly photographs it. The bone dry and rocky surroundings gave it a real rough edge and Santini milks it accordingly. Michelle Lacarenza’s crackerjack soundtrack with that harmonious awe could up the neurotic flair at anytime. Those three facets really gave this production its added bite and overall striking competence. The clunky story is more than a simple revenge formula (well like mentioned by other IMDb reviewers; also a Shakespearean tragedy element streams through it and that of the closeness of family that moulds the town). Flourishing throughout are hilariously campy dialogues and uneven performances. There’s dry jokes and subtle humour there about in the script, but it’s never over-used. A real mean vibe is chalked up here, as its violent (with its constantly bruising brawls), but not terribly explicit with little blood spilt. At times it can come off as unintentionally silly and Roberto Miali takes the brunt of it with his over-exaggerated performance of the mute, Jerry. Gianni Garko gracefully hams it up as the insane, viper-like villain, Sartana and does an excellent job of it too. Antonio De Teffè is a steady head as Johnny and the stunning Erika Blanc is perfectly cast as vengeful lady Joschita. Franco Fantasia and Carlo D’Angelo are equally good in their parts. Every main character has a complex situation eating away at them that gives them all a little more weight. The dubbing for them is just plain atrocious that I had wish I saw it in its original format.

A fun and real spirited low-budget spaghetti western that can be a stylish and often poetic treat for fans of the sub-genre.