Several people have called this a spaghetti western, even if it’s a South-African production, shot on South-African locations. It clearly rips off Sergio Leone’s dollar movies and offers a few winks at Corbucci and Peckinpah as well. The tone is tongue-in-cheek throughout, with some of the comedy being a bit too silly for its own good.
The film opens with an execution scene: a man is shot by an firing squad and a second man, Luciano (Lucky for friends) is waiting for his turn. In the very last moment, the squad members are shot by a stranger (he will be called ‘Major’ throughout the movie) who witnessed the proceedings from a distance. This is all more Corbucci than Leone, but we soon enter Leone territory when the Major gives the intended victim of the execution ceremony the opportunity to face the commander of the firing squad in a duel supervised by himself, in the style of For a Few Dollars More. The Major has only saved Lucky Luciano’s life because he’s interested in the half of the treasure map in possession of the Mexican vagabond. If you haven’t recognized the premise of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly by now, you must have had a very rough night.
Three Bullets for a Long Gun is not bad, but not great either. Even with a running time of no more than 81 minutes it feels a little longish, in the first place because of this rather protracted, uneventful finale. I had counted on a Mexican standoff, but instead we get a silly variation on Russian roulette and then, all of a sudden, it’s over. The opening scene, on the other hand, is quite good and halfway through we get a scene set in the camp of a villain called Hawkeye, who’s no doubt the most colorful character in the entire movie. He has only one eye and raising his voice will immediately leave him gasping for breath. Some of his scenes are hilarious. The camp is also populated with beautiful South-African señoritas – all showing their legs in a sexy dance – and the scene ends in a Peckinpah like massacre, slomo and weird sound-effects and all. The movie was shot in 1970 and director Henkel probably picked up The Wild Bunch while preparing the movie and immediately changed his plans. A lot of Leone with a sniff of Peckinpah must have sounded like a winning formula.
It isn’t, not really, but I suppose most spaghetti western lovers will enjoy it. Personally I found it mildly entertaining. Spanish lines that are supposed to sound Mexican are quite funny when spoken by a South-African. Actually, the accents and landscape work better than the actors, although Van der Wat (who also wrote the screenplay) has a few funny moments as a poor man’s Tuco. I thought the music was decent too (I particularly liked this plaintive trumpet).
One of the forum members, Reverend Danite, came across a wild rumor spread by Patrick Agan in his book about the life and career of Clint Eastwood, written in the mid seventies:
“Just as the news that Clint Eastwood was getting ready to star and direct himself in Play Misty For Me got abroad in the land, a rumor surfaced that he was going to re-tread The Man With No Name in a South African Western. A company there called Icarus Films had announced that he was going to star for them in Three Bullets For A Long Gun to be made on location in Pretoria, South Africa. In fact a deal was almost signed when the company ran into trouble. Their initial feature, another Western called Thou Shalt Not Kill, ran into difficulties with South Africa’s touchy censors, and had to be withdrawn as too violent. Unfortunately the movie company had planned on using the profits from the first picture to finance their second one. Since there were no profits the whole deal went down the drain.”
In a reaction Peter Henkel’s son said he had never heard of this before and also thought it was very unlikely that Clint would have considered to appear in a South-African movie in 1970. Henkel and Van der Wat would re-unite two years later for a sequel, They Call Me Lucky, that is reputed to be the better movie of the two. It will be reviewed on the pages soon.