By A. H. WEILER
"DEATH RIDES A HORSE," which rocked the DeMille Theater yesterday like a convention of drunken firecracker salesmen, is proof in stark colors, once again, of the indestructibility of the "spaghetti Western" produced continuously and cheaply over the last five years by Italians in Spain with an imported Hollywood rawhider or two to ramrod the gory goings-on. As usual, the clutter of clichés is exceeded only by the excessive sound and fury.
To the credit of Giulio Petroni, the screenwriter, it must be noted that he has kept the dialogue, too obviously dubbed into English, at a minimum. If the plot is somewhat fuzzy at first, it quickly becomes clear that the simple-minded succession of blood baths, pedestrian as well as horse-borne, are the results of a double vendetta.
On the one hand, we have John Phillip Law, who, as a child, has seen his family raped and slaughtered by a gang of thieving desperados, and now is the grown-up, fastest gun in the Sierras out to annihilate those dastards. And, we have Lee Van Cleef, one of those five bad men who had been framed into a long prison stretch by them and is out for their ill-gotten gains and their hides.
Mr. Law, tall, rifle-slim, blond, blue-eyed and properly laconic, may be quick on the draw but he is slower than Mr. Van Cleef in catching up with their mutual quarry. As a comparative tenderfoot, he can't be blamed. Mr. Van Cleef, of course, has been going that-a-way for years in Western Westerns ("High Noon," etc.) and in the "spaghetti" variety ("For a Few Dollars More," etc.).
So, as the squinty-eyed, mustachioed, crafty and tough (he shaves with a knife, no lather) vaquero it's only natural that he is brighter about bad men than his callow opposition.
They face each other in a climactic Mexican standoff that bristles with spurious honor. "Vengeance is a dish that must be eaten cold," Mr. Van Cleef observes philosophically. He's right. "Death Rides a Horse" is not so hot.
DEATH RIDES A HORSE, screenplay by Luciano Vicenzoni; directed by Giulio Petroni; produced by Alfonso Sansone and Enrico Chrosicki; released through United Artists, A Transamerica Corporation. At the DeMille Theater, Broadway and 47th Street. Running time: 114 minutes.
Bill . . . . . John Phillip Law
Ryan . . . . . Lee Van Cleef
Wolcott . . . . . Luigi Pistilli
Manina . . . . . Anthony Dawson
Pedro . . . . . Jose Torres
Betsy . . . . . Caria Cassola
Vigro . . . . . Archie Savage
One-Eve . . . . . Mario Brega
Manuel . . . . . Guglielmo Spoletini