There are spaghetti westerns and then there are…well, impersonators, knock-offs, and quasi-spaghetti westerns. They have the feel and look, but they’re directed by an American director, or boast a more international cast, often with a musical score that’s a blatant ripoff of Ennio Morricone’s memorable scores. One of the best quasi spaghettis? Check out 1971’s Red Sun.
A gang of bandits led by Link (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) pulls off a bloody but highly lucrative bank robbery that nets over $400,000. They’re surprised to find the Japanese ambassador and two samurai on-board, traveling across the country to Washington. Gauche has a plan though. He kills one of the samurai and steals a gold-inlaid sword bound for the President, and also double-crosses Link, leaving him for dead. One of the samurai, Kuroda (Toshiro Mifune), is tasked with tracking Gauche down and retrieving the sword and doing it in just 7 days. His unwilling guide? A not-so-dead Link, not much worse for wear, and looking for revenge and his share of the take. Can the unlikely duo work together? Who will get to Gauche first?
It has been years since I watched this western with French-Italian-Spanish backing so….a quasi-spaghetti. I once watched it on a Spanish channel just trying to decipher what was going on with my sorta college level Spanish-speaking ability. The best part? During a recent airing, TCM showed the full cut as near as I can tell at 112 minutes. No significant edits that I’ve read about thankfully! From director Terence Young (director of 3 Sean Connery James Bond flicks), ‘Sun’ isn’t on-par with the classic spaghetti westerns by any means, but the cast is very cool and it’s entertaining from beginning to end.
Doing the western variation on the buddy cop genre, ‘Sun’ pairs Bronson and Mifune, and who reaps the benefits? THE AUDIENCE! These are two of the biggest action stars ever working together and clearly having a ball. Bronson is most often associated as the stoic vigilante in Death Wish (and its sequels), but he’s an underrated all-around actor. When given the chance, he’s got some great comedic timing. Here, he’s the joker to Mifune’s straight man samurai. Their chemistry is impeccable from beginning to end. Unlikely allies at first, they come to respect each other, if not become friends as they trail Gauche.
The nerdy trivia here dawned on me about halfway through the flick. Mifune starred in the original Seven Samurai while Bronson starred in its American remake, The Magnificent Seven. Pretty cool, huh? ‘Sun’ ends up being a revenge-inspired, buddy cop road story, and that’s a good thing. There’s some solid, blood-splattered action, but I thought the most memorable scenes were Link and Kuroda on the trail, talking at their camp, working together to dispatch nameless bandits. Mifune quietly steals the show as the honor-bound samurai so desperately trying to live up to his personal code. In a cool twist, it’s the changing times in Japan that has the samurai worried about the future, not the dying west and the gunslinger. Either way, an excellent pairing at the top.
Making what amounts to an extended cameo, Delon sneers and betrays and double-crosses basically anyone/everyone he can as the treacherous Gauche. He’s there for the opening robbery, makes a quick appearance in the middle and reappears late to settle everything. It’s Alain Delon so we’re good. Ursula Andress sex kittens it up as Cristina, Gauche’s prostitute girlfriend who is just as treacherous as her boyfriend. She’s wearing slinky clothes, goes topless to seduce Link, and certainly adds an international flavor to the proceedings. French beauty Capucine plays Pepita, the owner/madam of a whorehouse, while Anthony Dawson is one of Gauche’s bandits. No one else is clearly identified among the gang unfortunately. Just cannon fodder for betrayals and Comanches!
Nothing to rewrite the genre here, but a good, old-fashioned romp. The action is actually pretty bloody — I guess samurai swords do lean that way — and the shootouts certainly pack up an impressive body count. Maurice Jarre‘s soundtrack is okay but nothing too memorable — listen HERE — with a too jaunty, light theme at times. Some familiar Spanish locations provide the backdrop, but for the most part it’s unfamiliar location shooting. I will say, this must be the cloudiest spaghetti western I can think of. Not much sun on display here!
A fun, entertaining quasi-spaghetti with excellent parts for its two leads.
Red Sun (1971): ***/****