The Hills Run Red (1966)

the_hills_run_red_iWhen you think of spaghetti westerns, you think of a lot of names of American actors who traveled to Europe for a chance at stardom (or at least bigger stardom), names like Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. There were plenty of lesser-known stars though, like Thomas Hunter in 1966’s The Hills Run Red.

 It’s late in the Civil War and two Confederate soldiers, Jerry Brewster (Hunter) and Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo), have robbed a Union payroll and are on the run. About to be captured, they split a deck of cards to see who will stay behind and buy time, Jerry losing out. He begs Ken to take care of his family until he can get back to them. Captured by Union cavalry, Jerry spends 5 years in jail serving a brutal sentence. Upon his parole, he finds out that his wife is dead and his son is missing. What about Ken’s promise? His former friends has used the money they stole to start up a huge ranch, changing his name in the process. Jerry’s revenge starts NOW!

In the mid 1960s and into the late 1970s, over 600 spaghetti westerns were made (with some variations here and there). There are some classics, some good to really great entries, and some bad to downright awful ones at the bottom of the list. ‘Hills’ falls somewhere in between. It isn’t bad, it isn’t particularly good, but you know what? It’s entertaining in an oh so bad way. I don’t think it’s an insult to say a movie is fun, and that’s what you get here.

It’s hard to come down too harshly on this 1965 spaghetti from director Carlo Lizzani. The genre had started to take off with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, but many entries still had that feel of an American western. ‘Hills’ is pretty cheap with a small cast and a small budget. The score from the master himself, Ennio Morricone, isn’t his best, but even just okay or pretty good Morricone is excellent. Give it an extended listen HERE. Not too many familiar locations to mention.

Not much in the way of star power here. In a short career, Hunter only did about 15 movies with some TV parts mixed in. I’d only seen him before in 1968’s Anzio in a supporting part. The verdict here? For one, his dubbing is really atrocious (not his fault). His lips are moving where the words aren’t! Also, his Jerry Brewster is a tortured anti-hero, a cowboy desperately seeking revenge. Hunter’s acting range is him literally SCREAMING his rage and disappointment. It’s actually laughable to watch. Interesting character with potential, but Hunter struggles in an over-the-top performance.

As for his villainous counter, Henry Silva also hams it up, chewing the scenery like his life depended on it as Mendez, Ken’s right-hand man and brutal enforcer. Decked out in all black, Silva rattles off Spanish in almost incomprehensible fashion, laughing maniacally basically every scene. The weird part? He’s the bad guy…but never does anything too bad, except for the maniacal laughing. Dan Duryea plays a mysterious supporting part that looks like he accidentally boarded a plane to Spain and walked on-set. Spaghetti western beauty Nicoletta Machiavelli is wasted as Mary Ann, Ken’s naïve sister. Playing the not so intimidating Ken Seagull (not Segal), Gazzollo leaves little impression, letting Silva do the heavy lifting.

 Fueled by revenge, but not much in the way of story, ‘Hills’ is an odd one. I’ve watched it 3 times I believe, and each time, I keep thinking ‘Meh, this isn’t very good.’ The shootout at the end is laughable, Hunter and Duryea running around an abandoned town dispatching bad guys like a Tom and Jerry episode. The twist in the final scene is unnecessary and comes out of left field. But then again, everything here feels a bit disjointed and kooky! Not good, not bad, just stupidly fun and entertaining.

 The Hills Run Red (1966): **/****


Winchester ’73

winchester_73_-_1950-_posterIf you’re a fan of western movies and American history in the west in general, two firearms come to mind as the most iconic of the era. First? The Colt .45, a six-shot revolver made famous by gunfighters and cowboys. The second? The Winchester 1873 model, a repeating rifle that earned the nickname ‘the gun that won the west.’ The iconic rifle gets a starring role in an excellent western from 1950, Winchester ’73.


It’s July 4, 1876 in Dodge City with the town hosting a shooting contest bringing riflemen from all over the country. The prize? A so-called perfect Winchester rifle, dubbed the one in a 1,000 rifle. Among the competitors is Lin McAdam (James Stewart), a rancher/cowboy who’s a deadshot with a rifle. He wins via tiebreaker against a man from his past, Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), but Dutch isn’t having it. He and two fellow gunfighters rob Lin of the prized rifle, racing out into the desert. Lin and his partner, High Spade Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell), aren’t far behind. In the aftermath of the massacre at the Little Bighorn, reports of Indians on the warpath are escalating. Can Lin and High Spade track down the man and the gun while still keeping their hair?

John Wayne had John Ford, Randolph Scott had Budd Boetticher, and James Stewart had Anthony Mann. The star-director combo team here for the first of five movies they would make together (6 if you add The Glenn Miller Story), and it’s a gem. I’d have to go back and rewatch all five, but this definitely belongs up at the top. At 92 minutes, it is an episodic story with an ensemble cast that moves along at a quick pace. There is almost the feel of a TV show with 15 or 20-minute segments as the prized rifle finds itself in new hand one after another. How though? That’s the fun. The Winchester ends up being a star, jumping from person to person with some bad luck, greed, violence, betrayals and some blood dotting the way.


Stewart rarely gets the credit he deserves in the western genre. Other than The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he didn’t star in a classic western. This movie is close, as is The Naked Spur, and there’s a handful that are really, really good. My point? He plays a great anti-hero of sorts, although here he’s in more typical hero mode. His Lin — for lack of a better description — is a good dude, if a touch obsessed with exacting some revenge. His backstory is familiar but well-handled and feels a good twist. It’s leisurely revealed, but it’s Jimmy Stewart. You know he’s a good guy. His chemistry with Mitchell’s High Spade is excellent too, two driven cowboys who are stubborn, loyal and sturdy.


What appealed to me is that Mann’s film uses a whole bunch of genre conventions (you could say stereotypes) but manages to breathe some new, fresh life into it. Case in point is the cast, with the revenge-seeking cowboy, the saloon hall girl with a heart of gold, the unhinged gunfighter, the loyal sidekick and so many more. Everyone gets almost equal screen-time throughout. Look for Shelley Winters as Lola, the saloon girl, Dan Duryea as Waco Johnny Dean, a psychotic gunfighter, McNally as Dutch Henry, Charles Drake as Steve Miller, Lola’s fiance, John McIntire as gunrunner Joe Lamont, Will Geer as Marshal Wyatt Earp, J.C. Flippen as a cavalry sergeant and a young Rock Hudson as an Indian chief.


Also look for Tony Curtis and James Best as young cavalry troopers, Steve Brodie and James Millican as members of Dutch’s gang, and John Wayne stuntman Chuck Roberson late as a potential bank robber. Familiar face Ray Teal has a shadow-marked supporting part as a marshal leading a posse.


Winchester’ covers a fair amount of mileage in its brisk 92-minute running time. The early shootout is a highlight, but there’s also a manipulative gunrunner, an Indian attack on a cavalry patrol, a posse chasing bandits, a bank robbery, a not forced (thankfully) love story, and a genuine good twist late. Filmed in black and white, ‘Winchester’ has an almost artsy look — plenty of shadow and silhouette, almost a noir western — and definitely capitalizes on the Arizona shooting locations, including Old Tucson.

Held in high regard by many, ‘Winchester’ still doesn’t get the classic attention it probably should. It’s a great western, entertaining with some action but also well-written and well-executed. Highly recommended.

Winchester ’73 (1950): *** 1/2 /****