Western Double Feature: Fort Yuma Gold/Damned Hot Day of Fire
Two spaghetti western gems have been newly restored and are now available on Blu-ray thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment!
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a new "Western Double Feature," shining a spotlight on a couple of lesser-known spaghetti westerns that come from the heyday of the cycle. The first film on the disc is 1966's Fort Yuma Gold, perhaps better known by its original title, For a Few Extra Dollars, no doubt named to "cash" in the success of Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, which had hit theaters the previous year. The title Fort Yuma Gold suits the movie far better and actually reflects the plot of the film, which is basically a heist operation set against the backdrop of the Civil War. Deep within a secure military installation lies a million dollars, and two different groups are racing to their destination in hopes of beating the other to the loot. Double-crosses and deception abounds, and Giorgio Ferroni (using the pseudonym Calvin J. Padget) directs this Euro-western with a lot of style and a pace that always keeps things moving.
Star Giuliano Gemma (billed here as Montgomery Wood) is no stranger to spaghetti westerns, having starred as the title character in Duccio Tessari's A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo, among others. Italian westerns that feature Gemma are among some of the finest in the entire cycle, and he brings both a likability as well as an acrobatic skill (witness a fight scene in which he does a forward flip off a flight of stairs) that other genre actors didn't possess. Dan Vadis, another of my favorite Italian cinema regulars, plays the heavy (literally) to great effect. Vadis was an American actor and bodybuilder who found great success working in Europe during the sixties, starting in Peplum films like The Ten Gladiators and The Triumph of Hercules before transitioning into spaghetti westerns. He would eventually go on to become one of Clint Eastwood's players, appearing in multiple productions for the former Man With No Name.
Horror Express and The Three Musketeers, and French actress Sophie Daumier as a character named Connie Breastfull, a moniker that would surely make many of James Bond's leading ladies blush. Rounding out the cast are a ton of European character actors who were frequent performers in this type of film at the time.
Acting and plot aside, the biggest draws for Euro-westerns are the visuals and the music, and Fort Yuma Gold doesn't disappoint in either department. The cinematography is handled by Rafael Pacheco, who lensed quite a few European genre films. But the real heavy hitter here is the score which is provided in part by the legendary Ennio Morricone, the man behind the music of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Interestingly, it seems that some of the music was lifted from a previous film (1964's Malamondo, a shock documentary) that Morricone scored, and he eventually sued the producers of this film. The composing duties on Fort Yuma Gold are shared with the prolific composer Gianni Ferrio, and regardless of who wrote what, this is a textbook example of a great score.
Fort Yuma Gold is a fantastic spaghetti western and stars some of my favorite Euro-performers in lead roles. The story goes to unexpected places and is a cut above the standard "revenge" motif that often fuels the genre. The action is blazing; a bar fight occurs about half-way into the movie and it's one of the most impressive brawls I've ever seen committed to film. the climax of this movie is equally memorable and unique, with finely-staged action supported by real stakes and characters whose fate could go either way.
It's also worth remembering that Mill Creek Entertainment is the distributor of these films, not the restoration team. I'm not sure who restored these films, but I suspect they were done in Europe and then licensed for distribution in various markets. While both films might not offer reference quality audio and video, I don't think these movies will ever look any better than they do here. For many of these low budget Italian movies made half-a-century ago, this is as good as it will ever get. The movies feature uncompressed 2.0 channel audio and no subtitles. There are no special features, but a digital copy is included via Mill Creek's proprietary streaming service.
As someone who has a deep affection for spaghetti westerns but has often only seen the many inferior versions of many of these films--often sourced from cropped, cut, and faded transfers intended for broadcast television decades ago--these new transfers are a breath of fresh air, and the films themselves are fine examples of the genre. I give this "Western Double Feature" my highest recommendation.