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Bad Man’s River (1971)

I’d lay a hefty wager that back in the latter part of the fifties when Gina Lollobrigida was appearing opposite the likes of Burt Lancaster and Rock Hudson, screen heavy Lee Van Cleef would never in his wildest dreams imagine that he would one day be bedding the screen siren in a film where he received top billing.

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“He’s bad, bad news.”

So says the jazzy tune playing over the credits that seems to have been tailor made for Van Cleef’s persona even pointing out his beady eyes in song. From the outset this Eugenio Martin directed film will play lightly and allow Van Cleef to wink at the camera continually as his con man character drifts through the Mexican revolution with plenty of gunfire all round.

When Van Cleef runs into sexy Gina and she wants to know what he does to earn a living he responds coyly, “I transfer funds from one place to another.” He’s about to learn that Gina is quite the con artist herself and quickly relieves him of his stolen loot.

And so the adventure begins when Van Cleef will spar with Gina over the course of ninety two minutes including marriage and some bedroom opportunities. What Van Cleef will learn is that Gina goes where the money is. She isn’t satisfied with one husband and her other one points out that, “The only thing she is afraid of is poverty. ” Would you believe the other man in her life is James Mason turning up in a spaghetti western!

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The adventure leads them across the border into the middle of the Mexican Revolution which has served as the backdrop for many of the Italian westerns of the era. There’s a check floating around in the sum of one million dollars that all our leading characters want a share of. Some want more than a fair share.

“To stay alive in these times you must have something of value.” This from a revolutionary commander played by Sergio Fantoni after he takes the three leads prisoner. Gina’s curves and the promise of money are sure to change Fantoni’s mind about sending them to a firing squad.

The bodies begin to pile up when Van Cleef and his gang of professional gunmen make there way through the bombs and carnage of the war while trying to keep one eye on Gina and the other aimed at incoming bounty hunters. When the film comes to a close it’s just a matter of who is going to walk away with a cool million.

Generally this Van Cleef western isn’t half as bad as I recall after seeing it for the first time in over twenty years. I love the fact that the steely veteran seems to be having fun on screen while flirting with bombshell Gina. For some more fun Van Cleef clips just click here to see a set of ads he starred in picking up on his screen persona.

Prod DB © Apollo Films - Jacques Roitfeld - Zurbano Films / DR LES 4 MERCENAIRES D'EL PASO (BAD MAN'S RIVER) de Eugenio Martin 1971 ITA / ESP / FRA avec James Mason, Gina Lollobrigida et Lee Van Cleef western spaghetti, trio

James Mason’s appearance is somewhat of a surprise and doesn’t come off to well. Like another Italian film of the day, Cold Sweat he is putting on an accent which ruins the effect of his greatest instrument. I am of course referring to the smooth, refined tone of his voice.

Director Martin was on a run here moving on to helm Pancho Villa in ’72 with Telly Savalas and enlisting Telly once again for the wild and superior Horror Express that same year.

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Bad Man’s River has been easy to acquire due to it’s public domain status turning up in countless low budget spaghetti western collections in rather poor print copies.  It was both nice and surprising to see Kino Lorber put out a widescreen copy recently on blu ray. Not only that but it comes with the cool artwork of the original release poster on the cover. In case your wondering the answer is yes, it’s on my shelf.

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