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RINGO DEL NEBRASKA (1966, Italian-Spanish co-production)
Director: Mario Bava (credited to Antonio Roman)
Story and Screenplay: Antonio Roman and Jesus Navaro
Cinematography: Mario Bava and Guglielmo Mancori
Camera Operator: Saverio Diamanti
Editing: Antonio Gimeno
Music: Nino Oliviero
Main Players: Ken Clark (Nebraska); Yvonne Bastien (Kay); Piero Lulli (Carter); Alfonso Rojas (Hillmann); Renato Rossini (Lou Felton); Charles Lawrence (Sheriff Bert);
Alternate titles: Savage Gringo; Nebraska Joe; Ringo il pistolero
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
The film opens with the murder of a man riding alone on horseback. The
man is subsequently revealed to be one of Marty Hillmann's ranch hands,
and his death sets the plot in motion.
Soon after, a laconic drifter appears at Hillman's ranch. Introducing himself as Nebraska, the drifter subsequently impresses Hillmann with a
display of gun play. Hillmann determines that Nebraska is the kind of
man he needs on the ranch, and so he hires him to do odd jobs. Soon
after, Nebraska meets Hillmann's beautiful wife, Kay, and they are
clearly attracted to each other. However, Nebraska is devoted to his
employer, and rejects her advances.
At this point, Bill Carter is established as the villain of the piece.
Carter basically controls the entire town with the help of hired thugs,
and he is determined to kill Hillmann and take Kay as his lover. Upon
finding the ranch hand's body, Hillmann's first thought is to blindly
rush off and kill Carter, whom he knows to be responsible for the crime.
Here again, Nebraska's intelligence comes to the fore. He knows that
Carter will be waiting for them, and suggests that they wait and plan
things out. Hillmann agrees, and they ride into town to report the
incident to Burt, the local sheriff who has been disgraced by
alcoholism. Using the fact that Carter's men have stolen the dead man's
horse as evidence, Burt puts the men in jail, all the while knowing that
he is endangering his own life by standing up to Carter.
Later that night, as they ride home together, Hillmann and Nebraska
become good friends. Hillmann is impressed by Nebraska' intelligence and
resorcefulness, and promises to help him should the need ever arise. At
that moment, Hillmann is shot by an unseen assailant. The assailant is
none other than Bill Carter, but the need to get his wounded friend back
to the ranch prevents Nebraska from going after the culprit.
Carter's men are subsequently set free, and when Burt happens to discover some important evidence, he is shot to death. The image of a
town gripped by fear and controlled by malevolent forces is a familiar
one in Bava's ouevre. In OPERAZIONE PAURA, especially, Bava goes to
great lengths to establish and detail an entire community which is
ruled by forces beyond their control and/or comprehension. While
OPERAZIONE PAURA concerns itself with a supernatural entity, which is
vainly fought by "rational outsiders (one of whom, ironically enough,
is played by Piero Lulli, who plays Bill Carter in this film) and is
only defeated by the positive embodiment of supernatural magic (the
witch, Ruth), RINGO deals with the more realistic concept of violent
outlaws. Her again, Bava's favored theme of greed and the destruction
it wreaks takes center stage.
Unaware of the fact that Burt has been killed, Nebraska leaves the ranch
in search of the sheriff. Taking advantage of Nebraska's absence,
Carter and his men show up at the ranch. By this point, Hillmann has
already died of his wounds, and Carter is anxious to retrieve the money
that is "owed" to him. It transpires that, together with the assistance
of Kay and her late father, Carter had robbed a bank in El Passo.
However, Kay and Hillmann double-crossed Carter by running off together
with the money. Pretending to be married, Kay and Hillmann have been
hiding out in New Mexico. Now that their hiding place has been
discovered, and with Hillmann out of the way, Carter is ready to reclaim
the two things that interest him: the money and the woman. The money is
quickly discovered in an old pair of boots, but before the bandits can
escape, they are thwarted by the sudden entrance of Nebraska. The thugs
are quickly dispatched, and the subsequent fight between Nebraska and
Carter ends with the villain being shot to death.
Nebraska hands the money over to the new sheriff, who seems only too
happy to keep the loot for himself, before riding off by himself. The
ending sees Kay alive and well, but facing a lonely, sterile future.
Though a stylish and spirited addition to the burgeoning genre of
"Spaghetti Westerns," RINGO DEL NEBRASKA is actually most interesting
from a production standpoint. The story of how Bava came to direct this
film, and of how he was forced to do so without credit, is unveiled
in The Haunted World of Mario Bava, by Troy Howarth.
Considering the unusual way that Bava was introduced to the project, it is perhaps surprising that the film manages to be as personal as it is.
Certainly, it is not flawless. The story is routine in many ways, and
many of the characters are thin. Even so, there is much to admire in
the finished product. The pacing is much better, and the energy far
higher, than it is in Bava's first western, LA STRADA PER FORT ALAMO,
and one can feel a greater degree of commitment on the director's part.
The traditional Bava motif of the deceptive nature of appearances is
especially prevalent. Nebraska constantly surprises the other
characters by not adhering to traditional "macho" stereotypes. For
example, he prefers milk to whiskey. Unlike Carter, he does not live by
violence, but rather uses it as a last resort. And most importantly,
his ability to reason out events reveals an almost Sherlock Holmes-ian
proclivity for problem solving. In this way, he differs from other Bava
protagonists, whose ability to discern information is constantly called
into question. Likewise, Kay is not what she appears to be, and her
deceptiveness is even upsetting to Nebraska. Posing as the traditional
house wife, she is in fact a cunning and resourceful criminal. Her
marriage to Hillmann is a facade, and she is perfectly capable of
handling herself in a life-or-death situation.
Bava's empasis on Nebraska's basic humanity is especially intriguing. As with Reg Park's Hercules in ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA, Bava realizes that neither the character or the actor who is playing him (square-jawed Ken Clark) are the most interesting protagonist in the
world. Rather than stick to convention and/or a blandly written script,
Bava deepens the drama by showing Nebraska to be an essentially decent
man. Lacking both the mystery and charisma of Clint Eastwood's "Man
With No Name" in Sergio Leone's classic "Dollars" trilogy, Nebraska is
therefore depicted in more humanistic terms. He is an outsider, in
common with many other Bava protagonists, but only because he is the
exception rather than the rule. In the world of RINGO DEL NEBRASKA,
characters like Bill Carter are dominant. There is no place for a
decent man like Nebraska, and so he is condemned to wander aimlessly
from town to town, all the while avoiding meaningful relationships. In
this way, the director's cynicism finds voice, and Bava rejects the
traditional happy ending.
In the end, RINGO DEL NEBRASKA cannot be bracketed with Bava's major
work. Bava was clearly not interested in the western genre, but his few
forays into the genre are not without interest. Of the three westerns
Bava directed, RINGO is certainly the best, and it remains a stylish and
engrossing film in its own right.
Review © Troy Howarth
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