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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
SYNOPSIS:

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.


CRITIQUE:

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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