In the matter-of-factly titled Gatling Gun, Richard Gatling is working on a top secret weapon for the Union during the Civil War, and I doubt I need to tell you it’s a Gatling gun. President Lincoln is so interested in the gun that he sends members of his commission down to Mexico to pick up the gun. Things just can’t seem to go smoothly however, and the commission members are killed over night and Gatling and his precious gun go missing. The only people left alive that were aware of the gun are a man named Pinkerton and his employee Chris Tanner. Since Pinkerton’s whereabouts on that night aren’t in question, Tanner is convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang. Pinkerton is convinced that Tanner is innocent, so he orchestrates a scheme where another prisoner that is about to be pardoned switches identities with Tanner. Now that Tanner is on the outside, he only has 28 days to prove his innocence and uncover a scheme of extortion and betrayal before the man that has assumed his identity will hang. Considering the men that are holding Mr. Gatling and his gun have two million dollars at stake, it isn’t going to be easy.
Going into Gatling Gun, I knew little about the film or its director, Paolo Bianchini. If this film is any indication, Bianchini needs to be introduced to the world on a much larger scale. Definitely a big surprise, Gatling Gun is sure to please fans of the Spaghetti Western genre. It features a heavily-layered story to bite into that is quite complex, but those dedicated to the film will find a lot to enjoy. On one hand, it does become somewhat of a chore to keep up with so many characters and converging plotlines, but on the other hand it’s hard to deny it isn’t compelling stuff. Sure, seeing an outlaw whose life is on the line playing two sides against one another for personal gain isn’t exactly original, but it sure is fun to watch and the sort of tried-and-true plot device that if done correctly is always worth sticking around until the end for, just to see how everything plays out.
And its fortunate that the story is as good as it is, since Gatling Gun pretty much hinges on it. With little in the way of action for most of the duration, there wouldn’t be much else to bide your time with otherwise. I could see this aspect turning off some Spaghetti Western fans; we gravitate to the genre over most of the US’s offerings because of the violence and grittier nature they tend to convey. Still, a quality story is just that, and at least visually you’ll never doubt you’re in Italian territory. Shots are framed in exquisite scope, displaying a wide breadth of western landscapes in each frame, and set design is quite impressive. Although there are some bizarre peculiarities that pop up now and again which suggest the budget on the film wasn’t substantial, such as a scene early on where two gunslingers walk into a house and the background outside the door is nothing but white space! How the heck that made it past editing, I’ll never know. Oh, and back to the subdued action I mentioned a few sentences back, you’ll be justly rewarded for immersing yourself in the deep narrative when the film’s finale rolls around, which includes some sweet Gatling gun ballistics!
While director Paolo Bianchini may only be a name recognizable to the most hardcore of Spaghetti Western aficionados, much of the cast will be recognizable to general Italo-cinema fans, especially if they’re into Gialli. Ida Galli (The Psychic, The Whip and the Body), Claudie Lange (Death Walks at Midnight, Death Walks on High Heels), and George Rigaud (All the Colors of the Dark, Horror Express) all turn up in the film and deliver decent supporting roles, especially Rigaud who plays a conniving businessman very well. On paper, the star of Gatling Gun is Robert Woods (Golden Temple Amazons, Lucifera: Demon Lover), who takes on the role of Captain Tanner, but to be quite honest the actual star of the show is John Ireland (Perversion Story, Salon Kitty) who plays the boisterous, scheming Tarpas, an Indian half-breed who wants riches only to make his unreceptive woman happy. In a scene that’s nearly as awesome as watching Franco Nero strike a match on a guy’s teeth in The Mercenary, Ireland gets to throw a knife intended to pierce a man’s heart…by using only his foot. Its little thing like this that makes Gatling Gun, and Spaghetti’s in general, so damn cool.
For seasoned vets of the Spaghetti genre, Gatling Gun is a welcome uncovered gem from the second-tier of notable titles that thankfully doesn’t at all feel like a cash-in that many of the later entries into the genre do, most likely due to the fact the film was made early on in the cycle’s popularity. Those new to the school will be better served by checking out the big guns first, but once you do so, come back and wind the crank on Gatling Gun.
Released by the good folks at Dorado Films, Gatling Gun hits DVD in a very nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The print isn’t in flawless shape, as there is some print damage here and there as well as darker scenes are sometimes far too muddy looking, but overall the visual quality is pleasant and sports a high bitrate. Audio choices include both English and Italian Dolby Digital mono tracks, but there are no English subs included for the Italian track. That said, the English track does have a few instances where the language switches to Italian, presumably because certain scenes were cut from the English dubbed version (although the quality of the print is steady throughout), and removable English subs are included for these scenes. The quality of said Italian scenes, as well as the full Italian track, is in somewhat better shape than the English alternative, which is a bit muffled with occasional pops and hiss. That doesn’t mean it’s bad however, as all dialogue is easy to make out and levels are consistent. Extras include a short poster gallery as well as a collection of trailers for current and what I would presume future Dorado Films releases. It’s very good to see a company emerge that’s releasing obscure Spaghetti Westerns in pleasing quality; hopefully they’ll have a long and healthy future in the business.
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