Does anyone remember Moviedrome which was on BBC2 in the late 80’s early 90’s? It was hosted by Alex Cox who told us about what we were about to watch before the film was screened in the best possible form available. There were some fantastic films screened too, many of them rare and not available elsewhere and they were religiously taped by myself and no doubt many others. Movies included everything from The Wicker Man, to The Long Hair Of Death, Night Of The Comet, Assault On Precinct 13, Yojimbo, Carnival Of Souls, Rabid, Wiseblood, Q The Winged Serpent, Knightriders, Psychomania, The Duellists and Manhunter; each and every one of them a classic and many which are regarded as cult films today. Naturally Cox the director of Walker had a soft spot for Italian Westerns with many gaining their network TV premier in the course of the popular series. Django, The Great Silence, Bullet For The General all had me foaming at the mouth as did this obscurity Requiescant also known as Kill And Pray directed by Carlo Lizzani in 1967. Who would have thought it would be another 22 years since it was shown in 1993 for it to finally appear on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time ever in the UK? Naturally I was more than up for seeing the film that I have on old VHS tape along with Robert Rodriguez classic Roadracers in a pristine print and for the first time in quite a while.
Memories quickly came flooding back as did the many reasons for loving this classic obscurity so much in the first place. The nasty Americans trick a group of peace loving Mexicans with the offer of land for them to live on and mercilessly gun them all down. A boy is the sole survivor and is taken in by a kindly family who are on the trail spreading the word of god. The boy grows up to Requiescant of the title, a gentle soul who is forced into killing to defend himself, on doing so he recites bible passages along with the words ‘requiescant in pace’ to their departing souls. Luckily he is an incredibly fast gunslinger surviving against the odds. When his wilful adopted sister decides to strike out on her own and see a bit of life Requiescant goes off in search of her finding her enslaved in prostitution by the callous and cruel Dean Light. Light, his mob, the town and everything in it are all controlled and owned by George Ferguson and everything swiftly moves in and aligns in a tale of vengeance and redemption from beyond the grave itself.
Firstly the cast here in the central roles are all excellent. Lou Castel fresh from A Bullet for The General is Requiescant a man forged by destiny itself and one who is forced into violent acts beyond his control. Dean Light is played with simmering malevolence by Ferruccio Viotti an actor who never really got that many parts (I saw him recently in Sex Of The Witch another really rare gothic horror) and pulls off a part that one could easily see the likes of Klaus Kinski hamming up. Then we have Ferguson played by veteran actor Mat Damon and portraying greed, wealth, cunning and guile like one of our very own modern day bankers and politicians. He owns everyone and makes them know it and as for his attitude towards the fairer sex well they really aren’t worth printing! Also somewhat surprising to be found in front of the camera rather than behind it is a Mexican preacher, sort of overseeing events played by none other than Pier Paolo Pasolini and fans of his Trilogy Of Life films are also rewarded by one of his most expressive character actors Ninetto Davoli adding a little bit of comedic relief. Of course a good Italian Western needs a solid score and with action scenes spurred by twanging guitar and with emotive pathos added in the right places it comes as no surprise to see that this was provided by Riz Ortolani.
I have to admit on not being well versed in the output of director Lizzani who died in 2013. He certainly isn’t a household name like many in the field although he directed somewhere in the region of 70 features, many of them documentaries and TV movies. His rough and ready poliziottesco feature The Violent Four which he made after this definitely looks like a good starting point. He keeps Requiescant tight and fast flowing and there are many scenes in it that portray a cruel streak such as a rather nasty game called shoot and drink which does just as described. The plot may well be quite formulaic as far as Western conventions are concerned but that does not make this any the less enjoyable. It also has a lot of underlying themes reflecting what was going on in Italy at the time such as racial tension and inequality. The fact that Ferguson describes the Mexicans as nothing more than lazy ‘monkey’s’ is quite hard hitting and certainly gets the audience rooting for the underdog. If you are into Italian Westerns, this comes highly recommended and it looks and sounds as sharp as you could ever wish for with bullets literally dancing off the screen and the blood running deep red.
Extras here are left to a couple of interviews the first with actor Lou Castel and the second director Lizzani before he passed away (obviously). Castel mentions the parallels between the Western and class struggle too and how he became disenfranchised with acting leaving that way of life for one of activism. Apparently he always chose roles that reflected his militant leftist beliefs and Requeiscant would have fitted right in there. We get a good look into Lizzani’s career which started as critic and screenwriter in his 20’s within the Italian Neorealism movement showing the gritty side of life in the 1950’s. Again it seems like left wing affiliations very much dominated his career path and what he chose to film from documentaries in Communist China to films like Requiescant, films that were both commercial in genre but ones that retained an important political message. As to this, his most well-known Western he has many fond memories of good times on the serene set with the cast and looks back on it with an obvious degree of pride. This gave a fair bit more insight into the film and illustrates the depth found in Italian Westerns that their American counterpoints rarely came close to. It’s a very welcome return for this one and props again to Arrow for having the dedication of reviving this classic movie for both a new generation and those of us who fondly remember having caught it in the past.