Far from being just the Italian Splatter King many fans only know him as, legendary Italian director Lucio Fulci worked in many other genres of film outside of Horror. One such genre was the Italian Western, with his Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse (1975) ranking among the most striking the ‘Spaghetti’ West ever offered up.
Shot between 1977’s Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes (1977) and the legendary Zombie 2 (1979), Silver Saddle (1978) remains one of the most little seen of all of Fulci’s works as well as marking the last time Fulci would work in the western genre.
Nowhere near as noteworthy as Fulci’s past Western works and falling somewhere between the acclaim it receives in Thomas Weisser’s Spaghetti Western’s guide and the disdain it gets in Stephen Thrower’s essential Beyond Terror, Silver Saddle is a disjointed affair that ranks among the lesser offerings from Fulci in the seventies but is still worth a look for fans of the genre and the director himself.
While Silver Saddle seems to be an anomaly in Fulci’s career during this period, a closer look reveals that nearly all of the major players associated with the maestro are on hand for the production. Joined by several frequent collaborators including cinematographer Sergio Salvati, editor Ornella Micheli, composer Fabio Frizzi (along with Bixio and Tempera) and actress Cinzia Monreale, Silver Saddle is very much a Lucio Fulci picture even though this PG rated work will no doubt shock fans who only know him through his harder thriller and horror work.
Scripted by Adriano Bolzoni, a prolific writer probably best known for his work with Ernesto Gastaldi on Sergio Martino’s excellent Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), and concerning a bitter gunfighter named Roy Blood, played well by the always reliable Giuliano Gemma, and a young boy named Thomas, played by Sven Valsecchi, Silver Saddle is one of the most tender films Lucio Fulci ever shot…not exactly an emotion he is typically known for.
Gemma (father of future Dario and Asia Argento actress Vera) was born in Rome during World War Two (he actually suffered a near fatal injury after coming across a discarded bomb as a child) and became interested in sports before film as a teenager. After his dreams of being an athlete didn’t work out the fit and muscular Gemma began getting some work as a stunt man in the fifties while in his early twenties. He soon graduated to acting roles and by the mind sixties he had worked his way up to a role in Visconti’s The Leopard but he soon found his true calling when director Giorgio Ferroni cast him in the lead role in the 1965 Italian Western One Silver Dollar.
Working sometimes under the unlikely name of Montgomery Ward, Gemma seemed custom made for the Spaghetti Western and by the early seventies had appeared in more than a dozen of them. It wouldn’t be the only genre he would excel in as his appearances in the flawed political film Corbari (1970) opposite Tina Aumont and the memorably comedic Senta Berger film When Women Had Tails (also 1970) and others would show him at home in nearly any type of role he was given. Silver Saddle, a late entry in the Italian Western genre, would mark one of the last times Gemma would find himself riding a horse in front of the camera.
Joining Gemma for Fulci’s farewell to the old west is Ettore Mani (a gentleman who worked with everyone from Bava to Fellini in his four decade career), genre favorite Donald O’Brien and popular American character actor Geoffrey Lewis (a talented man who has found favor recently with writer and director Rob Zombie). Silver Saddle also features Italian sex symbols Licinia Lentini as a Madam named Sheba and Agnes Kalpagos as one of Sheba’s girls.
19 year old Cinzia Monreale makes the biggest impression though in one of her earliest roles and her first for Fulci. Monreale gives a stately, subtle and dignified performance as the nurturing Margaret and the films best moments belong to the few she shares with Gemma. She would have just a couple of years after Silver Saddle until she would become an Italian film icon in D’Amato’s unforgettable Buio Omega (1979) and as the haunting blind girl Emily in Fulci’s own The Beyond (1981). Silver Saddle would mark one of four times Monreale (The New Gladiators (1984) and Sweet House of Horrors (1989) being the other two) would work with Fulci, marking her as one of the actresses he ever worked most with.
Unfortunately, despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, Silver Saddle isn’t a very good film. Featuring a syrupy title song that plays irritatingly throughout the film’s running time, a lagging pace and a predictable story-line, Fulci’s final western is finally more than a little flat. While it does have it’s moments (the scenes with Monreale and Gemma, an eerie aftermath of a destroyed monastery and some inventive shoot-outs, one of which seems to have heavily informed the recent Resident Evil: Extinction), Silver Saddle is a surprisingly dull film from Fulci that never really comes together.
Known as They Died With Their Boots On in the United States although I can’t find any information on any kind of release here, this shot in Spain Scope production has never been granted a decent English friendly home video presentation. The version I saw comes from an Ancient full frame Greek VHS that destroys Fulci’s 2.35 compositions and buries Salvati’s photography. Xploited carries a Region 2 Italian DVD that reportedly features the film in its correct aspect ratio but is in Italian only.
While the film is not among Fulci’s finest, a nice DVD presentation restoring the dubbed English track would be very welcome.
Xploited also carries the film’s soundtrack on CD which is quite nice if you can get past the dreadful theme song that manages to bring the film down seemingly every few minutes.