The first killings happen in the first few minutes before Ringo learns the Fuentes Brothers have declared his former town Mexican Territory and do more or less what they like to subjugate the citizens. Ringo’s subliminal anger about all this is shown only by a small twitch in his eye. He is cool and you can see why Gemma became a star after these movies… Ringo can’t abide by his wife apparently in a relationship with Martin/Paco and he plans to kill her… until he discovers he is a father to a beautiful blonde and blue eyed girl born shortly after he left for the war five years or so earlier…
This would have been a beautiful film to watch on a big screen back when it was released in Italy in December 1965. When and in what form of widescreen process it appeared in the United States I don’t know. It would not have been a broad release which is why the film was never been given its due.
Gemma, with his trimmed beard and natural scar accentuated under his left eye, is handsome and an actor of natural presence. Again, I say, no wonder his career blossomed and he continued to work into his 70s with an appearance in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (2013) shortly before he was killed in a car accident when the car he was driving alone hit another some 20 kilometres outside of Rome. Of course, his death barely made a ripple outside of the European media.
Ringo’s visit to his father’s grave is beautifully realised visually and with music, something which is suddenly interrupted by a lasso dragging him to his old home where “suitor” Martin/Paco lives. It is here where we are first introduced to Martins’s character whose elegantly over-trimmed beard and voice have a sort of macho effeminacy. The deadly type… While living in town Ringo stays with the local florist nicknamed Morning Glory played by an actor who was nicknamed Pajarito and very amusingly too without a set of false teeth. Business has been good in town due to the number of people dying violently. We are also introduced to bad girl Navarro, apparently the local whore who hangs with Paco Fuentes’ brother Estaban – Sancho again – at the local bar and tells fortunes with cards.
“I’ll tell you what the cards say – it’ll amuse you,” she says as it is a test of a man’s masculinity.
Ringo’s wife is, of course, played by De Luca/Hammond, who played the somewhat stuck-up daughter of the landowner in Pistol. Her role here is more mature but it is again Navarro who carries off the part with more interest. Tessari failed to make an icon of wife Hammond/Lorella De Luca with these movies but she was probably already legendary for being discovered at fourteen by Federico Fellini (1920-93 complications of heart attack).
The terror the Fuentes have over the town is shown by the fact they turn up at the funeral of the man they killed the previous day. People are prevented from leaving the church but when Estaban Fuentes tries to stop Ringo leaving, his arm gets twisted by this beggar and his hand dipped into the holy water font. Obviously Ringo won’t be popular as he disappears into the dusty distance!
“Well I’m still new around here and I’m entitled to a few mistakes,” says Ringo to the alcoholic sheriff, who suggests he should have taken a job with the Fuentes rather than “picking posies with Morning Glory”.
Tessari collaborated on the screenplay for both Pistol and Return with Fernando Di Leo (1932-2003), a writer who was incredibly busy in Europe after the success of these films. He appears to have penned nine films made in 1967 alone and collaborated on Corbucci’s Django in 1966. He also worked as an assistant director on Return, a job he did uncredited on the second Dollars film For a Few Dollars More. There were no slouches working on Return and I don’t know if the sequel was already planned in the wake of Pistol’s success, because it was made quickly. But the quality is very good given the quick production element. But I think this is inherent to the spaghetti western to churn out the product, which is why most of them are pretty forgettable. Return was a good melding of talent!
After the funeral, a trio of vigilantes are killed by the Fuentes. Apparently, the town was taken over due to a gold strike and a lack of young men to protect the place. They were all at war.
That Ringo or “nobody” should stand up to the Fuentes is a double-edged notion. This nobody, like the wind, is a legend, someone who has almost descended from somewhere like a saviour – sent from the Gods. That he is really only a man, I guess, is the Homeric element at play. And the villains are not prepared for a pauper working for the local florist to be any trouble!
“Don’t you like women?,” says Navarro before Ringo insults her, drawing the ire of Estaban. He bashes Ringo with a little help from his friends. No, that’s not a Beatle joke! Estaban fails to finish him off with pleas from Navarro to instead “frighten him to death” as “a dead man wouldn’t be very amusing.”
Navarro can’t work Ringo out because he took the beating almost graciously…
Then a coffin arrives in town with what are supposed to be the remains of Montgomery Brown/Ringo under the American flag. The apparent remains are there because of a pay-off by the Fuentes so Ringo’s wife can marry Paco post haste.
Ringo’s “funeral” music is another great piece by Morricone and again there is another extreme close-up of Ringo’s eyes as they watch his wife at the funeral from afar. She still doesn’t know he is in town.
It is interesting that the local Catholic priest goes to eat dinner at the Fuentes mansion – well, soon to be officially, when he marries Ringo’s wife – with other officials. Paco is the town’s “noble benefactor” in the eyes of the church. At the dinner Paco announces to the priest and everyone his marriage plans as Navarro climaxes in dance with a bandit in the background to Mariachi music. It is almost devilish. Meanwhile Ringo has prepared flowers with Morning Glory for the dinner party and he goes upstairs while the fiesta is underway.
In another supercharged moment of stares, his wife finds him with their sleeping child and realises Ringo lives! But they are interrupted. Ringo steals an object to protect his wife and he from being exposed, something that ends with Ringo’s gun hand being impaled and broken at the end of a knife by Paco for punishment. It’s an almost Christlike idea. Ringo was the saviour of Christmas in A Pistol for Ringo! Ringo’s wife goes to visit the florist where Ringo is staying under the pretence to order flowers for the wedding. Cue another musical theme as the lovers finally touch… but do not embrace or kiss as they argue over whether to flee the town or free it of the Fuentes…
“Is it possible to know the future?,” says Ringo to Navarro, as he asks about the cards, still in a mind to flee. She tells him he is now afraid. But this only serves to galvanise him and he takes his gun she has kept hidden. It is almost the first time he touches a gun with real intent since the beginning of the movie. Ringo has remained essentially passive even when his hand is injured. But now everything is at stake, including the town, as his wife won’t leave… He must train his unbroken hand.
The cinematography for Return is by Francisco Marin (1920-83), who had over fifty titles to his resume but no other as iconic as The Return of Ringo. He is only credited for camera on Pistol. But Return is a marked improvement and far more beautiful and classical than Pistol. From a quick cut of a bandit being shot between the eyes to the emergence of the town population over the bodies of several murderous bandits, the composition with very few quick edits all fit together neatly with excellent use of Techniscope – the European Panavision.
I could go on further with plot points but as you can see the wedding won’t go ahead, as Ringo gets what’s left of the male population together for a showdown in town and then the family mansion… There is a scene of ambiguity for the priest as he is about to marry Paco and Mrs Ringo. He doesn’t actually lie, but he doesn’t tell the truth either. A problem which plagues the church to this day.
In the climax, Ringo doesn’t let a machine gun interfere with wiping out the Fuentes while also taking time to bond with his five-year-old daughter. The exhausting fight between Ringo and Paco is a great climax.
Paco discovers Ringo is alive earlier at the church when the wedding is interrupted as Ringo appears in uniform framed by the open church doors crying out: “I’ve come back Paco Fuentes. I’ve come back! I’ve come back!!” before he is shrouded by dust. It is another striking moment, as you can almost smell Paco’s fear, and panic… then growing anger.
In the end the natural order and balance is restored, as is the formula of the western. All to the strains of Maurizio Graf’s song!
The Return of Ringo isn’t a magnificent masterpiece like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West but it is as good as the other two Dollars films and is as close to a masterpiece as Tessari would get.
I guess it is not really art but as a popular form of the spaghetti western genre it is a movie at the very top of that heap of beans. It is also one of the foundations of the spaghetti western and is a memorable and striking part of the beginning of an era, which although littered with many a dud/dead body, produced some interesting films for another decade.
Try and see the letterboxed version and steer clear of any other Ringo titles. That DiCaprio’s fictional character in Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood churns out four movies in Europe in six months, one a forgettable Ringo title (I think it’s Kill Me Quick Ringo, Said the Gringo), is probably a stretch but tells the story of how fast the industry moved around the time of its peak in the late 1960s. I would say it was winding down by 1969.
Tessari, incidentally, directed Gemma in a couple of other films, including a spy movie entitled Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1966), which is a rather silly Bondian spoof with the voice cast affecting very English accents. The entire main cast of the Ringo movies is again at work here. George Martin proves himself to be an excellent acrobat and there are a couple of real laughs. Lorella De Luca plays a birdbrain while a real bird in the form of a Macaw is the real brains behind the plot. Otherwise it is nothing special.
One of Tessari’s later career movies, which is a rather good one, is Zorro (1975) starring Alain Delon with its corny Oliver Onions (the De Angelis brothers) song and its climactic sword fight which – time-wise – rivals Scaramouche (1952). It features Stanley Baker as the evil Colonel Huerta in one of his last movie roles before his death from lung cancer.
Sorry, I am forgetting the New Mexico shot The Bastard aka The Cats (1968) which was originally to feature 1930s and 40s legend Joan Crawford but ended up with a faded Rita Hayworth, who it is reported was already suffering from the dementia which ended her life over a decade later. The Bastard also stars Klaus Kinski as Gemma’s brother and the film is a noble and interesting failure with Gemma playing a criminal named Jason. Again, the same iconic voice-dubbing actor was used for Gemma as in the Ringo films. I haven’t even mentioned the gunshots used in spaghetti westerns – for some reason they all sound the same. But aint that great! You know you are watching a real spaghetti western!!
There are gold nuggets to be found in them there hills and the first two “Ringos” are a couple worth prospecting for.