Dir. Sergio Sollima
. Spain/Italy. 1967.

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The western genre is full of law and order versus chaos and violence; stand offs between two men who hold opposing virtues in equal measure and consider their respective cause as worthy enough to fight for.  In most cases, the sheriff who wants to uphold the sanctity of peace and goodwill in his far flung town, and the six-shooter who wants to get everything he wants through violence at any cost to human life. 

This exciting new re-released Spaghetti western flips the ideas of law and order, right and wrong, order and chaos and the identity of the good guy in westerns on its head.

Faccia a Faccia, is directed by Sergio Sollima (The Big Gundown) and tells the story of a retiring professor Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria Volante) who due to his poor health moves west for warmer climate.  As soon as he arrives, he is taken hostage by the bandit Bennett (Tomas Milian) and has to live with the gang. 

After initial reluctance, he finds a calling amongst his fellow criminal cohorts, taking to crime and thuggery with ease.  This leads to Fletcher overthrowing Bennett and initiating a crueller system of leadership instead, so in essence a standoff between two villains forms the central relationship and conflict of this film; the generic modification being that the more evil villain of the two was once a learned man.

I can see initial similarity to John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where James Stewart's character Rance Stoddard when also moving west from the east attempts to incorporate his learned skills of knowledge upon the illiterate townsfolk with limited success.

Much like Fletcher, Stoddard is assaulted by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) on his first night in town and as John Wayne's Tom Doniphon explains to Stoddard - you have to fight fire with fire, and as much as Stoddard wants Valance put behind bars, violence is the only solution to a mind like Valance.  And so the famous conclusion with the realisation, and the memorable, 'when the myth becomes fact, print the myth' holds greater sway as Stoddard is now an elected Senator on the back of his feat of being said man.

The new print format on this DVD release from Eureka! entertainment features stunning cinematography in glorious Techniscope and a thrilling orchestral score from the renowned Ennio Morricone. 

The pictures and the framing of the action in this Texas landscape is helped by the ruthless and convincing performances by the esteemed cast.  Spaghetti westerns (western genre pictures produced in Italy) were made famous by Sergio Leone's Dollars (1964-66) trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood in the mid-1960s and this production made in 1967 is symptomatic of those thrilling films, retaining the same zest for excitement and thrill seeking.

Not to do a discredit this picture, it does convincingly portray a picture what the cruelty and ruthless west must have been like - the dynamic relationship between the learned Fletcher and outlaw Bennett, and how cleverly the educated man from the east attempts to takeover the man of the west, can be interpreted as a comment on imperialism which coming from a European viewpoint is both tantalising and alternatively creative.

However, as the western genre lives on mythologising men to epic status above their station as sheep herders and cattle ranchers; so this authentic slice of stylish 1960s Italian cinema, this film is ripe for reappraisal and should be allowed to create its own myths.

The DVD contains the original Italian audio with new English subtitles, and new Technicolour print; US and Italian theatrical trailers; an interview with director Sergio Sollima, a lavish 16 page booklet containing a new essay by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes.

Available from Eureka! on 20 June 2011 on both Blu-Ray and DVD.
Jamie Garwood

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