Mill Creek Entertainment, our favorite releasing company for cool, off-beat, inexpensive titles here at the Movies & Drinks offices, has released a single Blu-ray disc Western double feature: 1966’s Fort Yuma Gold, starring Giuliano “Montgomery Wood” Gemma, Dan Vadis, and Sophie Daumier, and 1968’s Damned Hot Day of Fire, starring Robert Woods, John Ireland, and Evelyn Stuart. Now…fair to say: I almost ditched this disc when I saw ad copy on the back of the case that stated these two spaghetti Westerns were favorites for Quentin Tarantino (please don’t get me started on the former video store clerk-turned-former video store clerk who extensively copies real artists…). However, having just watched a week’s worth of religious epics, I needed some kind of sadistic, violent counterweight for my pop culture equilibrium, and Fort Yuma Gold and Damned Hot Day of Fire proved to be reasonably diverting, undemanding action fare. Let’s look at Fort Yuma Gold today.
By Paul Mavis
The American Southwest, right after the cessation of The War Between the States. In a grim Union outpost, Confederate prisoners of war chafe under the brutal tactics of Corporal Wilson (Fulvio Mingozi)…that is, until rebel leader Gary Hammond (Giuliano Gemma) decides he’s had enough, and kicks the sh*t out of the bullying corporal. No repercussions for Hammond are forthcoming, though, because Union Sergeant Pitt (Nello Pazzafini) sympathizes with the Confederate p.o.w.s, at least in terms of how they should be treated—as human beings.
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When the bodies of slain Union soldiers are brought back to the Fort, killed by hulking brute, Riggs (Dan Vadis) and his bandit gang, the fort’s colonel (Andrea Bosic) belays the execution of some of the captured assailants to gather information. He discovers a plot by Rebel Major Sanders (Jacques Sernas) to lead 800 former Quantrill Raiders against Fort Yuma, unaware that the fort is heavily fortified. At the same time, Riggs wants to use the diversion of Sanders’ assault to cover his own heist of the fort’s gold payroll, facilitated by going through a nearby empty mine shaft. The Colonel wants Hammond to serve as guide for Sgt. Pitt and Captain Lefevre (Angel del Pozo) to reach Fort Yuma before Sanders and Riggs, to avoid a massacre of Hammond’s former confederates.
Hammond reluctantly agrees, and has ideas of skipping out once he’s out of the fort, but he develops a camaraderie with Pitt…and a stronger one with saloon chanteuse, Connie Breastfull (Sophie Daumier). However, Hammond soon learns there is a traitor among the group, and he’ll pay dearly before he can thwart the assault on Fort Yuma.
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Directed by Giorgio “Calvin J. Padget” Ferroni, Fort Yuma Gold, while no landmark, is certainly a respectable entry in the western all’italiana genre. Ferroni, equally adept at editing and screenwriting, was a seasoned jack-of-all-trades in the Italian movie industry, where he had worked since the 1930s in genres as diverse as documentary, peplum, and comedy.
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Six writers are credited to Fort Yuma Gold (Augusto Finocchi, Massimiliano Capriccioli, Sandro Continenza, Remigio Del Grosso,Leonardo Martín, Gilles Morris-Dumoulin), with a story that owed not a little bit to Jules Verne’s 1876 novel, Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar (particularly the plot element of the hero pretending to be blind to thwart his tormentors). Usually that many cooks spoils the soup, so it’s a testament to Ferroni’s marshaling skills that Fort Yuma Gold’s busy storyline comes over in a cohesive, professional manner.
Whenever the routine threatens to overtake Fort Yuma Gold, something unexpected happens to let us know that this is one of the better outings in that notoriously “iffy” genre, the spaghetti western. Funny little asides, like the town bum lamenting, “Peace sure is hell,” (no more booze or loose women), alternate with surprising plot twists, like Sgt. Pitt buying it early (I thought for sure he was going to be Gemma’s Bud Spencer), or Riggs not raping Miss Breastfull (he gets her to strip, and then contemptuously sneers, “Enough of this comedy.” He was merely looking for the hidden dispatch).
The production design looks fairly opulent for the usually low-budget spaghettis (cinematographer Rafael Pacheco achieves a couple of nice lighting effects). And Ferroni’s pacing is assured, particularly during the effective “blind” segment, where Gemma pretends to be sightless…while picking off his enemies, one by one (famed Enzo G. Castellari, working here as assistant director, is credited with the massive barroom brawl; it’s flawlessly choreographed like a hyper-violent ballet).
Ever since the media a few years ago conspired with the Left to make anything related to the Confederacy a hate crime waiting to happen (so long, Duke boys!), I’ve wondered what the “film critics” (heehee!) would do with all those formerly-beloved spaghetti westerns that sympathized with the underdog Southern cause (uh oh…). Fort Yuma Gold takes a fairly “live and let live” approach to the Civil War (thus, according to today’s goon squad orthodoxy, this movie needs to be permanently erased…), with Union and former Confederacy agents ultimately working together to defeat bandits whose motivation is greed, not “cause.” I don’t suppose, though, that we’ll hear a peep about that “old Indian trick” which constitutes Fort Yuma Gold’s most memorable scene: Gemma staked out in the desert, his eyes pried open with rope netting and tiny mirrors, to blind himself in the blazing sun. Bet no one is going to bitch about that….
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s film reviews here. Read Paul’s TV reviews at our sister website, Drunk TV.