Released on Quartet records in 2010.
THE HILLS RUN RED.
After the success of Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and its even more popular sequel FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Italian filmmakers began to see the potential of the western, and marked it as a genre of film that might be able to revitalise the then ailing Italian film industry. An industry which had been left almost depleted after Hollywood film makers had pulled out of Italy and ceased to produce epics such as BEN HUR, SODOM AND GOMORRAH,THE ROBE and their like, after the biblical slanted movie had lost it’s appeal with cinema audiences. Film makers based at the Cinecitta studios started to produce a number of westerns in the style of Leone,s initial Dollar films, attempting to both emulate and mimic the blueprint that Leone had created.
THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) was essentially an Italian western but also contained a number of the trademarks, themes and clichés that had become synonymous with American produced sagebrush saga‘s. This was also the first western produced by the ever industrious filmmaker Dino De Laurentis. Directed by Carlo Lizanni who for this particular project went under the pseudonym of Lee W Beaver. Lizanni is probably best known for directing Hollywood heavyweight actor Rod Steiger in THE LAST DAYS OF MUSSOLINI (1977) and for helming a number of lesser known Italian movies including the marginally successful spaghetti western REQUIESCANT in 1967. He was also responsible for making several films and dramas for Italian television which he excelled at during the 1980,s. The director provides us with some interesting camerawork throughout the movie including a Sergio Corbucci-esque violent and close up fist fight sequence. THE HILLS RUN RED or A RIVER OF DOLLARS (UN FIUME DI DOLLARI) as it had been originally entitled, was released in what can only be referred to as the boom year for the Italian western genre. As it was in 1966 that the spaghetti western really established itself with cinema goers outside of Italy.
Filmed in both Spain and Italy the production boasted a fairly robust cast that included American actors in three of the movies four principal roles, these were, Thomas Hunter, who had only just previous to THE HILLS RUN RED made his screen debut in another European western TRE PISTOLE CONTRO CESARE (DEATH WALKS IN LAREDEO). The seasoned veteran actor Dan Duryea, who had made a name for himself in numerous minor Hollywood motion pictures and American television productions. Plus a spirited and larger than life performance from Henry Silva who turned in a memorable if not a somewhat exuberant and as many critics said at the time an overblown portrayal of the psychotic and cruel Mexican, Mendez. These three performances and the trio of protagonists although being very different all came together and worked well within the films storyline, complimenting and supporting each other, giving the film a more realistic and believable quality.
The movie opens in 1865 at the end of the American civil war, two Confederate soldiers, Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) and Ken Seagall (Nando Gazzolo) steal an army payroll from what was the Northern States army. They are pursued by government troops who soon close in on them, the pair of former rebels quickly hatch a plan that one will jump from the wagon they are travelling in with the money packed into saddle bags and hide, whilst the other draws the attention of the Yankees. They cut cards to see who will stay and who will jump from the wagon and it is Seagall who gets the high card and takes the money and jumps, promising his comrade that he will take care of his wife and son. The plan being that they will meet up afterwards and divide the money. Things don’t go exactly as they hoped and Brewster is captured. After being beaten by his captors he is taken to a prison at the nearby Fort Wilson, where he is locked away for a punishing five years of forced labour and torture. When he is finally released Brewster makes his way back home, but upon arrival at his farm finds his home empty and run down and it is apparent that it has not been lived in for years. He finds a note from his wife Mary that tells him she thinks he has been killed in the war, and how she is struggling to make ends meet, it also explains that his friend Seagall who now calls himself Ken Milton returned from the war with lots of money, but refused to help her in her hour of need.
Seagall has been made aware of Brewster’s release from prison and instructs his foreman Mendez to despatch two of his men to make sure Brewster is killed, but things don’t go to plan thanks to the timely intervention of a stranger who is taking shelter in the barn, Getz (Dan Duryea) helps Brewster by throwing him a pistol with just two bullets in it. Brewster shoots one of his attackers and then fights with the other, eventually killing him with his attackers own knife. Getz tends to Brewster’s wound and together they decide to try and bring about Seagall’s downfall. Brewster convinces Getz that the only way to show Seagall that he is dead is to remove a tattoo from his arm by cutting it off and showing it to Seagall, Getz does this somewhat reluctantly, and takes the tattoo to Seagall, who on seeing it is convinced that Getz is telling him the truth. He is so grateful that he gives Getz a job at his ranch. Brewster goes to town where he has a disagreement with two of Seagall’s men and guns them down in the saloon, he assumes the name of Jim Huston, and it is not long before Mendez tracks him down and after a violent fist fight with a number of Seagall’s thugs, Mendez decides that Brewster/Huston is the kind of man he needs on his side. Brewster receives information that Seagall plans to attack and punish the people of Austin who refuse to bow down to his attempts to take over the city. Brewster travels to Austin and organises the inhabitants into defending themselves, but is himself wounded during the fight with Seagall’s henchman and is nursed back to health by Mary Ann (Nicoletta Machiavelli) who is none other than Seagall’s sister. Seagall finally realises who Brewster is and the two men lock horns in a deadly fight of strength and wills.
Getz reveals that he is actually a government agent, Colonel Winney Getz, who has been sent to investigate Seagall. Getz joins forces with Brewster in a final shootout against the tyrant and his men, a shootout in which Seagall and the loathsome Mendez are killed. The film reaches its conclusion with Brewster being re-united with his lost son Tim (Loris Loddy) and Getz appointing Brewster as Sheriff of Austin, with the ways of law and order prevailing once again. The mix of both Italian and what can be looked upon as Hollywood western stylisations worked well within this particular example, not only complimenting each other, but fusing together to create an interesting and also entertaining movie. The script by Piero Regnoli (who also worked on Navajo Joe in the same year) although being well paced was however a basic revenge story and not particularly original, and it is probably this factor that prevented THE HILLS RUN RED becoming categorised as one of the genres higher stratum examples.
But, it is still nonetheless one of the better middle ground entries within the spaghetti western collective of movies because of its high production values and also because of the outstanding and realistic performances of its cast and invigorating musical score.
The music for THE HILLS RUN RED was the work of Maestro Ennio Morricone but credited to Leo Nichols which was one of the composers nom de plumes during the early part of his career.( For reasons only known to the composer he tried to veil his involvement with the production.) It was Morricone and director Sergio Leone who were jointly responsible for establishing the sights and also the sounds of the Italian or spaghetti western, together they created what was to become the foundation for 90 percent of western movies and scores which were to follow in the wake of the now classic motion pictures, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Morricone’s soundtrack for THE HILLS RUN RED is somewhat overlooked by many and at times neglected by Morricone fans and also admirers of the genre alike. This is probably because of the success of the composers major works within the genre for movies such as the aforementioned Dollars trilogy and other key works ie: THE BIG GUNDOWN, NAVAJO JOE, DUCK YOU SUCKER, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, A PROFFESSIONAL GUN, THE GRAND SILENCE and THE FIVE MAN ARMY etc.
The score for THE HILLS RUN RED, relies largely upon a central or principal theme which is repeated throughout the movie in various arrangements, underlining the many chases, brawls and gunfights that occur. The composer also includes a variety of sounds and musical trademarks that he made use of within other scores both before and after scoring THE HILLS RUN RED, ie: Music box effects, jaunty saloon piano interludes and strong thematic properties where he utilises racing percussion that acts as a backdrop to urgent sounding brass flourishes. Female vocalist Gianna Spagnola features prominently within the work also, her distinct voice lending an almost earthy near primal savage rawness to the music, the lament of sorts that she performs creating not only effective atmospheric qualities but also character, strength and appeal to the work. The score also contains a somewhat bitter sweet sounding love song of sorts. “HOME TO MY LOVE” had lyrics by Audrey Nohra,who was to collaborate with Morricone on a number of title songs, the energetic and fast paced RUN MAN RUN for example.She also wrote lyrics for numerous other Italian composers,Franceso De Masi for example, the catchy and up tempo song FIND A MAN from the spaghetti western THE DIRTIEST STORY OF THE WEST had lyrics penned by Nohra and she collaborated with both De Masi and Alessandro Alessandroni on the theme from the now archetypal Italian western score ARIZONA COLT, entitled THE MAN FROM NOWHERE.
The music included on this compact disc is taken from album masters, the actual master tapes from the film having been lost or worse, maybe destroyed. The music cues here were first issued on a long playing record on the bootleg label POO during the 1970,s, a label which also issued Morricone’s THE HORNETS NEST and a handful of other hard to find soundtracks by various composers. There was also another long playing record issued of the score utilising the same music tracks which was said to have been produced in New Zealand, this release had different art work. Plus United Artists records in the United Kingdom issued one track from the score on a western compilation during the 1970,s. Since then tracks have appeared on various western compilations and the album version of the soundtrack was released onto compact disc for the first time by FSM in the United States at the end of 2009, but was part of a collection of compact discs and could not be purchased as a single item. The box set contained a number of MGM soundtracks from both the 1960,s and 1970,s HORNETS NEST among them, and although this is a magnificent collection a number of collectors missed out on it because it was a limited edition and sold out very quickly.
john Mansell 2010.