Poker with Pistols


aka Poker au colt (Fr), Un poker di pistole (US), Poker mit Pistolen (WG)
Gabriele Silvestri & Franco Palombi for Italcine TV-Picienne
Director: Joseph Warren [Giuseppe Vari]
Story & screenplay: Augusto Caminito (some sources also credit Fernando Di Leo)
Music: Lallo [Corilano] Gori (Nazionalmusic)
Cinematography: Angelo Lotti {Techniscope – Technicolor}
Editor: Renzo Lucidi
Set design: Demofilo Fidani
Cameraman: Giorgio Baldi Schwartze
Filmed: Elios Film Studios
Release information: Registered 01.07.67. Italy (07.07.67, 86 mins), France (26.06.74, Paris, 84 mins), West Germany (14.09.67, 86 mins)
Cast: George Hilton (Bronson), George Eastman [Luigi Montafiori] (Lucas), Annabella Incontrera (Lola), Dick Palmer [Mimmo Palmara] (Masters), Aymo Albertelli (Lola’s father), José Torres (Lazar)
Uncredited: Valentino Macchi (Pat, one of Masters’ men), Giulio Maculani (Masters’ henchman), Claudio Ruffini (Masters’ henchman), Giuseppe Castellano (Masters henchman with beard), Gino Marturano (a Mexican bandit)

Gambling always played an important part in Spaghetti Westerns and it was unusual for a film of the genre to pass without a hand of poker, spinning roulette wheel or more novel – and often sadistic – kind of wager. Card games, particularly, acted to reflect the twists and turns of the narrative, with the players’ bluffs and double bluffs mirroring the murky motivations of the characters themselves. The worst thing that could be done was to show your hand too early and any Spaghetti hero worth his salt would do his utmost to prevent his opponents (and often collaborators) from appreciating the true state of play. Poker with Pistols, like Alfonso Balcazar’s $5,000 on the Ace ($5000 sull’Asso, 64) brings the act of gambling to the fore – as is made explicit in the title – and has the assorted participants dance to an unclear beat until the winners and losers become clear at the very climax.

Suave, milk-drinking Bronson Terrail (George Hilton) arrives in town and immediately challenges the local cardsharp Lucas (George Eastman) to a game of poker. Much to everybody’s surprise, he wins. Rather than drive his opponent into total ruin, however, Terrail has a different proposition: that he should drive a wagon loaded with ‘paper’ to the border town of Chamaco in exchange for the cancellation of his debts and a payment of $5,000. Despite suspecting that something suspicious is going on, Lucas has no choice but to accept.

Despite some problems with the inevitable Mexican banditos it all seems to go well. He arrives in Chamaco and receives his payment – which comes in the form of gambling chips – but is surprised to find Terrail in the local saloon. They both embark on a successful gambling spree, which brings them to the attention of local bigwig Masters (Mimmo Palmara). Masters also happens to be the same person the ‘paper’ was being delivered to, and it soon becomes clear that he’s running a counterfeiting operation, flooding Mexico with forged currency.

As with most of director Giuseppe Vari’s films, Poker with Pistols is a somewhat po-faced affair: concise and uncomplicated, with little in the way of flamboyant trimmings or intellectual pretension. It may not come up with anything particularly new, but those seeking an hour and a half’s uncomplicated sagebrush action could do a lot worse. It certainly has its problems: the climax is extremely undercooked, the supporting characters are never sufficiently developed and the gambling scenes themselves are never particularly tense. That said, it speeds along swiftly enough to make these faults forgivable.

This is – at least partly – down to a characteristically no-nonsense script from the reliable Augusto Caminito and Fernando Di Leo, who also collaborated on the above average Long Days of Vengeance (I Lunghi giorni della vendetta, 66) and The Ruthless Four (Ognuno per se, 68). Vari was never the most flamboyant of filmmakers, and his work is rather pedestrian here, but at least it never distracts from the strong central story. The three of them (as well as make-up artist turned producer Franco Palombi) would again team up for the similarly blunt Death Rides Alone (Con lui cavalca la morte, 67), which came out all of three months later.

It also benefits from a couple of charismatic performances. George Eastman is best known in cult film circles as the unprepossessing star of 80’s trash such as The New Barbarians and Anthropophagous, but he actually started off as a rather effective Spaghetti Western lead. He fills a distaff Giuliano Gemma role here, with George Hilton – looking about ten years older than in the same year’s Greatest Robbery in the West (La piu grande rapina del West) – as his more enigmatic partner. The relationship between these two takes up most of the running time, but there’s some good support from the excellent Annabella Incontrera and Jose Torres, who do more than could be expected with their rather undefined roles.

One bizarre thing of note is the tendency for the plot to drift into totally peripheral side avenues. There’s one very odd bit with a couple of goons and their pornographic whisky bottle (don’t ask). I also enjoyed the detective skills of the George Eastman’s character, whose explanation as to why Mexicans always have worn down heels – because of their siesta, apparently – causes one bystander to exclaim ‘seems logical enough’. Logical? I somehow don’t think that Sherlock Holmes would have approved.


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