There were an awful lot of correlations between the Spaghetti Western and the Spy Genre:
- They both came about at roughly the same time (the Italian’s didn’t really get in on the Eurospy act until 1964ish)
- They both centred around super-skilled protagonists who veered towards amorality
- They both featured larger-than-life villains surrounded by disposable henchmen hiding out in impregnable ‘fortresses’.
As well as these thematic similarities, though, there were a handful of Westerns which bought the links closer, giving their heroes (or antiheroes) distinctly superspy-ish credentials. The best known of these was, of course, the Sartana series, whose star Gianni Garko also appeared in the strange Price of Death as a super-suave sagebush private eye. One of the earliest western / spy cross-overs, though, was Franco Giraldi’s Sugar Colt.
Hunt Powers stars as Sugar Colt, a renowned gunfighter who has retired and is now running a school for ‘ladies who want to learn how to protect themselves’. Not a bad job, if you can get it. He’s approached by an old friend, Pinkerton (George Rigaud), who asks him if can help investigate something rather strange; an old friend has asked him to look into the disappearence of his son, who was a member of a squad of sharpshooters who vanished towards the end of the civil war. No bodies have turned up, but several relatives of the missing soldiers have received ransom notes, explaining that their loved ones are being held prisoner and will be killed if they don’t pay a sum of money. Sugar Colt is reluctant to get involved, but when Pinkerton is gunned down he changes his mind.
After a bit of detective work, he guesses that it all has something to do with the goings on at Snake Valley, a small town with little in the way of attractions for the casual visitor. In order to find out more, he disguises himself as a geeky doctor in search of new clients, setting himself up at the saloon owned by Bess (Gina Rovere) and her niece Josefa (Soledad Miranda). He rapidly gets to know the local bigwigs, most particularly wealthy Colonel Haberbrook (Giuliano Raffaelli) and his sinister sidekick Yonker (Erno Crisa).
He eventually works out that just about the whole town has conspired to take the soldiers captive (killing many of them in the process), imprison them in Haberbrook’s ranch and make any money it can out of them. And they’re none too happy about Sugar Colt’s snooping into their affairs.
This was Giraldi’s first film, and it’s not a bad debut. It certainly looks great, with superb cinematography from Alejandro Ulloa and music by Lui Bacalov. The story is rather unusual, and the whole hostage / town in cahoots aspect is a bit different (it’s worth noting that Fernando Di Leo had a hand in it, as well as Sandro Continenza (of Mission Bloody Mary), Augusto Finocchi and Giuseppe Mangione). But…somehow it all feels a bit flat. Perhaps it’s because the villains are never really bought centre-stage, but also it suffers from some rather slow patches before erupting into a barnstorming climax. The mood also veers between comedy and drama, and as a result it lacks a certain focus. That said, it’s entertaining enough and made with some skill.
This was Giraldi’s first film, and he went on to make the phenomenally succesful Seven Guns for the MacGregors (66) and Up the MacGregors (67), both of which concentrated more on the comedy than the drama. His best genre film, though, was A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (68), and he later had some success making comedy films and working in TV. It was also Hunt Powers first Italian film, although he’d had some experience on American Television; he’d go on to appear in a good half dozen spaghetti westerns, of generally decreasing quality.