Sunday, July 23, 2017

#2,390. His Name was King (1971)

Directed By: Giancarlo Romitelli

Starring: Richard Harrison, Anne Puskin, Goffredo Unger

AKA: In the Philippines this film was released as Bullet King

Trivia: Quentin Tarantino used a portion of this film's theme song for a scene in Dhjango Unchained

This morning I found myself in the mood to watch an Italian western. So, to satisfy this craving, I grabbed Mill Creek’s 12-film set “Ten Thousand Ways to Die: The Spaghetti Western Collection” and looked over the titles on the back cover, hoping one would jump out at me. 

Some were promising: 1970’s God’s Gun has a cast that includes Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, and Sybil Danning (quite a trio, eh?). But the moment I started reading about His Name was King, I knew it was the movie for me.

What was it about this 1971 film that caught my eye?

Three little words… “Starring Klaus Kinski”!

John Marley, aka “King” (Richard Harrison) is on a mission to wipe out the Benson brothers (Goffredo Unger, Lorenzo Fineschi, and Federico Baldo), who murdered King’s only brother George on his wedding day moments after they raped George’s new bride Carol (played by Anna Puskin). Leaving Carol behind with his good friend, Sheriff Brian Foster (Kinski), King sets off for the border, where rumor has it the Bensons are stealing guns for a ruthless gang of Mexican banditos.

Teaming up with Major Ericson (Tom Felleghy) of the U.S. Cavalry, King does what he can to stop the Benson brothers from delivering their ill-gotten gains (the most recent weapons cache they swiped included six Gatling machine guns). It isn’t until much later, however, that King realizes the Bensons are actually working for someone else… 

Aside from its kick-ass title song (“His Name Is King”, written by Luis Bacalov and performed by Edda Dell’Orso), a portion of which Quentin Tarantino borrowed for a key scene in Django Unchained, His Name was King is a serviceable, if unspectacular spaghetti western. There are a few tense shootouts, a high body count, and a gang of baddies you love to hate (the Bensons are an ornery bunch, and even piss off their Mexican cohorts when they demand a couple of young senoritas as part of their payment). If I had one issue with the movie, it’s Richard Harrison as the title character. He’s not bad, per se... just bland, and more often than not the scenes without him are more engaging than those in which he appears.

And how about Kinski? Well, as opposed to the manic performances he delivered when working with Werner Herzog (Aguirre The Wrath of God, Fitzcaraldo, Cobra Verde), his Sheriff Brian Foster is a pretty laid-back guy. In fact, Foster might be the most easy-going lawman I’ve ever seen in this sort of film (he only loses his temper once, though it’s for a good reason). Maybe “laid back” isn’t the right term; more than anything, Kinski looks bored. His character spends a great deal of time shuffling, ever so slowly, around his office, and the actor even pauses occasionally in the middle of delivering a line (perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps not).

It’s the kind of performance that Werner Herzog would have never allowed. But Kinski is Kinski, even when he’s phoning it in. And he’s still one of the more interesting elements of His Name Was King.

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