Death Rides a Horse (1968) is an excellent example of the overlooked Italian "Spaghetti" western a diamond in the rough which deserves more attention than it has received. Made toward the end of the 'spaghetti Western' phenomena, it embodied the best elements of the genre and, among fans, it's considered a highly polished, exciting, and beautifully staged film. It is distinguished by three important elements: a beautiful score by the legendary Ennio Morricone which primarily utilizes voices, chants, and choral effects, a typically tough and understated performance by the great Lee Van Cleef who conveys more meaning and character detail through a simple gesture like squinting his eyes than most action stars, and the great storytelling skills of director Giulio Petroni who uses the widescreen as a painter would a canvas.
While all of these contributed to the success of Death Rides A Horse, perhaps the film's greatest asset was the skilled writing of Luciano Vincenzoni. A renown scenarist in the Italian cinema, Vincenzoni was responsible for the screenplays of a number of Sergio Leone's best films including For a Few Dollars More (1967) and Duck You Sucker(1971), as well as arguably the greatest 'spaghetti Western' ever made The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly(1966). Vincenzoni was to Italy what Borden Chase was to American Westerns of the 50's a poet of the lost soul finding revenge and redemption on the Western frontier. Some critics could easily accuse the writer of recycling elements from his previous films in Death Rides A Horse. What's easier to overlook are some of the thematic concerns this writer continually developed through the genre, especially with respect to issues of the importance of family and blood ties. Though Vincenzoni found his greatest expressionist in Sergio Leone in the mid 60's, it is clear that the director still has haunting, fascinating, and compelling stories to tell through such directors as Rene Clement (Wanted: Babysitter, 1975), Sergio Corbucci (Il Conte Tacchia, 1982), and most recently, Giuseppe Tornatore, for whom he wrote the story of Malena, an Oscar nominee in the 2000 Academy Awards race.
Producer: Henryk Chrosicki, Alfonso Sansone
Director: Giulio Petroni
Screenplay: Luciano Vincenzoni
Production Design: Rosa Gristina
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini
Costume Design: Enzo Bulgarelli
Film Editing: Eraldo Da Roma
Original Music:Ennio Morricone
Principal Cast: John Phillip Law (Bill), Lee Van Cleef (Ryan), Mario Brega (One-Eye), Luigi Pistilli (Wolcott), Anthony Dawson (Manina).
By Richard Steiner