Koch Media Western Collection #3: Arizona Colt Returns R2 DVD Review

Arizona Colt Returns, or, as it is known in Germany, Der Tod Sagt Amen, was intended and marketed as a sequel to Michele Lupo's Arizona Colt released in 1966, but in reality, the cast & crew overlap between the two films is slim, with the notable exception of Roberto Camardiel (who reprises his role as WhiskeyI). Instead of Giualino Gemma, Anthony Steffen now plays the titular hero, and Sergio Martino directs. Even so, don't expect a huge leap in terms of quality: We're talking about thoroughly mediocre C-list westerns here, where the most striking consequence of a main actor's replacement inbetween sequels is a difference in facial hair density. Acting, ha! We've got guns, women and horses. Isn't that enough already?

It's still worth talking a bit about this film, however, because it not only marks Sergio Martino's first step in the spaghetti western landscape, but in feature filmmaking in general. He would go on to cover a dozen genres from giallo to poliziesco, but simply came too late to have any success with horse operas. Only when Enzo G. Castellari directed Keoma in 1976, Martino made his final attempt at the genre with Mannaja - a film far superior to this one. Arizona Colt Returns is a typical example of an Italian director's early craftsmanship: Technically solid and decently paced, but so bland and unoriginal that you could freely switch reels in the middle of the film and no one would notice.

Arizona Colt (Steffen) and his comical sidekick Whiskey (Camardiel) are on the run from the law, having been accused of robbing a number of stagecoaches. They are thrown into prison after a saloon brawl, but manage to escape shortly afterwards. Turns out that bandit leader Chico (Aldo Sambrell) was really behind the robberies. What follows is the usual hotpot of vengeance, betrayal and snarky comments - mostly from Whiskey. And it's really those lines which manage to inject a little life into an otherwise dull experience. While we've all come to expect similar storylines from our spaghetti adventures, the better ones at least sport interesting cinematography, exciting shootouts or unusually creative torture sequences. As a late entry into the genre, Arizona Colt Returns cannot even hold up with the second-tier titles.

Anthony Steffen's more serious screen persona is supposed to offset Camardiel's character, but it doesn't really work. The film was apparently made at a time when serious westerns were being replaced by comedic romps of the Spencer/Hill variety; as a result, there is a constant, awkward shift between tones, as if producers and writers couldn't really decide in which direction to take their picture. Steffen's stiff acting doesn't really help in that regard and rather complements the equally uninspired direction.

Watching Arizona Colt Returns more than 30 years after its release, we can obviously take comfort in knowing that Martino would continue to make far better films later on. There is worse out there, but with so many great spaghetti westerns around on DVD these days, spending an afternoon on this one is, frankly, a waste of time.

Unfortunately, Arizona Colt Returns so far represents the weakest link in Koch Media's excellent Spaghetti Western Collection. In comparison to the previous releases, A Bullet For The General and Yankee, the video transfer is significantly weaker (but still watchable). More problematic is how the disc is completely devoid of any English language options, which makes it hard to recommend it to anyone but the most dedicated spaghetti western fans. English options have been present on almost all Koch DVDs so far. Why they have not been included here is puzzling - perhaps because of licensing issues (UPDATE: Turns out that Koch have included English subs for the main feature after all, simply choosing not to advertise them neither on case nor DVD menu - thanks to reader Bill for catching this. Might make it a little more worth importing this release!)

It wouldn't be so aggravating if not for the fact that the two included interviews with director Sergio Martino and actor Dan van Husen make for almost 40 minutes of highly informative additional entertainment. And they have a lot to say. Martino comments on his own career with glee, precisely remembering the work on Arizona Colt Returns. Van Husen, who starred mostly in minor character roles back in the time, shares tons of funny anecdotes and recalls working with Kinski and other great actors. These two interviews are easily the best of the Spaghetti Western Collection so far, possessing an appeal that extends beyond the realm of the spaghetti western.
The only problem? Martino talks in Italian, and only German subtitles are available. Van Husen speaks in German, so no subtitles at all there. For people not skilled in either language, that's a major turn off.

Let's hope then that the Koch Media Spaghetti Western Collection will continue in stronger fashion again next year. From what I've heard, there's quite a lot in the pipeline. Stay tuned...

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