Wednesday, August 6, 2014
“Zorro the Rebel” director Piero Pierotti’s “Tails, You Lose” qualifies as a sophisticated but bizarre Spaghetti western. Pierotti combines social commentary with a murder mystery and does a splendid job with both themes. Top-notch production values, exterior & interior sets, Carlo Savina’s superb orchestra score, strong performances, and Pierotti’s complex screenplay distinguish this out of the ordinary Italian oater. Although it isn’t strictly a savage shoot’em up over real estate or livestock, this sun-baked sagebrusher features several interesting characters, and Pierotti’s dialogue is occasionally catchy. The local undertaker observes after the hero is gunned down: “They all look the same when they’re dead, these no-good, two-bit, double-dealing cowards.” Essentially, the hero conforms to the anti-heroic tradition of the Clint Eastwood bounty hunter, except that he is an outlaw. Hollywood actor John Ericson establishes his felonious credentials during the pre-credit sequence. He vanishes for almost a half-an-hour after sticking up the stagecoach. Alluring actress Spela Rozin gets to wear a variety of costumes beginning with the regalia of a dance hall girl to a babe in buckskins. She undergoes a transformation. The roles for women here are traditional in one respect. Like the good ladies in John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” the good ladies in “Tails, You Lose” send the harlots packing, but they are a great deal more brutal than the “Stagecoach” ladies.
Not only does wanted desperado William Huston, alias the Black Talisman, (John Ericson of “Bad Day at Black Rock”) rob a stagecoach in Texas in 1892, but he also hijacks a sack of money and shoots the shotgun rider. Lenser Fausto Zuccoli zooms out to reveal our hard-riding highwayman galloping away; the awesome backdrop of a prodigious mountain dwarfs him and looks spectacular. The trouble erupts in the Arizona town of Plata in the 1890s when two gunslingers shoot each other over the affections of a dance hall warbler. One guy seized her umbrella and another knocked him down. They were prepared to shoot it out in the saloon but the town sheriff intervened and ordered them to take it to the streets. Imaginatively, Pierotti confines Fausto Zuccoli’s cameras to the saloon interior while the sounds of the gunshots occur off screen. Comparatively, he doesn't show the heroine as she is raped. One of the duelers enters the saloon as if in triumph until we get a glimpse of his perspective and the point of view shot quivers. The man, who we may have mistaken labeled the survivor, drops dead.
Later, the sister of a local pastor, Miss Phillips, advocates the exile of all the saloon harpies. “My brother—the minister--shall thunder from the pulpit: do we want Plata City to become another Sodom and Gomorrah?” Later, this grim dame in gray and black proclaims ominously, “We cannot allow that witch from the saloon and her tarts to continue” She pauses for dramatic emphasis, “To take our sons from us, our brothers, our husbands.” The Christian ladies invite the sheriff to their meeting to discuss their grievances or as he says “put him on trial.” “You know those ladies,” the lawman emphasizes, “they don’t spare you nothing.” Burton the banker warns Shanda about the wrath of the women. “They’re envious and they’re bored,” he explains. “They have turned to religion for excitement. Ever since you arrived with your girls, they say that they are losing the fervor of their husbands, and the number one bigot among those shrews is the pastor’s sister.” The severe-looking, tight-lipped Miss Phillips leads a crowd of women to the saloon, and they trash the premises. The saloon girls try to escape without luck. The sadomasochistic wife of a philandering banker derives sexual gratification from watching a bare-backed prostitute, a Mexican girl (Edwige Fenech), whipped by another woman in brown. Some of these girls are whipped, while others are tarred and feathered. The banker’s wife, who turns out to be a sexual deviant, kills her husband and then frames the saloon girl Shanda (Spela Rozin) for his demise. The sheriff spares Shanda and sends two of his deputies to escort her to Phoenix. Along the way, another man of questionable character joins the two deputies. The three rape her.
Although he held up the stage like a villain, Huston shows up and discovers Shanda after she has left for dead in the desert. Spela Rozin presents a delectable looking specimen of feminity sprawled nearly nude except for a blanket. Initially, Shanda mistakes Huston of one of the men. Eventually, they grow to trust each other. Huston makes an interesting comment about Shanda: “You know, if you’ve been wronged, you’ve got what it takes for revenge. You’re quite a wild cat.” The curious Huston launches his own investigation. “Tails, You Lose” amounts to a different kind of Spaghetti western. The lean, good-looking Ericson cuts a distinctive figure in his green denims.