More Dead than Alive

More Dead than Alive (1969, Robert Sparr) 

The title and the poster of the movie may give you the impression that this is a spaghetti western, but no, More Dead than Alive is an American movie. It stars Clint Walker as a former gunslinger - known as 'Killer Cain' - who has spent 18 years in jail and discovers that it's hard to leave his past behind. 

The film opens with protracted (and remarkably bloody) sequence of a jailbreak that ends in carnage. Cain refuses to help the jail breakers because he wants to serve his sentence and start a new life, but when he is finally released from jail, the world he once knew has become a recent memory and he himself a living anachronism. The only person willing to offer him a job, is a showman named Ruffalo, who asks Cain to perform as a sharpshooter in a traveling sideshow. Also working for Ruffalo is a young man named Billy Valance, who soon starts challenging Cain to a duel, in order to prove himself as a gunslinger ...  

The name Billy Valance is no doubt a reference to John Ford's, The man Who Shot LibertyValance, the movie that (along with Peckinpah's Ride the High Country) had established the End of the West as a dominant theme of American westerns from the decade. More Dead than Alive is set in a West that is no longer Wild, but the story device of the famous gunfighter who is repeatedly challenged by a younger man, is closer to Henry King's The Gunfighter, a western from Hollywood's glory years. The surprise ending (I won't give it away) also brings The Gunfighter to mind, but what worked marvelously in King's movie, is strangely ineffective here, leaving us with a feeling of malaise.
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Director Robert Sparr mainly worked for television and it shows. This is a routine movie, but it's well-cast and easy to enjoy. Walker and Francis (as the woman who helps him forget the past) are a nice, physically contrasting couple and Vincent Price is as flamboyant as ever as the sideshow barker. Singer/actor Paul Hampton overacts as the immature, psychologically unstable Billy, but the role seems to ask for it. The bloody opening sequence almost feels completely detached from the rest of the movie. In the previous year Bonnie and Clyde had a set a trend and in 1969 we saw various western with excessive bloodletting and a tragic ending in which the 'heroes' were shot to pieces. But movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Wild Bunch were movies about people who had chosen a violent lifestyle; in the case of More Dead than Alive the gory killings seem to undermine the anti-violence message of the movie. But those were the days, and in 1969 cowboys died in bloody fashion.


Director: Robert Sparr - Cast: Clint Walker (Cain), Anne Francis (Monica), Vincent Price (Ruffalo), Paul Hampton (Billy) - Written by George Schenk - Produced by Aubrey Schenk and Hal Klein - Music by Philip Springer

R.I.P. Clint Walker, Gentle Giant


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