A Coffin for the Sheriff [Una bara per lo sceriffo] (1965)
AKA Lone and Angry Man & Tomb for the Sheriff
Starring Anthony Steffen, Eduardo Fajardo, Fulvia Franco, George Rigaud, Armando Calvo, Arturo Dominici, Luciana Gilli, Miguel Del Castillo, Jesús Tordesillas, Tomás Torres, María Vico
Directed by Mario Caiano
Expectations: Low, but I enjoy Anthony Steffen so hopefully it’ll be good.
Let’s just cut to the chase: A Coffin for the Sheriff is a good, enjoyable spaghetti western, but one that is very average and clichéd. The fact that it remains interesting and fun is a testament to the quality of the storytelling, with the mystery of our main character Shenandoah slowly revealed over the course of the film. If you’ve seen any movie like this before, I’m sure you can unravel it rather quickly as I did, but regardless, it’s a story well told with lots of good scenes sprinkled throughout.
The film opens with Lupe Rojo’s gang robbing a wagon and murdering the people on it. This leads into an awesome montage of wanted posters, telegraph operators and the ever-riding Lupe Rojo as he continues to skirt the law in any way he can. After this we meet Shenandoah (played by genre-staple Anthony Steffen), a mysterious stranger who rides into town and has a run-in with the bandit group. Instead of fighting against them as you’d expect though, he rides off with them, helping an injured member escape along with him. Is this Shenandoah worthy of your trust? (On a side note: The word/name Shenandoah ranks near the top of my most hated words in the lexicon of classic Western cinema and its use here continues to annoy me.)
My favorite scene in the film is a toss-up between his gang initiation sequence and the finale. In the first, Shenandoah tensely stalks another of the bandits through the rocky terrain of
the American Southwest Spain while the plaintive guitar of Francesco De Masi’s score sets the tone. It’s pretty much without dialogue and a great display of visual filmmaking as he hides in the rocks and sets up clever ruses for the all-too-stupid bandit to fall for. The finale is equally satisfying with a big shootout at the bandit’s camp which leads into a one-on-one battle between Shenandoah and the biggest asshole of the bandit group, Murdock played by Eduardo Fajardo. Murdock is a great heavy, with a sly, evil smile and a perpetually open shirt that allows his glistening blond-haired chest to breathe. Murdock’s over-the-top murderous attitude is a perfect foil to the stoic hero Shenandoah played by Anthony Steffen. Steffen hasn’t quite solidified his classic hard stare as seen in later films No Room To Die & Django the Bastard, but it’s clear he’s working on it and trying to perfect it.
Director Mario Caiano does a good job overall, with little strokes of brilliance here and there mixed in with some really average, uninspired filmmaking. Overall it adds up to an enjoyable film with a well-told tale, but it never reaches its full potential because the filming isn’t quite iconic or interesting enough to garner any real response. I’ll probably forget most of this movie within the next few days, but when it’s good, it’s good, featuring great overhead shots of a poker game and fantastic uses of tight, extreme close-ups in the tensest of moments to really sell the emotions playing out between the characters. Obviously these close-ups are taken from Leone’s playbook (and he does it much better), but I’ll take what I can get.
And don’t worry, A Coffin for the Sheriff also sports the requisite Western gunfights, saloon brawls & dudes falling out of windows and off of rooftops. It’s a fun, well-made film (for the most part) and one that genre fans should enjoy, even if it is on the more clichéd and obvious side of things.