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Western films, from silent to today

Machine Gun Killers (1968)

Robert Wood is Capt. Chris Tanner, a Union officer suspected of treason after someone steals the newly invented gatling gun, kidnaps its maker and leaves behind the mutilated corpses of three people who were going to guide the weapon back East. He’s sentenced to hang.

But Pinkerton knows he’s innocent and someone else is guilty of the crime. So he arranges for Tanner to assume the identity of another prisoner and head to Las Cruces to clear his name, recover the gun and rescue Richard Gatlin.

But he’ll be surprised to learn that both are not in the possession of the Southern army, but rather a half-breed bandit named Tarpas and his mysterious partner.

Their plan: Ransom Gatlin to the Union for $1 million; sell the gun to the South for another $1 million.

So it’s Tanner against the South, the bandits and his own army.


Intelligent and excellent looking Spaghetti Western mixing occasional touches of humor with a plot much more complicated than we’re used to. Supporting characters include a doctor who’s a spy for the North in a town sympathetic to the South, a Pinkerton man who’s hot on Tanner’s heels and a pair of lovely ladies — Ida Galli and Claudie Lange — to add a bit of spice to the whole affair.

There’s also a surprising undercurrent of racism. Lange’s character, Martha Simpson, wants nothing more to do with her one-time lover Tarpas now that he’s bought her a saloon because he’s a half-breed. And when the Southern gentlemen talks about the sacrifices made to raise the $1 million for the gatling gun, Tarpas reminds him it’s the slaves who were responsible for the labor that made the payment possible.

Among the scenes you’re likely to remember, there’s one in which Tanner pries a bullet from his hand, and the camera doesn’t shy away. Then there’s a lighter moment when Belle Boyd (Ida Galli), caught with a derringer under her pillow, reminds Tanner that he brought a gun to bed, too. She presents him with his six-gun, the trigger hole wrapped around her toe.

Directed by:
Paolo Bianchini (Paul Dawson)

Robert Woods … Capt. Chris Tanner
John Ireland … Tarpas
Ida Galli … Belle Boyd (as Evelyn Stewart)
Tiziano Cortino … Jonathan Wallace (as Lewis Jordan)
Roberto Carmardiel … Dr. Curtis
George Rigaud … Ryckert
Claudie Lange … Martha Simpson (as Candice Lagen)
Ennio Balbo … Richard Gatlin
Gerard Herter … Bishop
Tom Felleghy … Pinkerton
Furio Meniconi … Jeremiah Grant

The Gatling Gun
That Damned Hot Day of Fire
Quel caldo meledetto giomo di fuoco

Memorable lines:

Tarpas henchman #1: “Those three are in hell right now.”
Tarpas henchman #2: “Even the devil won’t recognize them.”

Bartender: “Whiskey, mister?”
Tanner: “This early in the morning? Are you crazy? Coffee. A gallon of coffee.”
Bartender: “Here you go, mister. Coffee for you, doc?”
Dr. Curtis: “Jed, you’ve gone loco. Out of your head. Get me a bottle of whiskey.”

Dr. Curtis, after being punched by Tanner: “Man may be a traitor, but he would have made a damn fine dentist, Wallace, I’ll tell you that.” He reaches into his mouth and pulls out a tooth. “Clean break. I couldn’t do better myself.”

Bishop, handing a satchel over to Tarpas: “Almost every woman in the South has contributed with her personal jewelry. This is worth precisely $1 million. It cost us a great sacrifice.”
Tarpas: “Come on, hombre. All this was paid for by the sweat of your slaves.”

Martha Simpson: “Will I be seeing you again?”
Tanner: “I wouldn’t want to contaminate the perfect example of the pure race. You see, my grandmother was a Cherokee Indian.”

Tarpas to Martha, after catching her with Tanner: “You, you’re coming with me. And we’ll see who does who in.” He tosses her a dress. “Here. For a change, try putting your clothes on.”

Belle Boyd: “And, now, Mr. Grant, I’ll have to kill you.”
Her derringer clicks on an empty chamber. Twice.
Tanner: “When you sleep with a pistol under your pillow, you should be careful who you choose as your bedmate.”

Other tidbits

In an interview at the 2011 Los Angeles Spaghetti Film Festival, Robert Woods said he was given carte blance to cast this film after making a 1967 thriller “Massace Mania” and the same director. The only cast member he didn’t hire: Ida Galli, who was a friend of the producer.

Because he was 6-foot-5, Woods said he seldom had a stunt double. So he did his own stunts in this film, including being dragged by a horse and wrestling a bull. But he told the audience the bull was “much smaller than you imagined.”

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