The name “Lucio Fulci” is synonymous with horror. And for good reason. Fulci made a lot of amazing horror films. But, as I’ve written many times before on Mondo Exploito, Fulci was more than just a horror director and dipped his toes in almost every genre imaginable. Fulci made three Westerns in his career – Massacre Time (1966), Four of the Apocalypse (1975) and, the focus of this article, Silver Saddle (1978). (He also had something to do with A Bullet for Sandoval (1969) – he may or may not have directed some of it – and his White Fang movies have a definite Spaghetti Western flavour.) I consider Four of the Apocalypse one of his very best films and Massacre Time a greatly entertaining piece of pulp – these are two films that couldn’t be more different in their execution. Silver Saddle falls somewhere between the two stylistically and, while it’s the weakest of Fulci’s three Westerns, it is a whole lot of fun.
original title: Sella d’argento
aka: They Died with Their Boots On
Italy, 1978, Lucio Fulci
On paper, reordered and clarified, Silver Saddle‘s plot is perfectly decent. It’s nothing special, but decent. Despite being fairly uninspiring Western archetypes, the characters are likable and the actors perform their parts well (especially Geoffrey Lewis as Snake). The twists in the story are obvious from the beginning, but their reveals are handled with flair. Where Silver Saddle really stumbles is its structure. The film meanders for long stretches of time, introduces and removes characters too quickly, repeats useless information and its latter half is a mess. One of the film’s primary villains is removed far too early – to the point that I assumed he must still be alive and would reappear in the finale – and the addition of the Mexican gang comes entirely out of left field. Still, Silver Saddle manages to wrap up neatly and Roy Blood’s back-story shown in the film’s opening is a nasty treat. Rather than being a consistently good film, Silver Saddle is punctuated by excellent scenes in a sea of mediocre ones.
Silver Saddle‘s strength lies in its stylistic execution. Fulci makes the most of what must have been a reasonably decent budget – at least by his standards. The camera is almost always on the move with impressive sweeping shots hidden among the obligatory (and welcomed) camera zooms. Fulci captures the Western landscapes and sets with skill giving a true sense of the Wild West. Even better than the visuals is the unbelievable score from Fabio Frizzi, Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera. I’m not sure who was responsible for what, but every bit of music used in Silver Saddle is excellent from the (admittedly cheesy) theme song that lyrically (and very literally) tells the tale of Roy Blood to the background score. The best track is used as kind of a theme song for “2 Strike” Snake. Here’s a sample:
Silver Saddle‘s plot may meander, but its scenes of action certainly do not. While the visual style, score and gentler moments of Silver Saddle are similar to that of Four of the Apocalypse, the acrobatic gunfights and violence reminded me more of Massacre Time. The film opens with a bang with the death of Roy Blood’s father. A ten-year-old Roy watches on as his father is shot by one of Barrett’s men. The fury builds in the young Roy, he picks up the gun and fires it into his father’s killer whose back gorily explodes. This scene does an excellent job of setting up Roy Blood as a tough, no nonsense hero. Later shoot-out scenes have an equally hard-hitting impact. The first confrontation with the Mexicans is particularly exciting as Blood, Snake and Barrett Jr. create makeshift explosives to aid their battle.
Silver Saddle is not Fulci’s best, it’s not even his best Western. But it’s a solid piece of entertainment that most forgiving Spaghetti Western fans will enjoy. The score alone warrants the film a viewing. And for Fulci lovers, if you can accept that it is fairly gore free and appreciate the other Fulci qualities on display, you should find yourself having a very good time with this one.