If Not for the Terrifying, Sustained Threat of Sexual Assault, 'The Last Gun' Would Be Emotionless
This spaghetti western is clearly a prelude to Sergio Bergonzelli's later sexploitaiton films.
The Last GunDirector: Sergio Bergonzelli
Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Carl Möhner, Célina Cély, Kitty Carver, Livio Lorenzon
I'm sure there are others, but The Last Gun is the only Spaghetti Western I can think of that begins with voice-over narration. "The fast draw holds the law in its hands, and the big gun was boss," says a friendly cowboy voice that would be better suited for a Disney animation. "Now being boss wasn't just a matter of opinion. You had to be fast, real fast -- faster than Jim Hart's left hand."
We then see some washed-up old man who should be holding a pitchfork instead of gun challenge Jim Hart (Cameron Mitchell) to a duel. Hart fails to talk the guy out of it, so he has no choice but to use his left hand to draw a gun and shoot him down dead.
Although this brief introduction makes it clear that Hart is the fastest shot in the region, the hokey narration is not needed. It brings to mind some watered-down television western from the '50s. The spiel about how, to be the boss, you have to be faster than Hart's left hand is meaningless, since Hart spends the rest of the film trying to escape his reputation and take on the role of a pacifist shopkeeper rather than a 'boss'.
At least director Sergio Bergonzelli, who would later make a name for himself with a series of sexploitation films, realized the voice-over narration wasn't working and doesn't return to it. But by having the narration begin this film, yet it doesn't serve to guide or even conclude the story, Bergonzelli makes it evident that he doesn't know what he's doing with narration in The Last Gun. The entire film, in fact, is unfocused.
For example, he gives considerable screen-time to several unnecessary characters. It's nice to have fully developed minor characters in a film, but in the case of The Last Gun we aren't sure if they are minor. We wait for them to do something and when they don't, we wonder why we got to know them so well in the first place.
Guitar (Carl Mohner) is one of these characters. As his name suggests, he spends most of the film playing a guitar and singing songs. In fact, Jess Lindahl (Livio Lorenzon), the burley bald bastard who bullies himself to the head of a gang (and has plans to intercept a shipment of gold), recruits Guitar for this very purpose: to sing and play guitar. If all Guitar is going to do is make music, laugh, and hit on Dolores (Kitty Carver), the beautiful barmaid of the saloon Jess's gang hangs-out at while waiting for the gold shipment, why are we forced to spend so much time with him?
It's not like Hart needs help keeping our attention. Mitchell did okay in Minnesota Clay, which also came out in 1964. He's definitely limited in his range as an actor, but because for most of this film Mitchell, as Hart, plays the chump -- constantly getting laughed at and beaten by Jess's gang -- and only plays the badass in short scenes when wearing a mask. His guy-next-door persona works well in The Last Gun. His performance actually reminds me of Christopher Reeve's in Superman (1978). Although Reeves wasn't necessarily a convincing super-hero, he got the job done as the one-dimensional Clark Klent and the costume he wore as Superman was enough to distract from his acting. It's the same with Hart and the mask he wears when saving the damsels in distress of The Last Gun.
The main damsel in distress is the creamy-skinned, auburn-haired Janet (Celina Cely). She is to Hart what Lois Lane is to Superman. She's far from reaching the upper echelon of Spaghetti Western starlets, but she has a unique look and also a natural innocence that makes her an sympathetic victim. As Jess and his gang terrorize the town and eventually launch an all-out assault for the gold, Janet demeans Hart for refusing to make any attempt to stop them. She, of course, doesn't know that he is the masked man who saves her, as well as the rest of the women in the town, from the sexual assaults Jess's gang members are so eager to commit.
Indeed, every female character in the The Last Gun, no matter her age, faces a sustained threat of sexual assault. As demented as that sounds, it's through this unrelenting threat that Bergonzelli's uniquely perverted voice is heard and the film is almost redeemed for its many failures. If Jess's gang wasn't made-up of rapists who were always on the look out for female prey, The Last Gun would be emotionless and boring.
Since it was only the second of his 29 films and Sergio Leone had not yet popularized the genre, it seems that Bergonzelli was pressured by producers Luigi Gianni and Elio Sorrentino to model The Last Gun on the popular American westerns of the time; that is, more wholesome in its storytelling approach. But the intensity of the many attempted rapes is truly frightening in this film. A prelude, clearly, to Bergonzelli's later sexploitaiton films such as the minor cult-classic, In the Folds of the Flesh (1970).