Written by: Michael Den Boer on January 26th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1968 (Beyond the Law), Italy, 1972 (The Grand Duel)
Directors: Giorgio Stegani (Beyond the Law), Giancarlo Santi (The Grand Duel)
Writers: Mino Roli, Giorgio Stegani, Fernando Di Leo, Lorenzo Sabatini, Inge Hilger (Beyond the Law), Ernesto Gastaldi (The Grand Duel)
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Antonio Sabato (Beyond the Law), Lee Van Cleef, Horst Frank (The Grand Duel)
DVD Released: November, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 110 minutes (Beyond the Law), 91 minutes (The Grand Duel)
Aspect Ratio: Both films are 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Wild East
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.95
Beyond The Law: Ben Novack (Antonio Sabato) has been hired by a mining company to escort the payroll money safely to the workers after a recent attempt to do so have failed. Billy Joe Cudlip (Lee Van Cleef) is the mastermind behind these robberies. Ben Novack befriends Billy Joe Cudlip while searching for the thieves’ in the desert and the two quickly form a bond. For the next payroll run the mining company has hired the town sheriff to come along and this time there are determined to shoot anyone who attempts to steal the payroll. Billy Joe Cudlip wants nothing to do with this next job. His two former colleagues’ insist on robbing the payroll one last time. Billy Joe Cudlip offers to ride along with the sheriff and Ben Novack as added protection. At first this robbery appears to go off without a hitch that is until another group of bandits show up with plans of their own that include all the silver in the mines or they will kill every woman and child in town.
This is the most complete version of Beyond the Law and there are even a few scenes in the film that are in Italian and subtitled in English. These consist of Novak eating with the other miners. The other scene involves preacher and his unnamed black sidekick as they distract and steal firearms from a dealer. The opening credits are slightly different form previous s U.S. version as they are inter-cut with scenes in the stage.
Lee Van Cleef really steals the show as Billy Joe Cudlip as he evolves from cold hearted bad guy into an honorable man. This film like many of Lee Van Cleef’s other spaghetti western performances as we see him in the role of mentor who shows the ropes to younger and often inept protégée. Antonio Sabato plays Billy Joe Cudlip’s young protégée Ben Novack who is still green behind the ears as he only just arrived recently from Europe. This was one of Antonio Sabato’s first roles and like most of the films that I have seen him in he looks stiff and lacks emotion. Bud Spencer of My Name is Trinity fame has a brief role in the film as James Cooper. Another secondary role that stood out for me was Lionel Stander as Preacher. His raspy voice and wiliness to do anything to make a quick buck always keeps him in the gutter.
Billy Joe Cudlip and his two sidekicks’ preacher and the unnamed black man never quite feel as though they are team or trust each. One has too wonder why Billy Joe Cudlip worked with these two men and why they just didn’t shoot him in the back when the job was done. The action is nicely draw out and orchestrated. The films final showdown in the mine quarry is impressive and inventive as all the gunslingers use their various surroundings to help them eliminate their enemies. Riz Ortolani delivers another magnificent score that a few times is oddly reminiscent of his score for Day of Anger which also stars Lee Van Cleef. Giorgio Stegani only directed a handful of films, still his direction is evenly balanced as it never gets to flashy and always keeps the plot moving along.
Beyond the Law is an above average spaghetti western that is greatly benefited by an excellent performance by Lee Van Cleef.
The Grand Duel: Philipp Wermeer is man who has been wrongly accused of killing old man Saxon. Now he is on the urn from the law and Saxon family who are hell bent on seeing him hang. Clayton (Lee Van Cleef) is a former sheriff who was there the evening old man Saxon died and he knows the real identity of the killer. Reluctant at first Philipp Wermeer joins forces with Clayton in quest to clear his name and find the truth behind his own fathers’ murder.
The Grand Duel has been release under various names and with different time lengths. Wild East’s DVD is about ninety one minutes in length which means about seven minutes is still missing. There is one abrupt and extremely noticeable cut that happens with one of the Saxon’s who is dressed in a white suit shoots a defenseless old man in the street. The old man rubs his bloody hand on the white suit. This scene on the Wild East DVD doesn’t show this despite it being in the trailer and after the man is shot there is a obvious jump in the scene.
Lee Van Cleef often played heavies and this time around he is given the chance to play a more straight forward character that is all about justice. From the opening moments of the film Lee Van Cleef owns this character as he was calm, cool and collected through out a town filled with bounty hunters. Outside of one of Lee Van Cleef’s finest performances the rest of the acting is average at best. The action sequences are violent and bloody something that had all but disappeared from spaghetti westerns being made around the same time as this film.
For a first time director Giancarlo Santi masterfully handles the spaghetti western genre. Ernesto Gastaldi’s screenplay manages to balance all the spaghetti western genre clichés while adding a few new into the mix. The story is meticulously plotted and we are given an ample amount of time to get to know the lead characters. Luis Enríquez Bacalov score is nothing short of brilliant and the films main theme is one of the most memorable pieces ever used in any spaghetti western. It is so mesmerizing and haunting that Quentin Tarantino used it in his film Kill Bill volume 1. The Grand Duel is one the last great spaghetti westerns to emerge before the genre finally called it a day.
Beyond The Law is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Wild East’s DVD marks the first time that this film is not only uncut but in its original aspect in North America. Colors are strong with some minor instances with they look muted and flesh tones look healthy. Details look sharp in the foreground and there are few instances when some of the objects in the background look a tad to soft. There are also a few instances of minor print damage and noticeable artifacts.
The Grand Duel is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Wild East’s DVD presents this film for the first time ever on home video in North America in its original aspect ratio. Unfortunately this DVD is cut by about seven minutes. Colors look adequate with a few minor instances of bleeding. Overall details lack sharpness and clarity as background objects look fuzzy and soft. Print damage in various degrees pops up through out and there is also some noticeable artifacts that show up from time too time.
Beyond the Law comes with only one audio option an English dubbed language track which is presented for this release in a Dolby Digital mono. The dialog is easy to follow and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Overall while not the most dynamic audio mix it more then gets the job done.
The Grand Duel comes with only one audio option an English dubbed language track which is presented for this release in a Dolby Digital mono. The dialog is clean and easy to understand. There is some minor instances of hiss and crackling, still nothing that ever becomes to distracting. Overall this audio mix is average at best.
Extras for Beyond the Law include a trailer for the film, a photo gallery and alternate English credits for the film. Extras for The Grand Duel include a trailer for the film and a photo gallery. The extras a minimal and this release could have greatly benefited from the addition of some meatier extras like a featurette or an audio commentary.
Wild East’s Lee Van Cleef double feature comes with two solid spaghetti westerns both in their original aspect ratios and at a more then affordable price. Even though this release may be far from perfect it is a more then suitable substitute until the definitive versions’ of these films come along, recommended.