Kill Them All And Come Back Alone

Director: Enzo G. Castellari   
Chuck Connors, Frank Wolff, Franco Citti

Although I certainly spend a great deal of time writing about movies for this web site with the primary aim being to convince the public to give certain movies a chance (and to urge the public to give certain other movies a wide berth), at the same time I certainly believe in the proverb, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." In other words, when it comes to everything in my life, I try to also find a fun side to whatever I tackle, and that includes movies. As I've mentioned many times before on this web site, I watch a heck of a lot of movies not for the purpose of reviewing them, but for personal pleasure. And I have a great deal of books in my personal library concerning multiple aspects of the motion picture industry that I love to pick up and read, and I'm always expanding that library. There is one thing that I often love to read about concerning the motion picture industry, because it's a completely different case for every motion picture that it concerns. That aspect is how a movie, upon completion, is marketed to the public. For example, there is the whole aspect of a movie's theatrical poster and/or its video box cover. The art of a perfect movie poster or video box will manage to do more than one thing to the people who look at it. It will be attractive to the eye, and it will also clearly illustrate what the movie being advertised is about. If you don't manage to do both of those things, there is a high risk that your potential customer will be disinterested and will move on to other movie. I should know - there have been a ton of movies I have come across whose poster and/or video box art turned me off, sometimes to my regret when I much later watched the movies and saw that they were good after all.

There are other marketing aspects of movies that are equally as interesting as poster and video box art, such as the way that well known stars in the movie are trumpeted. But there is one particular way a movie is sold to the public that I really want to talk about, and that happens to be the title of the movie being sold. At first, you might think that the title of the movie isn't all that important. But it is. In his memoirs, movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff wrote about the Steven Spielberg-produced movie Arachnophobia, which despite very good reviews only did okay business at the box office. Arkoff blamed the disappointing turnout on the title of the movie, writing, "I'm convinced that most of the American public had no idea what the picture was about, at least not in the vital, early days of release when a title should grab the public from the moment they hear it." I think Arkoff may have been on to something there. Over the years, I have seen other good movies get doomed at the box office by bad titles. For example, there was the 1977 William Friedkin movie Sorcerer. The title got audiences thinking it was a movie akin to Friedkin's previous movie The Exorcist. But when the public discovered that it was instead a saga of down and out men trucking through the jungle, there was a big backlash, and in short order the movie died at the box office. Badly titling movies happens in other countries as well. I think I've mentioned before what happened with the Canadian movie Young People F**king, which was advertised without that censoring I put into writing the title. The movie got some good reviews, but did terrible business mainly because the unsubtle title turned off even the young adult audience the producers were trying to attract.

No doubt about it - a movie needs a good title, one that is both attractive and tells a potential audience what the movie is clearly about. And there is one particular country that has a film industry that for decades has come up with titles for its movies that manage to do both of those things. Kill Them All And Come Back AloneThat country is Italy. In the past, I have reviewed examples of Italian movies with great titles that grab you, such as The Bloodstained Shadow and Strip Nude For Your Killer. Those titles certainly not only gave me an idea of what the movies were about, but made them so irresistible that I knew I had to watch them. It's even better when it comes to the spaghetti westerns that Italians have put out. Such great spaghetti western titles that have grabbed me include God Forgives, I Don't and Heads You Die, Tales I Kill You. But the ultimate title I have ever come across in the spaghetti western genre has to be Kill Them All And Come Back Alone. Naturally, as soon as I heard of that title, I knew I had to see it, and I promptly bought the DVD. I first heard of the movie through the book Spaghetti Westerns - The Good, The Bad, And The Violent by Thomas Weisser, a book that reviews practically all the spaghetti westerns that were ever made. What made the movie sound even sweeter was the plot description in the book, which read as follows: "Clyde Link (Connors, Skinheads) is a captured Confederate soldier who schemes with Union prison guard Sergeant Bryant (Wolff, Once Upon A Time In The West) and the commandant, Lynch (Citti, The Godfather), to steal the Army's gold reserve, harbored at that very depot. The heist goes well. After killing everybody who helped (and escaped with him) in the caper, Link goes to join his two real partners (Bryant and Lynch), but they double-cross him. The commandant shoots the Rebel, and thinking he's dead, they bury him. Later that night, he claws his way out of the grave and hunts down the traitorous conspirators."

Based on what I just reported on above, there are probably some readers who are right now yelling foul, claiming that I have spoiled much of the movie for them. Let me assure you that this isn't the case, and that isn't because there are more plot twists and turns to come. The fact is that, aside from the claim that there is a gold heist, the rest of this description from the book simply isn't true. Connors' character in the movie is in fact named "Clyde MacKay", there is no "Sergeant Bryant" character in the movie, and the character of Lynch is actually portrayed by Wolff, not Citti. The opening of the movie, where MacKay is given his orders, takes place in a Confederate army camp, not a Union prison camp, though a Union army camp is where the gold is being kept. And right after the heist is pulled off, MacKay's doesn't kill off everyone in his gang. It should come as no surprise that MacKay isn't shot and buried alive. At this point, I should point out that while I did come across some praise for Weisser's spaghetti western guide, I also came across some criticism that some of its facts are wrong. Based on this utterly wrong description for the movie, I must conclude that this criticism is justified, and so let me use this opportunity to warn all spaghetti western fans who might consult this book. So, what is the actual plot of the movie? Well, it is more or less a western take on The Dirty Dozen, which came out that same year, with prisoners of the Confederate army recruited to rob the Union of their gold, with Connors playing the leader of these cutthroats.

There was obviously an attempt to make Connors' men a colorful bunch of fellows, like what The Dirty Dozen had. There's a half-breed who is skilled with a knife, there's one fellow who is filled with brute strength, and there is also one man who is skilled in the art of a bazooka. (Yes, a bazooka!) There is also a Klaus Kinski look-alike named "Kid", who doesn't seem to have any special skills, but promises to show off a colorful personality. This promise is never kept. In fact, aside from those special skills that the rest of the team have, there is little effort to make each of these men stand out from each other. They are not given that much dialogue, for one thing, and in the various twists and turns that happen during the course of the movie, they could easily be interchanged with each other. Connors does manage to stand out somewhat from his fellow actors, and we do follow his character closely, but his character is to some degree off-putting. He has been given the command to do the movie's title proclamation after the heist, and while I won't reveal all of what he does later in the movie, I will say that some of what he does lessens sympathy for him. As for the character of Lynch, there is a twist with this character late in the movie that is never explained, and will seem like lazy screenwriting. Speaking of the script, it has other flaws that I could spend some time listing. While there is revenge in the movie, it's written to be so quickly done, so lacking in struggle, that it is far from satisfying to witness. More flaws are simply ridiculous. Twice in the movie people manage to catch up and overtake people to key locations despite this clearly being impossible. Then there's stuff like the Union army camp bringing water in when it's shown they have their own source of water in the camp.

Many of these flaws would be death in an American western, but in a spaghetti western, I find many similar flaws to add to the fun. I laughed at times, but I was laughing with the movie's enthusiastic spirit showing this stuff, not laughing at the movie. A cynic may, for example, ask why the guy at the top of the bell tower doesn't just use the less dangerous stairs to get down, instead of throwing down a rope and sliding down it at a breakneck speed. The filmmakers would probably say that it looks cooler, and I would agree with them. Although there are a number of silly moments to savor in Kill Them All And Come Back Alone, I must also be fair and point out some other elements in the movie that I thought were genuinely well done. The look of the movie is very good. Cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa (who also lensed Compaņeros) makes the desert landscapes pleasing to the eye, and the various army outposts in the movie look like serious time and money was spent on their construction. The pacing of the movie is good; the only time the movie drags is the sequence in the prison camp, and then only just a little. From the beginning to the end, it never takes long for a new action sequence to start once one ends, and we are treated to a ton of varied action (fist-fights, gun battles, explosions.) As expected from someone like director Castellari, the action is first-rate, exciting and with a high body count. And while all this is going on, we have, as expected, a good musical score (by Francesco DeMasi), including an English-language song where, like most other spaghetti western songs, you can't make out 95% of the lyrics. Death for another movie... but as I said, the spaghetti western genre makes it add to the fun.

(Posted March 20, 2021)

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See also: A Bullet For..., The Hunting Party, If You Meet Sartana...