Peasant and petty criminal Cuchillo (Milian) meets a poet, Ramirez (Jose Torres), in prison. Ramirez is a figurehead for the Mexican democracy movement and knows the whereabouts of $3 million that have been smuggled over the border into Texas to escape the clutches of the dictator Diaz.
Before Ramirez dies, he tells Cuchillo his secret. Cuchillo goes after the loot, but so do a range of others: Cassidy (O’Brien), a mysterious gringo gunslinger who once fought for the rebels, the bandit Riza (Nello Pazzafini), a female Salvation Army sergeant (Veras), two hired French killers in the pay of Diaz, and last but not least, Cuchillo’s fiery, feisty girlfriend Dolores (Alonso).
How good you find this film may depend on how many other so-called Zapata westerns you have seen. Zapata westerns were later spaghetti westerns that reflected the target audience’s interest in liberation and revolutionary movements in the late 1960s. Indeed, part of the reason Tomas Milian was a poster boy for this sort of western is because he looked a bit like Che Guevara.
The problem is that the sort of “Freedom, yeah!” attitude these films espoused wears thin pretty quickly, unless there are dramatic twists and turns or good character acting to hook up on. Or nods to the nuanced problems of revolutionary praxis – although this doesn’t happen very often, it is there in Sollima’s previous western Face to Face as well as in his later euro-thriller Revolver.
Lacking a strong co-lead like Lee van Cleef (as in Sergio Sollima’s previous film featuring Milian’s Cuchillo character, The Big Gundown), Run Man Run packs in the antagonists. Unfortunately, they are all doing the same thing which makes the story a bit humdrum – even Cuchillo gets strung up/ crucified three times in two hours!
Leaving aside questions of cultural appropriation, with Italians (and Cubans) playing Mexicans as always in Italian westerns, Milian’s frenetic comic acting becomes a sticking point. At least here, fellow Cuban actor Alonso keeps up with him. But the two of them hoover up the charisma quota of the film: all the other actors seem to keep steady at zero degrees of character.
This is a Blu-ray presentation from a “definitive 4K restoration” and the limited edition version comes with a shorter theatrical cut of the film. I was struck by the brightness and the bleached flatness, the lack of focal depth, in most of the widescreen landscape shots. This appears to pick up and run with the mural style format of the credit sequence. It’s a nice conceit of film style that also makes visual sense of the transition from Mexican desert to wintry US highlands (from locations in Spain to somewhere in northern Italy?) in the last third of the film.
Those low, whitewashed buildings look great in widescreen and there are lots of visually pleasing image compositions. Note also those surprising point of view shots, for example when Cuchillo is lashed to a windmill sail.
There’s a stirring, Mexican classical music influenced score by Bruno Nicolai and Ennio Morricone and Milian growls the theme song. The credit sequence is surprisingly fresh too.
Extras include a new audio commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman, one for each version of the film if you get the limited edition.