Death Rides a Horse
Western, Action | 114 Mins | Released: 1967
Director: Giulio Petroni
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson, Jose Torres, Franco Balducci
Our Rating: 6
In Death Rides A Horse, Bill (John Phillip Law), a boy whose father was killed and mother and sister were raped and murdered in front of him by a gang, sets out 15 years later to exact revenge, having used the time to become an expert marksman with a gun.
Each of the outlaws bears a characteristic that Bill memorized while watching his family slaughtered. One has a tattoo of four aces on his chest, another a scar, one a distinctive earring and one a necklace bearing a skull, while he saw the face of the fifth.
As he begins his journey, a gunfighter named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) is released from a prison after serving 15 years there. He was framed for an armed robbery by the very men who murdered Bill’s family.
When they meet along the way, Ryan gets the better of Bill, who is blinded by vengeance, but he does Bill no harm. In the next town, Ryan asks for a man named Cavanaugh (Anthony Dawson), whom Bill recognized later as the man with four aces tattoo. Bill manages to kill Cavanaugh in a duel, but the more experienced Ryan insists on tracking the other outlaws alone. They cross path again in Lyndon City, where Ryan meets rich banker named Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) and demands his share of the robbery 15 years ago. Walcott stages a robbery on his bank and frames Ryan. When the tables are turned later, Bill reciprocates, helping Ryan escape from a jail. An equally determined Bill sets out ahead of him.
At the end of Death Rides A Horse, Bill reaches a Mexican town, where he recognizes the man with the big earring and guns him down. He is captured by the outlaws, beaten and buried alive from the neck down (He had also recognized the man with the scar and Walcott). Left to die in the hot sun, he is rescued by Ryan, who shoots several men standing guard. Preparing for the gang’s return, Bill notices that Ryan is wearing a necklace with a skull. Ryan admits he was present during the murders. He gives his word that once the outlaws have been dealt with, he will remain to face whatever justice Bill seeks.
In a final shootout during a sandstorm, the last remaining man who killed Bill’s family has him dead to rights, only to be killed by Ryan’s thrown knife. Bill nonetheless insists on revenge. Ryan’s gun is empty, so Bill tosses a bullet to him. He has just one bullet left now himself. Ryan turns his back and walks away, daring Bill to shoot him in the back. Bill fires, but it is only to kill a surviving outlaw. A grateful Ryan then watches him ride away.
In his investigation of narrative structures in Spaghetti Western films, writer Bert Fridlund ranges Death Rides a Horse, together with Day of Anger as prime examples of a “tutorship variation” that further develops the play on age/experience between the protagonists in For a Few Dollars More, with Lee Van Cleef playing the older partner in all three films. In the “Tutorship” films, a younger protagonist seeks the more or less reluctant partnership of an older one, but differences of motivation eventually bring them into conflict.
Death Rides A Horse in pop-culture:
- There are several influences from and references of Death Rides a Horse in Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill which also uses its main musical theme by Ennio Morricone.
- Death Rides a Horse is a 1970 reggae single from The Hippy Boys, it appears on the B-side of Max Romeos single “melting pot” on the Pama Unity label.
- Death Rides a Horse is a name of a track on the Russian Circles album Enter.
- “Act II – Death Drives a Stick” is the name of an imaginary TV episode in the Simpsons episode Separate Vocations