Beyond the Law Review (Scherpschutter)

From The Spaghetti Western Database


The third and final movie Lee Van Cleef made with the duo of producers Sansone and Chroscicki, following Death Rides a Horse and Day of Anger. The first two had been very successful, therefore the third was blessed with a very decent budget and a fine international cast. Expectations were high and the première in Milan was a sort of happening with Lee Van Cleef arriving on the spot in the diligence of Silver City (1). But reactions to it were mostly negative: the movie seemed too light-hearted and drawn-out and the German co-producers were so unhappy with it that they cut the movie by some 25 minutes in order to make it look more action-packed. Today it’s often labeled as a unique occasion to see Bud Spencer without a beard.

Instead of the stoic gunman he usually impersonated in Italian westerns, Lee Van Cleef is a more talkative type here, an amiable outlaw called Billie Joe Cudlip, a rascal rather than a crook. Cudlip and his two partners - a would-be Biblical scholar and an Afro-American bruiser – perform intelligent robberies, using ruse rather than force. One day they steal the payroll of a small community of miners, but then Cudlip befriends the man they have just robbed, a young mine-engineer fresh from Europe. Cudlip is appointed sheriff and must now choose between his own pals and his new friends …

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I was only familiar with the drastically cut version and didn’t like it at all. The uncut version seems a different movie, worthy of re-evaluation. Instead of telling a story of hate and revenge, Beyond the Law is more concerned with subjects like responsibility and redemption, and the question how people react to changing circumstances and unexpected opportunities (2). After Cudlip has helped the community to fight off a gang of real bandits (led by a black-clad Gordon Mitchell), he wants to lead a peaceful life but his two pals have remained outsiders to this society and are therefore unable to leave their lives as petty thieves. This eventually leads to a conflict in which all three take up arms against each other, resulting in a highly emotional scene with Stander bursting into tears in front of his former friend. This is all very unusual for a spaghetti western. But in 1968 this was not the kind of western audiences were waiting for.

In its uncut version the film is decent, but not without flaws. It’s slow-moving, even dragging in spots, and it's not a movie for action fans. The stagecoach (or better: covered wagon) robbery halfway the movie is well-written, but unimaginatively staged. Cudlip and his friends perform one of their elaborate schemes to dupe the community, but are forced to help their ‘victims’ when Mitchell and his gang attack. They shake off the bandits, only to find out, back in the mining-community, that they were duped while duping others. That’s cleverly conceived, but the action that is part of the sequence, is no more than people riding around and shooting in the air. The large shootout near the end, has a few crisp ideas, such as Sabato inventing a sniper rifle in Leonardo da Vinci style, but has also the lunacy of people running out of cover, only to become sitting ducks for Mitchell. Casting wasn’t always lucky either. Stander is a delight as the Priest, but Hoosman was not an actor (actually he was a boxer). Sabato is okay as the young engineer, but there seems to be little or no real chemistry between him and Van Cleef.

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Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Antonio Sabàto, Lionel Stander, Al Hoosman, Bud Spencer, Graziella Granata, Gordon Mitchell, Enzo Fiermonte, Herbert Fux, Hans Elwenspoek, Ann Smyrner, Carlo Gaddi, Romano Puppo - Director: Giorgio Stegani - Music: Riz Ortolani

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  • (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
  • (2) Lee Broughton on DVD Talk. Broughton compares this aspect of the movie to Sollima: "In some ways this show plays a little like one of Sergio Sollima's meditations on how a change of circumstance can effect a change in an individual's moral outlook."

Al Hoosman

Al Hoosman was born in Waterloo, Iowa on 4 October 1918. He was an amateur heavyweight-boxer before the war, continued boxing as a US soldier, and became a professional or semi-professional in the second half of the 40s. He became the sparring partner of Joe ‘Brown Bomber’ Louis and fought him in an exhibition fight in 1948 (Joe Louis won on K.O. in round 5). His official record as a boxer is Won: 32, lost: 13, drawn: 3. He died in Munich on October 25, 1968, so less than a year after completing Beyond the Law.

--By Scherpschutter