Sergio Sollima was said to be the third most important Italian western director after Sergio Leone (Dollars trilogy) and Sergio Corbucci (Django 1966). He began his career as a scriptwriter under the name Simon Sterling on Italian sword and sandal epics before becoming a director under his own name in 1965. But it was not until 1967 that he directed his debut western.
The second and most thoughtful of Sergio Sollima's Western trilogy after The Big Gundown (1967) and before Run, Man, Run (1968) was Faccia a Faccia (1967), a film that dwelt on anti Italian Fascism and anti capitalist themes.
The film stars Gian Maria Volonte (Bullet for the General 1966), Cuban born Tomas Milian who appeared in all three of Sollima's trilogy and worked almost extensively in Italian films from the early 1960s to the late 1980s and Austrian William Berger (Keoma 1975) who was another European actor strongly associated with the spaghetti western genre.
It's the start of the American Civil War around the time of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, and at the foundation of the movie is the relationship between Brad Fletcher (Volonte) a New England Professor of history dying of TB and a half-breed outlaw leader Beauregard Bennett (Milian). Fletcher has decided to leave his teaching and travel to Texas to see if it will improve his health. Arriving at his destination he saves the life of the outlaw and strikes up a friendship. The meek professor is strangely attracted to the life of Bennett and his gang and the associated violence and brutality. He persuades the outlaw leader to allow him to join the gang but as Fletcher becomes more and more ruthless Bennett begins to see the errors of his ways and begins to change. It's a speech Fletcher makes when he takes over the leadership of the gang 'to kill alone is murder, to kill with ten men is an act of violence, but to kill with a thousand men is an organised act, a war ... a necessity' that gives us a parallel with European Fascism. It seems that only the Pinkerton agent posing as a bandit, Charly Siringo (Berger) can call a halt to Fletcher's transformation from a member of the educated classes to a cold methodical and ruthless killer!
In an interview that accompanies Eureka's first DVD release of the uncut version in the UK, Sollima tells us of his desire to build a story around a situation consisting of characters that were at first portrayed in one way and then as a result of external circumstances find themselves changing their way of life. The director wanted to prove that human beings could change, becoming the reverse of how they see themselves. With a western scenario it's possible to go from one extreme to another, were as the coming together of two seemingly different men can trigger a change in both. The first character is of course the collage professor, a man who is dying from what was an incurable disease, he is well educated, has always lived in a big city and can be described as civilised. Sollima's second character is a young handsome bandit who has always survived because of the speed that he can draw his gun, he is inherently violent and a man who it is said knows no different. When these two men first meet they clash because of their different way of life, but are forced by circumstances to share each other's company. Slowly they begin to influence one another. The professor's life style changes completely, his health and strength improve and he learns to shoot and immerses himself into the bandit lifestyle. Whereas the outlaw begins to see how the professors psyche has completely altered for the worse and realises that his way of life must change from being a criminal and gang leader. But whose heart has always been in the right place, ok maybe not a completely honest man but one with human qualities that have not always been apparent.
This Italian-Spanish co production was shot in Spain and Italy some of which was carried out in Southern Spain's Almeria desert although a great deal was also shot in the magnificent mountains surrounding Madrid. Its strong character base certainly helped with the films success, and was somewhat different from the normally excepted formula of the spaghetti western. Allegedly Milian and Volonte did not get on very well with their different styles of acting, which in turn allowed a genuine tension to build up on the film set which the director was able to exploit to the films advantage. The magnificent soundtrack was composed by the great Ennio Morricone that was released on a CD in 2001 and is still available as a MP3 download.
'A good man can turn bad quicker than a bad man can turn good' Sergio Sollima.