The Road to Fort Alamo (1964)

a.k.a. - La strada per Forte Alamo (ITA), Arizona Bill (FRA)

Ken Clarke stars in Mario Bava's traditional early Spaghetti Western. Koch Media Germany R0 DVD.

The Film

Shortly after the devistating Civil War, Bud Massadey (Ken Clarke) is riding through the Old West when he comes across the bodies of soldiers who have been killed by a Native American tribe, on one of the corpses he finds an official letter requesting $150,000 from the bank for Army wages. He rides into the nearest town to inform the Sheriff, but when he stops a local businessman cheating at cards, Bud finds himself run out of town and finds shelter with a group of outlaws. With the army letter the group plan to rob the town bank disguised as soldiers but when he is betrayed and left for dead, Bud is rescued by an Army convoy who think him to be a cavalry lieutenant and finds himself forced to lead them through hostile Indian territory, pitting his wits against a by-the-book Captain, a wily and suspicious Sergeant and a beautiful prisoner...

The American Westerns went into something of a decline in the early 1960s, with demands for more elaborate widescreen, colour productions forcing up the cost of production and sidlining the multitude of low budget B-movie westerns that filled cinema schedules throughout the 1940s and 50s. However, while American audiences had become oversaturated with tales of the Old West, European audiences still had an appetite and so a number of enterprising Italian and Spanish producers filmed domestic Westerns and anglicised the cast and crew names so that the films would appear to be imported US productions. Within a few years, Sergio Leone and subsequently Sergio Corbucci would add a distinctly Italian flair to these productions and create the Spaghetti Western genre, but throughout the early 1960s European Westerns stuck strictly to the accepted American Western formula and it was to these instructions that the screenplay for The Road to Fort Alamo was created.

Co-written by frequent Bava collaborator Franco Prosperi (La ragazza che sapeva troppo (1963)), the screenplay for The Road to Fort Alamo is accordingly an old fashioned American Western influenced tale but it is very well written and the central concept in particular, the bandit forced to lead the army group to safety is well thought through, providing a good mix of tense and amusing moments. The pacing is quite slow at times, particularly in the early scene in the town, but this allows for some decent character development and certainly never drags - it avoids falling into the trap of many later Italian Westerns of using crude humour or gratuitous gunfights as padding and even the romance comes off as more than just a cliché token love story. The American Western influence is perhaps most notable in the presence of Native Americans in the script - although a major feature of the American genre, they would be almost completely absent during the decade long Italian Western boom (despite featuring heavily in the German Westerns of the late 1960s). As expected, their representation here is very much akin to the 1950s American Westerns - faceless and uncharacterised figures who while portrayed as trying to defend their land from the army are never specifically sympathised with (nor is the army seen as particuarly deserving of their brutality).

Behind the camera is director Mario Bava (using the Anglicised name of John Old in the credits). Although best known for his personal and creative horror films, he never made enough money to be able to turn down more commercial projects and having ably handled the Viking film Gli invasori (1961) as well as a number of Pepla in the late 1950s he made a sensible choice to helm this Western. His work is solid but rather uninspired, a rather unconvincing matte effect under the opening titles (attempting to make the Italian quarry location look like Monument Valley) is the most elaborate camera-trick he uses, although the studio-helmed night-time scenes are well lit and infinitely better than the typical 'blue-for-night' location shooting used by most Italian Westerns. Filmed in Italy rather than Spain the exteriors never look particularly American but the town set and the Army Uniforms all look good. Hard working composer Piero Umiliani provides his first Western score which is appropriately traditional in style, with the crooning opening ballad that fortunately quickly disappeared from the genre.

American actor Ken Clarke had been working in Europe for two years on a variety of Peplum and Euro-spy films. He makes for perfect casting as a Western hero and really helps to maintain the American Western feel of the whole production (although oddly he would only play one other leading genre role, in Bava's Savage Gringo (1966)). The remainder of the cast are solid, including the beautiful Jany Clair (most recognisable as Queen Samara in Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964)).

In 1964, both Mario Bava and Sergio Leone were given a small budget and a little known American actor and told to make a Western that could be sold as an American production. While long-time Western fan Sergio Leone looked to reinvent the genre he loved and made history, Bava was content to go with the flow and direct a rather bland, straight-forward Western that could easily pass for a 1950s American film. Fortunately a strong script keeps proceedings interesting and Western fans will find this a solid if unremarkable entry, for Bava fans however it is little more than a curio and his earlier Viking and Peplum films show a lot more of his trademark style.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Ken Clarke - an American actor who made a number of Euro-cult films, including several as Agent 077.
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - best known for his horror films including La frusta e il corpo (1963) he worked on several adventure films including Viking film Gli invasori (1961) and Western Savage Gringo (1966).
Any gore or violence ? A little blood.
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? The solid storyline should appeal to fans of traditional Westerns but there is not much Bava flavour in one of his most workmanlike films so for fans of the director this might be something of a disappointment.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour.
Picture quality is generally very strong, the exteriors are very sharp, the studio scenes are a little softer.
A couple of the blue-filtered night-time scenes seem much too light, although this might date from the original print.
Audio Italian mono - strong and clear throughout.
German mono - slightly more muffled but generally good, missing a couple of scenes which play in Italian.
Subtitles German (1) - based on the Italian soundtrack.
German (2) - infill for the missing scenes on the German audio.
English - based on the Italian soundtrack (a couple of minor grammatical errors but generally solid).
Extras This disc includes:
  • The Long Road to the West - an featurette including interviews with film historian Antonio Tentori and Mario Bava's son Lamberto Bava. Italian with German subtitles only. (12 minutes)
  • Image gallery - a manually scrolling selection of promotional images for the film, largely of the German release.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Availability German release. DVD title Der Ritt nach Alamo.
Other regions? Not available elsewhere.
Cuts? The film is believed to be uncut. Titles and credits are in Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 21st March 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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