‘Kill Them All and Come Back Alone’ or — Birth of the Bouncy Western?
You know you’re watching an Enzo G. Castellari movie when the opening pre-credit scene contains more bonkers action than the entirety of most other films put together and boy, the opening to ‘Kill Them All and Come Back Alone’ (1968) is a doozy.
Confederate soldiers have taken control of a town, although it’s obvious which way the tide has been turning for them, and are going about their usual business. As they do we notice agile figures sneaking unseen between them, securing hiding places and silently dispatching unsuspecting individuals. Are they spies? Assassins? Unionist infiltrators?
Soon all hell breaks loose and every soldier is on full-alert but these mysterious assailants still keep picking them off. The fight fully breaks out, chaos reigns, fists fly, furniture is destroyed whilst, amongst all this mayhem, the leader of this deadly gang, a grinning Clyde McKay, has managed to breach the Confederate’s HQ and is now face to face with their Captain.
Turns out this has all been an elaborate demonstration by McKay and his gang to prove their lethal skills to the Confederate Captains who are looking for a team to steal a million dollars of gold from a nearby, heavily guarded Union camp. The gold has been mixed with explosives so even a single shot could blow the consignment to smithereens but after this demonstration they know McKay and his team are the men (there are precisely NO women in this movie) to get the job done.
However, there’s one more instruction given to McKay concerning his gang by Intelligence Captain Lynch (an excellent Frank Wollf) so as to ensure no knowledge of Confederate involvement is ever openly revealed — “Kill them all and come back alone”.
Immediate hard cut to titles, blaring theme music and THAT’S how you start a movie, folks!
So the rest of ‘Kill Them All and Come Back Alone’ (and isn’t that a fantastic title?) follows McKay and his gang, all of whom possess a unique and different deadly specialty (explosives, knives, rocket-launcher, the ability to rapidly bounce up and down, etc), as they set out to steal the heavily guarded gold and we wonder if McKay actually will kill his own men if they do.
Clyde McKay is played by Chuck Connors, a man so tanned, wrinkled and in possession of such a rictus grin he looks like a leather handbag with a human skull sewn into it. This makes it almost impossible to figure out what he’s likely to do as he’s impossible to read, although that’s also rather appropriate because the script for this must have been impossible to read too as it’s nothing more than a series of whackoid, illogical, confounding, left-field, unbelievable insanity. At one point a major character reveals a secret identity that’s a real shock as I had no idea it was coming, but it’s easy to surprise the audience if you simply present them with stuff that makes no fucking sense to begin with.
Still, by constantly pulling ideas out of his ass like some sort of anally fixated magician means that Castellari can keep the momentum barreling along at a furious rate of knots which is, to be honest, what he’s an inspired genius at. The extraordinary central heist sequence itself is a great example of this where logic doesn’t exactly go flying out the window as such because it would never have been allowed in, or even anywhere near, this house in the first place.
Here it’s all about the stunts, the action, the detonations, the acrobatics and the fact that, according to the Italians anyway, the Wild West was littered with millions of trampolines. In that respect ‘KTAACBA’ is an incredibly important and influential movie because it’s clear that Castellari’s film provided the template for the energetic, escapist, tumbling gymnastics of the Sabata and Sartana flicks, so if you’re a fan of those you’ll love this (how can a movie so stupid be so influential?).
One last observation, though. There are two things I would never normally associate with each other and that’s — 1/ Spaghetti Westerns, and 2/ Underwater Sequences. In fact, I can’t think of a single Italian Western that contains an underwater sequence. ‘KTAACBA’ has TWO! And they’re pretty darn cool. I was worried they’d drag the pacing down like so many underwater scenes can but then remembered that this Castellari so even his underwater sequences don’t fuck about. One features an impressively atmospheric and haunting shot of… well, I won’t ruin the surprise, and the other, which closes the movie and involves Connors laughing underwater (?!), had me howling so hard I almost had an asthma attack.
But that’s the problem with Castellari’s movies — they’re so furiously entertaining they can seriously damage your health. I mean, how much delirious insanity can one person take?!