1978 may seem a little late for a “Spaghetti Western”, but as the final Western feature made by either Warren Oates or director Monte Hellman, it’s definitely an important one. It’s also laced with just as much meaning as Hellman’s other films.
The first thing we see in the movie is a signpost with, yes, one arrow reading “China 9” and one in the other direction stating, “Liberty 37”. It won’t be the last crossroads in the movie, either. The next stop definitely ain’t Liberty, as we find legendary gunfighter Clayton Drumm (Fabio Testi, no not that Fabio, but close) waiting to be hanged. A last-minute reprieve is offered if Drumm will kill a stubborn miner sitting on land the railroad company wants.
Under other circumstances, that man, Matthew (Oates) and Drumm should have been friends. The would-be assassin has grown tired of both killing and his sizable reputation. As Clayton arrives and gets to know his intended victim, he comes to like him too much to kill him and the two do become friends. The complication comes when Matthew’s pretty young Irish wife Catherine (Jenny Agutter) falls in love with Drumm. When her husband finds out she has slept with him prior to his departure, he beats her. In the ensuing fight she leaves to find Clayton. Matthew and his four crazy brothers follow in pursuit.
Unfortunately, in the battle of honor between Drumm and his new enemies, both sides forget about the railroad, that now wants them all dead.
This film may not have always had the greatest reputation and Testi, though not bad, is a little too buff and good-looking for the part. Oates is on fire throughout and goes a long way toward carrying the picture.
Still, the movie rises way above its minimal budget to reach for greatness, and the result is as pure Monte Hellman as any of the director’s other films. In the end there’s a lot of dead bodies and eventually nobody really gets what they want. Typically, all of this unpleasantness could have been avoided if somebody could have got past their macho bullshit and learned to let things go.
You know, not every good Spaghetti Western had to be directed by Sergio Leone or be a part of the “Django” series. “My Name Is Nobody” is one of the finest examples of the sub-genre. Okay, that flick may have been partially directed by Leone, but plenty of other choice films exist, and one of them is “China 9, Liberty 37”.
Get the whole story in our MONTE HELLMAN SPECTACULAR! Read the feature KUBRICK IDEAS ON A CORMAN BUDGET: THE GREATNEss OF MONTE HELLMAN. Plus, read our exclusive MONTE HELLMAN INTERVIEW: EXPLOITATION OR EXISTENTIALISM? Read all of our Monte Hellman movie reviews: THE SHOOTING, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND, FLIGHT TO FURY, COCKFIGHTER, and the classic TWO-LANE BLACKTOP.