Color, 1967, 91m.
Directed by Luigi Vanzi
Starring Tony Anthony, Daniele Vargas, Marco Guglielmi, Ettore Manni, Jill Banner, Marina Berti
NSM Records/Colosseo Film (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9) and Full Frame
Of all the actors who made it big during the Euro western explosion of the '60s, few had careers more unpredictable than Tony Anthony. The American-born actor trained at the Actors Studio in New York and went off for a career in Europe, where scored a reasonable hit in '67 with an unassuming little oater called A Stranger in Town for director Luigi Vanzi. It was basically a minor imitation of the popular Dollars and Django series, but the response was good enough to generate another sequel the same year, The Stranger Returns. The original Italian title for that sequel was the far stranger and funnier Un uomo, un cavallo, una pistola ("A Man, a Horse, a Pistol"), and it managed to improve on its predecessor in almost every respect including a killer score by the great Stelvio Cipriani at the start of his career.
Of course, this soon turned into a trilogy thanks to a third installment the next year (The Silent Stranger), and the American success of the films was assured when they were picked up by ABKCO, the music and film company founded by Beatles and Rolling Stones business manager Allen Klein (who most famously released El Topo and The Holy Mountain). Anthony and Klein became something of a team after that, most famously with the Zatoichi-goes-West hit Blindman and the (unintentionally?) hilarious Cometogether, a lost camp item seriously overdue for rediscovery. Anthony eventually revisited the Stranger character in '76, sort of, with the daffy western comedy Get Mean, but his greatest claim to cult movie fame came in the '80s when he and Ferdinando Baldi kicked off the 3-D theatrical revival with Comin' at Ya! and Treasure of the Four Crowns. He retired from the screen after that (though he did co-produce Wild Orchid), but really,where else could he possibly go?
Anyway, The Stranger Returns features Anthony as a pink-shirted, umbrella-toting man with no name who strides into Moon Village atop his big black horse, Pussy. (And yes, that name gets milked for quite a few laughs, though he never asks anyone to ride it). He's posing as a dead postal inspector and becomes entangled in a plot by some murderous Mexican villains to spirit away a stagecoach made from $20,000 in gold (but covered in red paint). There's also a spy within the U.S. cavalry forces in town, and soon the baddies are dragging our hero behind the coach to a certain death before the big nocturnal showdown.
Like a lot of other MGM westerns, this one essentially vanished from the face of the earth once the home video age took over despite the fact that its soundtrack has remained in circulation in various editions. A matted (1.85:1) version did pop up on Turner Classic Movies, but this was less than ideal for several reasons (more on that in a minute). This two-disc German version is apparently the first authorized one anywhere in the world thanks to the blessing of its German distributor, Colosseo Film AG. Disc one contains an anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) transfer, while disc two has a full frame (open matte version) option. The latter is actually the way to go, as the widescreen one simply slices off some information from the top and bottom (which is common and not a big deal) but also squishes the image horizontally just enough to be annoying. For example, compare this shot from the 16x9 version and this one from the full frame; it's obvious which one will be easier on your eyes for 90 minutes. Contary to the IMDB, this wasn't shot in scope (though it wouldn't be surprising if some distributor tried cropping it and passing it off as fake scope in some territories). Both versions can be viewed in English (the preferred option since that's what Anthony was speaking), German, or Italian, with optional German subtitles.
Disc one also contains a 37-minute audio interview with Anthony (in English, with optional German subs) in which he talks about getting his start acting in college, going off to New York for the Actors Studio, becoming an actor and producer in Europe, working on films both completed and unrealized over the years, avoiding excessive onscreen gore, and performing the hat gag that had audiences screaming. The second disc features a full frame (open matte) version of the film, also with English, German, or Italian audio options (and optional German subtitles). Extras include the English European trailer (under the title Shoot First, Laugh Last), the German trailer (as Western Jack), and the dupey MGM American one (as The Stranger Returns), along with a gallery of German, Italian, and American lobby cards.