Death Rides a Horse

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Death Rides a Horse
Directed byGiulio Petroni
Written byLuciano Vincenzoni
Produced by
  • Alfonso Sansone
  • Henryk Chrosicki[1]
CinematographyCarlo Carlini[1]
Edited byEraldo Da Roma[1]
Music byEnnio Morricone[1]
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 1967 (1967-08) (Italy)
Running time
114 minutes

Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da uomo a uomo, lit.'From man to man') is a 1967 Italian Spaghetti Western directed by Giulio Petroni, written by Luciano Vincenzoni and starring Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law.


Bill (John Phillip Law), a boy whose father was killed and mother and sister were gang raped and murdered in front of him by a gang of four, sets out 15 years later to exact revenge, having used the time to become an expert marksman with a gun. Each of the outlaws bears a characteristic that Bill memorized while watching his family slaughtered and his house set on fire: the first has a tattoo of four aces on his chest, the second a scar, the third one a distinctive earring and the fourth (who was the one who saved young Bill from the burning house) wears a necklace bearing a skull; while he saw the face of the fifth, he never saw the face of the man who saved him from the fire.

As he begins his journey, a gunfighter named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) is released from a prison after serving 15 years there. He was framed for an armed robbery by the very same men who murdered Bill's family. When they meet along the way, Ryan gets the better of Bill, who is blinded by vengeance, but he does Bill no harm. In the next town, Ryan asks for a man named Cavanaugh (Anthony Dawson), whom Bill recognized later as the man with four aces tattoo. Bill manages to kill Cavanaugh in a duel, but the more experienced Ryan insists on tracking the other outlaws alone. They cross paths again in Lyndon City, where Ryan meets rich banker named Walcott (Luigi Pistilli) and demands his share of the robbery 15 years ago. Walcott stages a robbery on his own bank and frames Ryan. When the tables are turned later, Bill reciprocates, helping Ryan escape from a jail. An equally determined Bill sets out ahead of him.

Bill reaches a Mexican town, where he recognizes the man with the big earring and guns him down. He is captured by the outlaws, beaten and buried alive from the neck down (he had also recognized the man with the scar and Walcott). Left to die in the hot sun, he is rescued by Ryan, who shoots several men standing guard. Preparing for the gang's return, Bill notices that Ryan is wearing a necklace with a skull. Ryan admits he was present during the murders, but arrived late and did not participate; he also rescued Bill from the fire. He gives his word that once the outlaws have been dealt with, he will remain to face whatever justice Bill seeks.

In a final shootout during a sand storm, the last remaining man who killed Bill's family has him dead to rights, only to be killed by Ryan's thrown knife. Bill nonetheless insists on revenge. Ryan's gun is empty, so Bill tosses a bullet to him. He has just one bullet left now himself. Ryan turns his back and walks away, daring Bill to shoot him in the back. Bill fires, but it is only to kill a surviving outlaw. A grateful Ryan then watches as he mounts his horse and rides away.


Uncredited (in order of appearance)


The screenplay and story of Death Rides a Horse was written by Luciano Vincenzoni.[1][2] Vincenzoni went to work with director Giulio Petroni after having a falling out with Sergio Leone while the latter was making The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.[2]


John Phillip Law in a screenshot from Death Rides a Horse

Death Rides a Horse was released in Italy in August 1967.[3] The film was released uncut in the United Kingdom and United States in 1969.[3]


Anthony Dawson in a screenshot from Death Rides a Horse

A contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin declared the film to be a "display piece" for John Phillip Law and Lee Van Cleef, noting that Van Cleef was "in excellent form."[4] The review declared the film to be "less gimmicky than most Italian Westerns, and all the better for it."[4] The review noted that the recurring flashbacks were "tiresome" but had relevance to the narrative.[4] "Robe" of Variety said that the film wouldn't reach the popularity of earlier Clint Eastwood westerns, noting that the script borrows from other Italian Westerns and that "good color photography and an interesting score by Ennio Morricone are the pic's strong points. Otherwise, all technical elements are routine."[5]


Luigi Pistilli in a screenshot from Death Rides a Horse

In his investigation of narrative structures in Spaghetti Western films, writer Bert Fridlund ranges Death Rides a Horse, together with Day of Anger as prime examples of a "tutorship variation" that further develops the play on age/experience between the protagonists in For a Few Dollars More, with Lee Van Cleef playing the older partner in all three films. In the "Tutorship" films, a younger protagonist seeks the more or less reluctant partnership of an older one, but differences of motivation eventually bring them into conflict.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hughes 2004, p. 158.
  2. ^ a b Hughes 2004, p. 159.
  3. ^ a b Hughes 2004, p. 166.
  4. ^ a b c "Da Uomo a Uomo (Death Rides a Horse)". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 36, no. 42. British Film Institute. March 1969. p. 57.
  5. ^ Variety's Film Reviews 1968-1970. Vol. 12. R. R. Bowker. 1983. There are no page numbers in this book. This entry is found under the header "July 16, 1969". ISBN 0-8352-2792-8.
  6. ^ Fridlund 2006, p. 165ff.


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