DVD Review: “The Stranger Collection” Spotlights Top-Notch Spaghetti Western Trilogy

It’s easy to lump Spaghetti Westerns as a genre simply owned by director Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. The Man With No Name isn’t the only inhabitant of the Wild Wild West, however, as evidenced by Warner Archive’s top-notch release The Stranger Collection.

The Stranger Collection -

Though the three films featured in this collection (A Stranger In Town, The Stranger Returns, The Silent Stranger) may seem like a pale imitation to Leone’s revered trilogy, the Stranger flicks build up to a satisfying creative crescendo. While he doesn’t possess the magnetism of Eastwood (but really, who does?), lead actor Tony Anthony throws a dash of humor into the role, giving the films a refreshing mix of levity amidst the action.

The first feature, A Stranger In Town (1967, 86 minutes) is the most serious installment of the lot, as we are introduced to the titular character. Wandering into a seemingly empty town, the Stranger (Anthony) runs into a coldblooded gang of Mexican bandits and cuts them into a business deal concerning a shipment of U.S. army gold. When they double cross the Stranger and beat him senseless, our hero exacts his revenge on the crew. Playing the gang’s leader, Frank Wolf proves an admirable villain for the stranger, as he approaches his role with the right amount of panache and glee. Signs of A Stranger In Town’s willingness to push boundaries come with the protagonist’s unflinching murder of a woman (in his defense, it was for his own survival).

Frank Wolf in "A Stranger in Town" (Warner Archive Collection)
Frank Wolf in “A Stranger in Town” (Warner Archive Collection)

The Stranger Returns (1968, 95 minutes) – Never one to back out of a dangerous operation filled with monetary prospects, The Stranger visits another bandit run town where a stagecoach that’s made of gold is up for the taking. The picture is essentially a riff on the Sergio Leone classic with Marco Guglielmi  stealing the show as a preacher (a role reminiscent of Eli Wallach’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly work as Tuco) who helps The Stranger’s quest. Although it also follows the same narrative beats of A Stranger In Town, The Stranger Returns is also an entertaining film. Actor Dan Vardis, who plays the film’s main villain, also has a striking resemblance to Ryan Reynolds.

Dan Vardis in "The Stranger Returns" (Warner Archive Collection)
Dan Vardis in “The Stranger Returns” (Warner Archive Collection)

The crown jewel of the collection is The Silent Stranger, as our protagonist starts off in the pre-Gold Rush era of the Klondike region. After receiving a priceless Japanese scroll that could net him oodles of money, The Stranger travels across the ocean in search of a buyer. Upon his arrival to Japan, he gets stuck in the middle of a Samurai war.

Since it’s a Samurai/Spaghetti Western flick, The Silent Stranger (1968, 90 minutes) foreshadows the gumbo pot genre mixing of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill features and, most recently, Django Unchained. Anthony, who also produced the feature, and director Vance Lewis should be credited for thinking a bit outside the box with The Silent Stranger, and the film still remains audacious to this day (the picture wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1975).

The Stranger Collection is a Manufactured on Demand title. To order the DVD, please go to WBshop.com.

The Stranger Collection - Warner Archive Collection
The Stranger Collection – Warner Archive Collection

*****Tony Anthony will be on hand tonight at The Cinefamily following a screening of his Western Get Mean.  Tabbed as an “unofficial” fourth installment of The Stranger, the picture has Anthony playing a gunslinger who is “hired by by gypsies in late 19th century Wisconsin to return a deposed Spanish princess to her desert kingdom.” I haven’t seen the movie, but its plotline rivals the sheer crazy goodness of The Silent Stranger. For more info, check The Cinefamily’s official site.