Why is this Quentin Tarantino’s favorite Western?

Quentin Tarantino has seen a LOT of movies, and borrowed from most of them to make his own speghetti westerns and his own revenge films, but they all pale in comparison to Death Rides a Horse (1969) as a primary source for his work.  You only need to listen to the music to realize the impact this movie had on Kill Bill, and Ennio Morricone does some great work here creating some of the most recognizable themes around.  That’s probably why Tarantino recruited him for his own films.

“It’s a terrific speghetti Western,” Tarantino once said about Death Rides a Horse.

Death Rides a Horse is basically the same film as Kill Bill, or at least in the same type and style, if nothing else.  They’re both revenge films.  Tarantino borrows dialogue straight from Death Rides a Horse, like his line about “revenge being a dish best served cold” and ”The bandits who killed five defenseless people made one big mistake. They should’ve killed six”, which is similar to what Uma Thurman says as The Bride in Kill Bill.  The flashbacks used in Death Rides a Horse heavily influence the style of the flashbacks used in Kill Bill, not to mention the abrupt violence.  Lastly, the camerawork in both movies is similar, as Tarantino seems to have fallen in love with the constant zooming Sergio Leone loved to do.  Death Rides a Horse is not a Leone movie, but might as well be.

Death Rides a Horse has the same Kill Bill plotline.  As a young boy, Bill’s family is killed right in front of him, so he spends the next 15 years trying to track them down and murder them.  He runs into Ryan, played by Lee Van Cleef, the same character from every Lee Van Cleef movie.  Bill is played by John Phillip Law, who delivers his lines with blandness and a naive style that makes me long for Clint Eastwood.  

This non-Eastwood movie has it’s moments, but it lacks a richness that dogs it and makes other speghetti Westerns seem like classics in comparison.  The scenery and the cinematography for example, looks like B-movie fare, like it was shot in some overgrown playground instead of Texas or elsewhere in the West.  It doesn’t have the money to compete with other Westerns or other stylized visions like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I wouldn’t trash it as much as other reviewers have done.  It’s still a decent movie.  Roger Ebert gave it one star probably for the low production values I mentioned, which I don’t think is deserved.

Overall, I like Death Rides a Horse, although I find John Phillip Law annoying.  I wish he had more attitude in this movie, but I guess the role of the black shirt goes to Lee Van Cleef (again), although he’s still not as much of a badass as he was in Leone’s films.  Still, both of them work well as a pair, and the plot moves fast enough to be enjoyable, if not a little predictable.