Western Movies

Digging for Treasure

Rebuilding an underdog Spaghetti Western, The Big Gundown.

Bob Murawski_Spaghetti Western_The Big Gundown

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Bob Murawski loves movies, and not in that bogus “Citizen Kane resonates on so many levels” kind of way. His is a dedication to underdog flicks, their history and their preservation.

Even for an Academy Award-winning film editor, rebuilding an underdog flick is no easy task because the companies that handled these genre films years ago shucked them aside, after playing them off on double bills and at drive-ins. The studios considered these films disposable, with zero thought to the talent that went into them, or the value these films would have years later.

When Columbia Pictures released The Big Gundown, starring Lee Van Cleef, in 1966, the one-sheets declared, “Mr. Ugly Comes to Town!” to take advantage of Van Cleef’s success in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The problem is that Van Cleef was actually “the Bad.” But that blatant disregard for accuracy only reinforced the studio’s indifference for one of the actor’s very best films, making the movie a perfect treasure for rediscovery via Murawski’s Grindhouse Releasing.

Murawski began the company in 1996 with his good friend Sage Stallone. “I worked for a film distributor in Detroit, and we were handling movies like Gates of Hell and, later on, the Troma stuff. When I met Sage, these were the kinds of movies he liked, especially the Italian stuff, and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in trying to get them out. They were basically considered junk, exploitation films, but we wanted to do them right. Sage was shooting Daylight with his dad [Sylvester] during the day, and when he wasn’t working, he was on the phone tracking down prints of these Italian horror movies.”

The problem that both Murawski and Stallone encountered is a familiar one to film archivists: neglect. The prints and negatives had been haphazardly stored and sustained real damage.

The technicians in Rome weren’t fazed at all: “I was at Technicolor to look at the negative for The Beyond. It was in a rusty can in the corner, and the guys just didn’t care. We were looking at reel two, and there was this big tear, and the lab guy says, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry,’ grabbed a piece of splicing tape, and pressed it onto the negative—with his thumb!”

Cannibal Ferox was Grindhouse’s first release, followed by Horror maestro Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and the...

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