Starring: Lee Van Cleef, James Mason, Gina Lollobrigida, Gianni Garko

Director: Eugenio (Gene) Martín
Released: 1971

Mood: If you’ve always preferred fusilli to spaghetti for the obvious reason that it’s literally called silly.


It’s probably not a good sign that I couldn’t remember the title of Bad Man’s River the day after watching it, let alone any details about the plot.


I remember laughing. I remember being confused. I remember doing an image search for Lee Van Cleef, because the man was a fox with a great moustache and I should own more of his movies. That’s it.


It’s a good thing I take notes, otherwise this would be the end of my review!


photo of the bad man's river DVD


Bad Man’s River is a Spaghetti Western that was co-produced by Italian, Spanish, and French movie companies. It had a primarily European cast and crew, and was filmed on four locations in Spain that stand in for Mexico.


Roy King (Lee Van Cleef) and his gang rob a bank and flee on a train to Mexico. It’s a simple, popular premise that quickly gives you a feel for the characters, which is a good thing because absolutely nothing else is going to get you there.


The first part of the movie is shot in what I can only attempt to explain as a series of related vignettes. You get a short scene, then everything freezes and some music plays like it’s the end of a sitcom that’s about to head into commercials. Then it cuts to another scene. That scene might be in the same room, or somewhere else, and significant time may or may not have elapsed.


Luckily this “technique” is only used in the first 20 or so minutes. In that time, King’s men take their money and disperse, King meets a beautiful woman named Alicia (Gina Lollobrigida), they get married, and she robs him – all while STILL ON THE TRAIN.


Somehow King gets hired to do a heist on the Mexican army and steal a bank draft for a million dollars – and his employer turns out to be Alicia’s new husband, Francisco Montero (James Mason). King calls his gang back together. They ride off into cross after double-cross, and gunfight after gunfight. Much hilarity ensues.


illustration of a moustache that is curled at the ends


The reason I don’t hate Bad Man’s River is because despite my cold data analyst exterior, I LOVE to laugh – and this movie is full of innuendo and a ton of physical comedy. It has a lot more in common with The Villain and They Call Me Trinity than with serious Spaghetti Westerns like the Dollars trilogy or Once Upon a Time in the West.


  • Lee Van Cleef gives you more ‘charming rapscallion’ than his typical sinister outlaw performances
  • James Mason somehow manages to be calm, elegant, and regal amid the nonstop action and tomfoolery
  • Sergio Fantoni is HILARIOUS as Col. Enrique Fierro
  • Gianni Garko, Jess Hahn, and Simón Andreu are a great comedy outlaw gang, each with a distinct personality and physical traits and playing off one another well

There are a couple of brilliantly entertaining performances where I couldn’t catch the characters’ names but you’ll know them when you see them. One is a man in black (catch him at 41:20 on YouTube and again starting at 1:10:01) whose scenes I’ve now watched three times he just keeps getting funnier. I don’t even know why. The other is the Colonel’s lieutenant.


Everyone else does a good job. Nobody is terrible. If you like Lee Van Cleef or any of the other actors, it’s the kind of thing you’d want to see for a laugh.


Beyond that, the plot is bizarrely convoluted, and the music leaps from genre to genre in a way that makes zero sense. I don’t even know why it’s called Bad Man’s River, because only part of it happens on a river. The Italian title was ‘E continuavano a fregarsi il milione di dollari’, which translates to something like ‘And they kept stealing the million dollars’, which is basically the plot in a nutshell.


But at the same time, I would watch it again. Maybe it makes more sense after repeat viewings. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know, I don’t care. Not everything has to be an award-winner. It’s okay to be entertained by movies that everyone else on the Internet gives terrible reviews.