The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO (#46) contains an interview with actor John Richardson, who appeared in such noteworthy genre films as Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and the Hammer Films version of SHE (1965). In the magazine Richardson mentions a 1967 Euro Western he starred in called JOHN THE BASTARD. Richardson co-starred in the film with Martine Beswicke (she was using the last name "Beswick" at the time). Richardson and Beswicke were involved in a relationship when the movie was being made (it was an Italian production filmed mostly in Spain).
Martine would appear in a later, more famous spaghetti western called A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. I have that one on Blu-ray, but I had never even heard of JOHN THE BASTARD, let alone seen it. I did some checking and I discovered that it is available on the Tubi streaming channel.
JOHN THE BASTARD (original title JOHN IL BASTARDO) is a very weird film, even by Euro Western standards. The movie's story is inspired by the legendary character of Don Juan--but the main character here is not a romantic vagabond, he's more of a lecherous jerk.
John Richardson plays one John Donald, a man who figuratively and literally is a bastard. He's selfish, conniving, untrustworthy, and a liar. He also has a huge chip on his shoulder, due to the fact that he is the illegitimate son of a powerful Mexican land baron. John goes south of the border to claim what he considers his rightful inheritance, but he comes up against his vicious half-brother, who has no intention of being pushed aside. John decides to seduce and humiliate his half-brother's sultry wife (Martine Beswicke), an act which leads to his ironic end.
John Richardson's best attribute was his handsome looks rather than any sort of acting talent. Due to his low-key manner, Richardson would have been perfect as one of the typical taciturn loners that proliferated throughout the Euro Western genre. John Donald, however, is not a quiet gunslinger--he's someone that is supposed to charm the clothes off of everyone he meets (especially the ladies). John Donald does more talking than anything else, and that's not exactly Richardson's strength, when one considers that he was seemingly dubbed in every movie he ever made. John Donald does so many foul deeds throughout the story that I doubt that any actor could have made the character appealing, and Richardson certainly does not.
Spending 100 minutes with an unlikable, unappealing main character is not very entertaining, and director and co-writer Armando Crispino doesn't do much to maintain the viewer's interest. At times it appears the story is veering toward being a spoof, but it can't be when too much is made out of John Donald's dark obsession over his birth status. There's a subplot about a group of Mormons being discriminated against, but it feels like it comes from an entirely different film. The subplot does gives John the chance to seduce two Mormon women. It also introduces the story's most intriguing element--a black-clad, stone-faced Mormon assassin played by spaghetti western veteran Gordon Mitchell. One wishes that an entire film had been made about this character.
Martine Beswicke and John Richardson in JOHN THE BASTARD
Martine Beswicke doesn't get all that much to do, and she doesn't get a chance to use her natural vitality and physicality. There's a bevy of European beauties who play the various young women who John goes through like paper plates, but neither of them get much of a chance to make an impression either.
I must point out the the print of JOHN THE BASTARD that I viewed on Tubi was horrid--the aspect ratio appeared cropped, and it looked like it came from a cheap videotape. This version ran about 102 minutes, but I have a feeling it was not uncut, since there were several jarring edits.
If I had watched a pristine, remastered, uncut print of JOHN THE BASTARD, with the proper aspect ratio, would I have had a better appreciation of it?? Maybe, but I doubt it. The main character is too unsavory--and too uninteresting--for one to spend a lot of time watching. A movie doesn't have to always have noble and heroic main characters, but there's plenty of ways to present a story featuring a unpleasant character in an effective and interesting manner. JOHN THE BASTARD might attract those who want to try and watch every Euro Western they can, and it might get attention from Martine Beswicke fans--but they'll be disappointed by her boring role.