Montgomery Brown (Guiliano Gemma), nicknamed Ringo, arrives home from the Civil War where he had fought on the Unionist side to find that all he was battling for might not have been worth it after all, for his old haunts have changed dramatically. Where he was expecting a warm welcome from his wife and friends, when he walks into the local bar for refreshment before going to his house the bartender acts strangely, even though they've known one another for years. There's something up with those two men in the corner - for a start, one of them has a gun trained on Ringo.
The old tale about the man returning from war, or from any great hardship really, and finding the old homestead in a sorry state was employed here for this, the sequel to A Pistol for Ringo of the same year, though the main thing they had in common was the cast and crew with Gemma marking out his territory as one of the cultier Spaghetti Western stars, and director Duccio Tessari staking a claim to one of the more underrated craftsmen working in Italian cinema of his day. Certainly Quentin Tarantino thought so, as he used part of Ennio Morricone's score from this in his Inglourious Basterds soundtrack as a tribute, and was also on record as regarding this as one of the great sequels.
That was possibly overstating it, though there were interesting points to consider when watching The Return of Ringo, with some seeing this as a reworking of the classical tale of the Odyssey, concentrating on the part where Odysseus returns home to find his wife claimed by someone else, and so it is here as Ringo discovers his beloved wife, who may have thought him dead since she hasn't heard of him in so long, is about to be married to one of the villains who have taken over the town, Paco Fuentes (George Martin, not the Beatles producer). The whole Fuentes clan and their henchmen are dominating the area, having killed all the opposition: indeed, when Ringo walks into town he witnesses the last judge being gunned down alone in the street.
Scenes like that offer the film its bleak atmosphere, for much of the movie at any rate, with our hero biding his time, surveying the situation before making his move, not that this prevents him falling on the wrong side of the Fuentes. Disguised as a Mexican, he gets a job from them working on their garden with the ineffectual Morning Glory (Manuel Muñiz), though even this is a preamble to some clever sabotage of the bad guys' too comfortable arrangements. You could accuse the Fuentes of complacency, but you'd likely accuse them of murder first; consider their self-satisfied air, encapsulated in their leader Esteban (veteran Fernando Sancho, sort of the evil Bud Spencer) who sees to it that everything is going his way as they figuratively put their feet up on the backs of the townsfolk.
At times it comes across as if Morricone's music is doing all the heavy lifting, see such scenes as the one where Ringo and his wife Hally (Lorella De Luca, later to be Tessari's wife) recognise each other and the blaring of the score threatens to overwhelm what it essentially two actors gazing meaningfully into their eyes. To observe that the whole production was lifted by the tunes was perhaps no surprise given its provenance, but once the downbeat mood is altered into something more proactive, and finally triumphant, you could see that Tessari was carefuly orchestrating what could have been strictly by the numbers. Naturally Ringo, like so many Western protagonists before and since, has to take a beating before he can get on with the business of that triumph - receiving an unwanted knife through his pistol hand - but this galvanises his mettle and makes him all the more determined, using the underdogs such as morally ambiguous saloon girl Rosita (Nieves Navarro) to his advantage. The part where he announces to the villains he's back is genuinely, hauntingly thrilling.