Fistful of Westerns: The Making of The Spaghetti West Part 17; East Meets West
In the 70’s when everyone was Kung-fu fighting and before Jackie Chan hit the saddle in SHANGHAI NOON, there were a couple East Meets West Kung-Fu westerns ala Italiano, THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE and THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER, the latter with Lee Van Cleef and Hong Kong Kung-Fu star Lieh Lo.
THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER aka BLOOD MONEY (1974)
Director: Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Writer: Barth Jules Sussman
Music: Carlo Savina
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Leih Lo (Lo Lieh), Patty Shepherd, Femi Benussi
In this lighthearted but fun spaghetti western yarn, Lee Van Cleef, no longer playing the sapient sage to a young gunfighter, but instead THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER finds him in the lovable rogue role; the comic relief to a Chinese “Stranger”, a role that is normally reserved for a young, archetypical western movie trope, the gunslinger, be it an Anglo or a Mexican[i].
A steam train stops at what looks to be a very European train station, like something out of Harry Potter, but the conductor announces “Monterey, the richest little town south of San Francisco.” Stepping out from the bottom of the train, or as hobos call it, riding possum, is Dakota, (Mr. Lee Van Cleef). “You ain’t getting outta here without payin’” cries The conductor. Dakota kicks the steam valve causing a large cloud of steam, “I’ve got another idea.” And disappears.
Next, Dakota is in a bank picking the lock to a very complicated large safe. Once opened all he finds is a photograph of a woman’s beautifully shaped exposed bottom, which dissolves to live action of said woman, a lovely redheaded prostitute (Erika Blanc). One of her customers knocks and comes inside, a gentleman by the name of Wang, (Tung-Kua Ai). As usual she lays on her stomach in bed as he lifts up her dress to examine her smooth bottom with an eye piece, it seems he just had her butt tattooed and wants to see if it came out ok. Cut back to Dakota, he’s still inside this elaborate safe and has opened another door, but unfortunately all he finds is another photo of a butt, and again we dissolve to live action.
This time it’s a Russian prostitute (Patty Shepherd) and the sweet little Wang examines her nice little derrière as well, “Wang, why don’t you stay, the night is long?” but Wang replies “Night is long, but life is short.” And scuttles off. Back to Dakota and yet another door and another beautiful butt. This time it’s an Italian bird and again Wang examines her butt, but this one gets a more thorough exam. Later he goes into a Chinese prostitutes room and checks out her but “Mr. Wang!” She exclaims while looking out the window “something’s going on at the bank!” “WHAT! That’s my safe!” He runs over to the bank and catches Dakota who tells him to stand back as he just put some dynamite in the safe, but it blows up killing Wang. Dakota goes back in and finds another photo with a fortune cookie on top. When he comes out the law is there. “This a hangin’ town, what did you do with Wang’s fortune?” The only thing is the safe were pictures of women’s butts and a fortune cookie!
And thus begins another quest for gold Spaghetti Western picture. Now it’s here where the picture changes locales, and music styles, we meet our Stranger, and if you’re a fan of Hong Kong Kung-Fu pictures you’ll recognize the location right away as this was a joint production between esteemed Chinese mogul Run Run Shaw and Italian mogul Carlo Ponti. In a temple a new adapt has just been initiated as a monk, Wong Ho Chaing (Lieh Lo) but he’s called out by the emperors guards, his Uncle Wang in America is dead and he must be questioned. It turns out that Wang left to American with money from the emperor in hopes to invest it and make it grow, but now the emperor thinks it was stolen and now Ho Chaing must prove that his Kung-Fu is better then the emperors men, and a fight ensues (gone is the fuzzy SW music, now it’s more appropriately wah-wah guitars.) Director Anthony Margheriti must’ve gotten access to Shaw Bros studio equipment as the production values shoot up a few notches in these exciting scenes. Once Ho Chaing kicks everyone’s ass the emperor decides to send him to America to return his gold.
Chaing is now in America and he immediately investigates the whereabouts of his uncles fortune. The bank hands him the photographs and the fortune cookie. “Where can I find these women.” Chaing asks, “On their backsides…of the photographs.” Lots of butt jokes play throughout the film. Meanwhile a gallows is being built to hang Dakota, whose locked up in the jail. Chaing figures he must go into the jail to talk to him and figures out a plan. In front of a saloon reads a sign “No Negroes, Chinese or unattended dogs.” So Chaing walks in with a St. Bernard and you can guess what happens next, a big Kung-fu brawl that lands him in the cooler with Dakota.
Now in jail with Dakota, Chaing asks him what he did with the fortune “What fortune, all he had was some pictures and a cookie.” Chaing hands them to him and opens the fortune cookie[ii] “At bottom of every woman there is a fortune.”
“With bottoms like these you couldn’t help but make a fortune!”- Dakota
With Dakota’s Head now in a noose Chaing rescues him and they agree to partner up and search for the fortune by tracking down the girls and putting the puzzle together that’s tattooed on their butts. The next 40 minutes find the two humorously tracking down the women and putting the mystery together.
“I want to see the ass of his woman.”
The tattooed ladies are a who’s who in genre pictures. The first up is the American mistress, who is now under control of the Bible spouting gunslinger Yanci Hobbitt, and is forced to wear a chastity belt.
The lovely red headed, Italian actress ERIKA BLANC plays this role. Erika was no stranger to Spaghetti Westerns having been in quite a few of them like the pre SARTANA picture 1000 ON THE BLACK (1966) DJANGO SHOOTS FIRST (1965) SARTANA IS HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (1970) among others, a staring role in Mario Bava’s gothic thriller KILL, BABY…KILL! (1966) the classic THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF HER GRAVE (1971) but her biggest role was as in LO, EMMANUELLE (1969) this was the first adaption of Emmanuelle Arsan’s racy biographical novel and not part of the Just Jaekin directed series staring the late Sylvia Kristal. After Chaing checks her out they move one, but the Bible bangin’ Hobbitt, now has a quench for gold.
Chaing and Dakota go to New Mexico to check out the butt of the Russian Mistress. She apparently is now married to a casino owner, so the two clean up at the roulette table. The owner proclaims that he can’t afford to pay them the 100,000 they won “oh, no, I don’t want money, I just want to see ass of your wife.” Which leads to a humorous exchange between them all “Why? Her ass looks just like anybody else’s.” That doesn’t go over to well with the misses. She shows him but there’s nothing, no tattoo! “Oh! You must mean her twin sister.” They leave to pay her a visit, she has the tattoo but her butt is covered in autographs from customers!
The twin sisters are played by the alluring American actress Patty Shepherd, another genre sexpot. From Greenville, South Carolina, Patty moved to Spain at 18 to study Philosophy and fell into modeling and acting and acted in many Euro-trash pictures including cult favorites CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD with Andrew Prine and Mark Damon and one of my favorite Paul Naschy pictures, LE NOCHÉ DE WALPÜRGIS aka THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN were she plays the Vampire Woman, Countess Wandesa; as well as the French Western LES PÉTROLEUSES with Brigette Bardot and Claudia Cardinele. Her younger sister is TV actress Judith Chapman. Sadly Patty passed away of a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 67.
Then the meet up with the Italian Mistress played by Femi Benussi. Miss Benussi was in a few Spaghetti Westerns like THE BEAST, 3 PISTOLE CONTRO CEASAR, Jungle flick TARZANA, THE WILD WOMAN, giallos like Mario Bava’s HATCHET FOR A HONEYMOON, STRIP NUDE FOR YOR KILLER but was a staple in the 70s Commedia Sexy All’ Italliana pictures.
The two now go to the Chinese mistress (Karen Yeh) where Chaing and her talk of China. With only 20 minutes left in the film we final get a shot of Hobbitt and his men storm the town and kidnap Chaing‘s new woman and takes her to his mission hideout. Chaing gives Dakota his money and tells him it’s too dangerous he should, but Dakota refuses; he’s in it till the end!
The end is all pretty rushed but effective as Dakota gets caught and whipped, Chaing comes in to rescue him and his girl, another big shoot out and Kung-fu fighting then back to China where the Emperor is pissed that Chaing doesn’t have the money and orders his head cut off but Dakota dressed in a Chinese outfit and riding in a rickshaw stops the execution. Chaing explains that the treasure was here all along. Wang had delivered a wooden statue of an Indian, inside are shares to big American companies and he’s now ten times richer than he once was.
THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER was a joint production between The Shaw Bros and Italian film mogul Carlo Ponti. At this point in time Run Run Shaw owner of the studio was trying to branch out into more western markets and making deals such as this picture and the U.K.’s mighty Hammer Studios; which by the 70s was struggling and not the powerhouse it once was, the one feature they made together was
THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES.Carlo Ponti on the other hand was a very prolific producer, art collector and was once married to Sophia Loren. His impressive film credits are exhaustive from Fellini’ s LA STRADA, Vittorio De Sica’s controversial TWO WOMEN, David Lean’s DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, Antonioni’s BLOW OUT, to name a few.
Lieh Lo is excellent as the meek but intelligent Chaing. Lo was pretty much a Kung-fu star at this point having stared in the classic king-fu hit FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, and Lee Van Cleef has a nice turn in a rare comedic role as Chaing’s sidekick. The premise sounds silly but it really is a fun and funny film where two cultures and styles meet and it would’ve been great to have a sequel with these two.
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THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE (1973)
Director: Mario Caiano
Writers: Carlo Alberto Alfieri, Mario Caiano, Fabrizio Trifone Trecca
Music: Bruno Nicholi
Starring: Chen Lee, Klaus Kinski, Piero Lulli
Unlike THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER, THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE is a more traditional Spaghetti Western, but with a high karate twist.
Shanghai Joe (Chen Lee) newly arrived from China wants to get work as a cowboy but all he encounters is racism. The first twenty minutes is essentially episodic as he goes from place to place. The first place he goes is to a ranch were they racially insult him and tell him to get lost, but then they decide that they’ll challenge him; if he can best them at their challenges they’ll give him a horse and hire him on, he gratefully accepts. The first challenge is hammering a spike into a table, the leader pounds it in their quick, Shanghai Joe looks at the spike and carefully puts it in his hand and slams it down in one shot! The next challenge a cowboy leaps into the air and somersaults onto the horse! Shanghai does a triple back flip and lands on the horse galloping around. Their pride hurt, they chase him off and tell him to get lost.
He later gets some work but in the evening he has a card game with the boys and cleans them out and is later chased. He gets hunted down by some other guys but when they meet up with they tell him that their boss a has heard about him and he wants to use him to help heard cattle. Shanghai is happy about this, he gets to be a real cowboy, until he finds out that the “cattle” are really Mexicans. “I thought slaves were a thing of the past in America?” “Oh, these people want to work.” Their boss pays Mexican “recruiters” to round up peones and he sells the contract to southern plantation owners. They heard them along until the federales show up and fire at them. The gringos start killing the Mexicans and storm off. Shanghai helps the only survivor who tells him that they killed them so that know one will know who the recruiters are.
Shanghai is captured by the gringos and brought to their boss, Stanley Spencer, (Piero Lulli) where he’s beaten and forced in a bull ring to fight Molock, Spencer’s black bull! So now it’s Shanghai vs. Molock in a game of death, but the mighty Molock’s brut strength and pointy horns are no match for Shanghai’s Kung-Fu and he drops him!
He makes his cunning escape by using Molock’s horns to slice off his binds and leaps over the wall and onto Spencer’s horse where the two take off into the desert. Shanghai beats
him up “Your kind of America isn’t what I came here for. Your kind of America would break both your legs and leave you to the jackals and vultures, only I think that there’s another kind of America that has no room for scoundrels like you!” He leaves him there and rides off.
Later Spencer now back at his ranch orders Shanghai dead, but who’s going to go up against Shanghai. Well, some of the meanest, roughenest, toughenest, hombres this side of Lazio, Italy, that’s who. Guys like; Pedro The Cannibal, Tricky The Gambler, Burying Sam and last but not least Scalper Jack.
Shanghai hides out where he meets Christina (Carla Romanelli) the daughter of the peon Shanghai rescued. She tends to his needs and the two quickly fall in love. Pedro the Cannibal (Claudio Undari) bursts in, the two brawl and Shanghai quickly cools his face in boiling hot water! Shanghai and Christina leave and go to town and find a place to hole up. Here he meets Burying Sam (Gordon Mitchell)[iii] where the two get into another brawl. Eventually a little over an hour into the picture second billed star Klaus Kinski shows up for a few minutes as the psychotic Scalper Jack and Shanghai sends Jacks scalp to Spencer.
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I find the picture highly entertaining and it moves along well, never a dull moment. The fight scenes do lack the physicality of THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER. Star Chen Lee looks Japanese not Chinese and only has a few credits to his name, all at around the same period. His acting is good and has a very likable presence which is good considering he’s in almost every scene.
Director Mario Caiano tries to put some kind of subtext to the picture not just about race relations in America but also the sexes. In one scene Shanghai is being escorted to a saloon and a couple of ladies walk by with laundry baskets talking amongst themselves, one of them says “We argued all night last night but he refuses to believe that a woman needs to be satisfied just as much as a man does.” With her friend saying “I’ll say.” Another scene has Shanghai retrieving a doctor for the sick Christina, they get to talking and the doctor says “America has some of the biggest bastards God’s ever created.” Klaus Kinski later takes his scalp!
Caiano also peppers his fight scenes with gore that would make Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci envious. One scene has Shanghai leap forward into Tricky The Gamble and very graphically rips out his eyeball. The end finds him fighting one of his own, the two are members of the Fire Lotus and have the mark tattooed on their arms. Shanghai chops the man’s hand off then finally lunges forward and sticks his hand into the man’s chest while blood squirts out in slow-motion!
The music by Bruno Nicholi is excellent but it should be as it’s the same music heard in the Sartana picture HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND…SARTANA WILL PAY. There was an inferior sequel produced THE RETURN OF SHANGHAI JOE, but the only one who returned was Klaus Kinski. This time Shanghai is played Cheen Lie, instead of Chen Lee. You can’t go wrong with these two pictures THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER and THE FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE make for an exciting afternoon or evening infront of the screen and would fit in nicely with the non Spaghetti Western Terrence Fisher’s RED SUN with Charles Bronson and Toshirô Mifune.
[i] Anglo; Clint Eastwood FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, John Philip Law DEATH RIDES A HORSE
Mexican; Tómas Malian THE BIG GUNDOWN.
[ii] Though the Japanese had a variation of the fortune cookie, the fortune cookie as we know it and portrayed here wasn’t invented until 1918 in Los Angeles, California; however, a court ruled that it was a San Franciscan invention, that was created sometime between 1890 and the early 1900s, regardless the cookie didn’t become popular until the 1940’s. So I suppose it could be accurate that there was a fortune cookie in Monterey.
[iii] Gordon Mitchell was a professional body builder and was part of the original Muscle Beach crew at Venice Beach and later toured with Mae West. He later went to Italy during the sword and Sandal and worked in many of them as well as spaghetti westerns. We is the owner of Worlds Gym. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Colombo and many more all attended his funeral in 2003.