The Making of the Italian West: Part 18

            Fistful of Westerns Part 18

In 1970, a comedy Spaghetti Western came out that would be a  complete game changer for the genre, THEY CALL ME TRINITY. It’s two stars would become household names throughout Europe, especially in Italy; Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill, stage names for Carlo Pedersoli and Mario Girotti.

The term Spaghetti Western by this time was now a universally accepted name for Italian westerns, so when critics saw Trinity (Terence Hill) and his brother,  Bambino’s (Bud Spencer) affinity for beans they started referring to the two Trinity pictures as Fagioli Westerns and that name started to be applied to all Italian comedy westerns, at least that’s how I’ve always understood it. Fagioli are beans in Italian.

Credit: Catawiki

THEY CALL ME TRINITY became Italy’s biggest grossing film of all time and spawned a sequel, TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME and for the next decade Spencer and Hill became a comedic dynamic duo, staring not just in westerns, but cop films like CRIMEBUSTERS, MIAMI SUPERCOPS, the post WWII treasure hunt picture HE WHO FINDS A FRIEND FINDS A TREASURE and many more.

Credit: Stuff Point

THEY CALL ME TRINITY wasn’t the first film they stared in together though, previously they had stared in the western trilogy directed by Giuseppe Colizzi GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T!, ACE HIGH and finally BOOT HILL, as insurance investigator Hutch Bessy (Bud Spencer) and bounty hunter Cat Stevens (Terence Hill). Now, these three pictures were not exactly comedies but audiences responded well to the two actors’ likability, chemistry and humor and are very important in the evolution of their pairing. These three pictures I’ll go over first before we get to the TRINITY films as these three films are actually some of the better Spaghetti Westerns, especially ACE HIGH which stared Eli Wallach shortly after his iconic role as Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez in Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY.

Credit: Reddit

Bud Spencer was born Carlo Pedersoli on  October 31, 1929 in Naples, Italy. He was athletic and excelled at swimming. He graduated early from high school top of his class and went to the University of Rome where he majored in Chemistry, unfortunately his family moved to South America and he had to leave.

Two years later they returned and he got involved in water polo and professional swimming, he would be the first Italian to swim 100 meters in less than a minute and would represent his County in the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics, he ended his swimming career the following year.

Credit: Gala

After marring Maria Amato, who was the daughter of Italian film producer Giuseppe Amato, he started get bit roles here and there but it was GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T that got him recognition. It was this picture where he chose the name Bud Spencer, Bud from Budweiser and Spencer from his favorite actor Spencer Tracy. He had a heavy Naples accent and was often dubbed in Italian by actor Glauco Oronato, in The English versions he was usually dubbed by Richard McNamara or Edward Mannix.

 

In 2005 he got into politics. He passed away June 27, 2016.

Terence Hill was born Mario Girotti on the 29th of March 1939 in Venice Italy, to an Italian father and German mother. He spent his childhood in Germany until the end of WWII and started acting at 12 when the family moved back to Italy.

The Leopard, credit: Arated-m

His big break came when he was cast in Luchino Visconti’s THE LEOPARD in a sizable role as Count Cavriagi. Afterwards he went back to Germany and made a few WINNETOU pictures, but it was on his return to Italy where he would make a western that would change everything for him, GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! where he met worked with Bud Spencer, however the did meet on a previous picture. Terence Hill and Bud Spencer captured the audiences hearts in Europe and the two made 19 pictures together, especially the massive hit THEY CALL ME TRINITY. He also stared in a similar role as a guardian angel named Nobody to Henry Fonda’s aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard in MY NAME IS NOBODY that was produced by Sergio Leone.

Credit: Reel Life With Jane

For a time Terence Hill was Italy’s highest paid actor and currently stars in the Italian TV series DON MATTEO about a crime solving priest.

 

GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! Dia Pardono…Lo No!  (1967)

Director: Giuseppe Colizzi

Writers: Giuseppe Colizzi, Gumersindo Mollo

Starring: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer and Frank Wolf

Music: Carlo Rustichelli Conductor: Bruno Nicholi

 

“It’s the first of 19 times that Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would be paired together. This muddled film is one of their poorer efforts – it’s poorly paced, overlong, tedious and humorless. I didn’t find a thing about it enjoyable. But those who have a strong stomach for all the dumb violence and can overlook the awkward execution of the story, may be the ones best suited for this bloody awful film.” -Dennis Schwartz

As The Dude would say “Like, that’s like just your opinion…man.” because GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! is one bad ass Mellon-farmer of a picture. There are very few laughs in this film other than some light hearted banter between it’s two main characters, Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy who actually don’t have a whole lot of scenes together.

The picture opens with a train as it approaches a station where it crashes.  It’s discovered that all on board have been brutally murdered and the gold it was carrying has been stolen. Later at a saloon some roughnecks are playing a game of poker that eventually breaks into a very good old fashioned fist fight.  This scene is beautifully shot and lit by cinematographer Alfio Contini, (IL SORPASSO) and is a great introduction to Terence Hill’s character Cat Stevens. We learn he’s good in a fight, he’s good with a knife and doesn’t mess around, he can do just about anything….but swim as we find out later in the film.

Next we meet Hutch Bessy who is hot on his old friend Cat’s trail. Once he meets up with him, he fills him in on the train robbery. A passenger was able to identify the killer, Cat’s old friend Bill San Antonio (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST’s Frank Wolfe) , the real mystery though, is that Bill has been dead for a year, or so it seems. Hutch informs Cat that he now works for the insurance company who insured the gold and the two partner up, but while Hutch sleeps Cat takes Hutch’s horse and skedaddles.

GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T became the biggest grossing domestic film in Italy for that year of 1967.

The next hour or so plays out like a film noir who done it, with flashbacks of Bill as we learn about Bills “death” and aftermath from various people who knew him. One scene that shows Cat and Bill’s relationship is a scene stealer for actor Frank Wolfe as he toys with Cat, calling him Pretty Face. The two duel and Cat kills him, but he really doesn’t see it as Bill had his boys set fire to the saloon and it’s smoky inside.

Hutch doesn’t join up with Cat for almost another 40 minutes, though he does make appearances, but when they do hook up again, this is where some of the humor comes in, as Hutch is sort of a Chewbacca to Cat’s Han Solo. They find the chest of gold that was stolen, Cat hoists it up onto Hutch’s back and makes him carry it. Hutch keeps complaining to take it off, while Cat continually calls him a coward.

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They make off with the gold burying it in the desert. Hutch and Cat make their getaway on a prairie schooner, they try to cross a river but the current is too strong and Hutch decides to make a swim to the shore, but Cat can’t swim! The macho Cat has to climb onto Hutch’s back and they swim to shore where they get into an argument and start humorously brawling until Bill’s men catch up with them.

Frank Wolff as Bill in God Forgives, I Don’t! Credit: Royal Books

Back at Bills place, Bill decides to torture them to get the info about the whereabouts of the gold. Since Bill knows them personally he knows each of their weaknesses. He drops Cat into a well full of water and violently brutalizes Hutch. Eventually Cat finds a way to escape, by bribing one of Bill’s men with the whereabouts of the gold.

Eventually Cat, Bill and a very messed up Hutch face off in the desert, where Cat has rigged up the hillside with dynamite. The ending is explosive and now Cat has to carry Hutch on his back to the wagon, they are now best buddies. The end is a happy and fitting one after the brutal tone of most of the picture.

GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! is slower paced than most films in it’s genre but never dull the actors are all great, especially Frank Wolfe, who tragically killed himself in 1971 at the age of 43. Wolfe started out with Roger Corman on several of his earlier pictures like I, MOBSTER, THE WASP WOMAN and SKI TROOP ATTACK but while working on Corman’s sword and sandal picture, ATLAS he decided to stay in Europe for awhile, where we made plenty of genre pictures. He also got a big part in Elia Kazan’s highly nominated, 11 to be exact, picture AMERICA, AMERICA, but he’s probably best remembered as Brett McBain, the brilliant land owner whose planning on building a town before he and his family are gunned down by Henry Fonda in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO.

Michelangelo Antonioni on the set of Zabriskie Point, photographed by Bruce Davidson, 1968

As with most Spaghetti Westerns it was  shot in Technoscope and in Technicolor by award winning cinematographer Alfio Contini, who shot one of my favorite  Italian comedies Dino Risi’s IL SORPASSO, Michelangelo Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT, THE NIGHT PORTER,  and won a 1996 Donatello Award for best Cinematography on Michelangelo Antonioni’s BEYOND THE CLOUDS, Antonioni’s first picture after his debilitating stroke.  The only real downside about the picture really, is the lousy dubbing of Terrence Hill, his voice seems a bit comical and doesn’t really go with his physique.

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GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T became the biggest grossing domestic film in Italy for that year of 1967, spawning two sequels which would be even bigger hits, ACE HIGH and BOOT HILL.

The name of the picture originally was to be Il Cane, I’ll Gatto, Il Volpe (The Dog, The Cat, and The Fox) Bud Spencer was to be The Dog, Frank Wolfe, The Fox and Pietro Martellanza, The Cat; he  had just co-stared with Lola Falana in the Spaghetti Western LOLA COLT (yes, Lola Falana was kickin’ ass years before Pam Grier) before he was originally cast as Cat Stevens, but alas, an injured leg prior to production left him out. Martellanza would be in another Spaghetti Western with the similar name CHIEDI PERDONO A DIO…NON A ME, MAY GOD FOGIVE YOU…I WONT, under the pseudonym Peter Martell; that picture was also retitled as DJANGO DEN COLT AN DER KEHLE in West Germany (the main character is named Cjango.) The role eventually went to Mario Girotti, who was asked to change his name to sound more American and he chose the name Terence Hill and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T was released in the USA by American International Pictures in May of 1969, on the lower half of a double feature with HELL’S ANGELS ’69. The marketing on the poster read THEY CALL HIM PRETTY FACE!…AND HIS CREDO IS SIMPLE, SHORT AND SWEET. Although I could not verify it, the poster art looks quite a bit like the work of Famous Monsters cover artist Basil Gogos who had done movie poster work for pictures like Sergio Martino’s THEY ARE COMING TO GET YOU when it was distributed state side by Independent International.

 

ACE HIGH I quattro dell’Ave Maria (1968)

Director Giuseppe Colizzi

Writer Giuseppe Colizzi

Music: Carlo Rustichelli Conductor: Bruno Nicholi

Starring: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Eli Wallach, Brock Peters and Kevin McCarthy

 

 

 

A couple of years after the success of Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY, actor Eli Wallach returned to Italy for another Spaghetti Western this time for writer/director Giuseppe Colizzi’s sequel to his very successful GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! Wallach here essentially plays a variation of THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY’S Tuco, but the real stars are Terence Hill and Bud Spencer reprising their roles as Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy.

Credit: Themoviedb

Audiences really took to Hill and Spencer’s Cat and Hutch character so much so, that in ACE HIGH the two are almost in every scene together. Writer/director Giuseppe Colizzi kicked up the humor a few notches and brought the grim tone of the first picture down a few notches as well. Terence Hill, despite his rugged looks was becoming known for more comedic roles, after GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T! he co-stared in a couple of musical comedies with Italian pop sensation Rita Pavone LA FELDMARESCIALLA and LITTLE RITA NEL WEST, which has the honor of being the first and only Spaghetti Western musical. Hill,  as you might remember from the earlier DJANGO blog, he also stared in what I think is the best Django knock-off; the Django prequel, DJANGO PREPARE A COFFIN.

ACE HIGH picks up exactly where GOD FORGIVES… I DON’T left off with Cat and Hutch riding on their wagon, but as soon as the horse starts to fart you know this one is going to be very different. In the previous film, GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T, bad guy Bill San Antonio informed Cat Stevens, again plaid by Terence Hill, that he had a silent partner who was respectable. So the boys go to town to collect the reward on the bounty of Bill, or what’s left of him, his boots and his hat. They also deliver the stolen gold to Bill’s silent partner, who turns out to bethe banks president, and blackmail him into giving them more money.

Hutch buys himself a new suit and goes to get his photo taken, but when a local shoots the white dove he’s holding Hutch goes and thumps the guy and a big brawl breaks out. This is all played for laughs and is actually quit amusing. After the fight winds down they notice a gallows being set up. Another person watches too, from his cell.

Bandit Cacopolous (Eli Wallach) is looking at swinging from the end of that rope when the bank president offers him freedom in exchange for bringing back the loot the boys took. He  agrees and later kills him.

Hutch talks about what he’ll do with their new riches when they are robbed by Cacopoulos. The next part of the film is a cat and mouse game where Cacopoulos humorously plays with the boys. Like when Cat and Hutch come across a family who are celebrating. They’re offered food and drink, when they’re told that a man gifted them money the head of the family says “Mr. Cacopoulos is a great man.” And Hutch immediately coughs up his drink and gives Cat the evil eye. In another instance they’re in a Mexican village and Hutch sees a wanted poster of Cacopoulos surrounded by an alter of flowers and candles and everyone is partying. Pointing at the poster Hutch says “Is he dead?” Of course not, he gave them a bunch of money!

 

They venture over to another town where an African American couple are performing a tightrope act and the woman starts being harassed by some cow pokes. Hutch and Cat try to stop them. The man on the tightrope leaps down and saves his woman. Afterwards he introduces himself as Thomas (Brock Peters best known as Tom Robinson in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and he too was offered money from Cacopoulos but he refused it and tells them that he believes that Cacopoulos is a good man who just wants to make people happy.

A few twists and turns and Cat and Hutch end up in another town, there the see Thomas and his wife and guess who? Cacopoulos, all washing dishes in a restaurant. When asked why Thomas is a dish washer he tells him the town started making bets to see if he’d fall and they started shooting at him, so this job was safer for the time being. Hutch, still wanting his money back asks Cacopoulos here is his money, he points to a building, “is that a bank?” Cat asks “No, a casino.” Needless to say Hitch is very upset. Cacopoulos says they took it fast too. So they go across the street into the casino to scope it out. Sure enough Cat spots a hidden window above the roulette table. Later that night they all sneak into the casino and go into the basement. There they find the the roulette table is rigged Cat notices a tube with a mouth piece and tells Thomas to go upstairs to and see if the other end is where the hidden window is. Sure enough it is. So now they agree that they’re going to get there money back.

Cacopoulos starts playing and of course winning which gets the attention of Drake (Kevin McCarthy INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) who is actually an old friend of Cacopoulos and the reason why he was sentenced to hang in the first place, it’s a little convoluted, but whatever, once Drake threatens to kill him for cheating, the boys come out and the customers that Drake’s been cheating them for years.

Drake and his men and Cacopoulos and the boys face off, Cat spins the roulette wheel “When it stops.” “Wait! Wait a minute! For 15 years I’ve dreamed of this moment, every night…every night…” Cat replies “Yeah, and so…” “There’s always music.” But instead of the usual epic trumpet solo we get…a waltz, a nice touch.

“Wallach and Hill have very blue eyes and fine teeth. -Vincent Canby, New York Times

Critics didn’t take to kindly to these Spaghetti Westerns; the irony is the fact that these pictures are still remembered, but can anyone really remember CACTUS FLOWER, a picture that garnered LAUGH-IN star Goldie Hawn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar or GOODBYE, COLUMBUS with Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw a picture the aforementioned film critic Vincent Canby called “Smart and funny,”  both of these pictures were number 8 and 9 at the box office for the year of 1969.

ACE HIGH was released in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures on September 3, 1969 and basically did very little business and probably was sold quickly to TV. I say this because as a kid in the 70s, ACE HIGH was on TV all the time and I saw it more often than the DOLLARS pictures. The ad campaign left a lot to be desired, the poster with a giant image of an ace card, reads “THE SMILE THAT KILLS! Nobody Beats Caco At His Own Game, Because Even If You Win…You Lose!” made very little sense, but I do like the poster and have I one. I feel the picture it pretty good it’s a lot of fun and the characters are all very likable. As with quite a few Spaghetti’s,  the plot gets a bit cumbersome with all the contrivances and plot twists that don’t really need there but the film is still quite entertaining.

 

Next time:

BOOT HILL

Writer director Enzo Barboni and the creation of TRINITY

THEY CALL ME TRINITY

THEY STILL CALL ME TRINITY

And even LAURAL & HARDY OUT WEST!

 

And later:

Sergio Leone gets into the act and produces Tonino Valerii’s MY NAME IS NOBODY and Damiano Damiani’s A GENIUS , TWO PARTNERS AND A DUPE

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