Fistful of Westerns Part 19
BOOT HILL (1969)
La collina degli stivali
Writer/Director: Giuseppe Colizzi
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Starring: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Woody Strode, Lionel Stander, Victor Buono
BOOT HILL is the final picture in the Cat and Hutch trilogy started by the success of GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T (1967) and followed by ACE HIGH (1968). I really wish that I could say it was good, but it’s rather terrible, despite having been written and directed by Giuseppe Colizzi, who wrote and directed the other pictures as well, and fine performances all around, especially by Woody Strode, so it does beg to question; just what the hell happened?
The film opens with a poker game that ends with a player pouring out a bag of gold, we then cut to a circus performance, where we’re introduced to Mimi, blacklisted[i] actor Lionel Stander (TV’s HART TO HART) who introduces his trapeze act, The Flying Men. While this is going on our hero Cat Stevens (series regular Terence Hill) who more than likely was one of the poker players earlier, gets into a shoot out, I think, as it’s so dark it’s difficult to see what’s going on, the copy I saw was a very dark and murky 4:3 print of a 2:35:1 Techniscope print.
The next day, the circus troupe leaves town but it’s discovered that a wounded Cat Stevens has stowaway aboard one of the coaches. Thomas (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST’s Woody Stode) takes care of him until he gets better. Meanwhile gunslingers are searching for him, they find out he’s with the big circus and go to the big top and shoot and kill one of the trapeze performers that happens to be Thomas’ kid. Later Thomas and Cat go looking for Cat’s friend in an old shack, there they find Hutch Bessy (series regular Bud Spencer)who now lives with a deaf mute named Baby Doll (George Eastman) it’s here where we finally get some plot, though, it’s kind of overly complicated; Cat and Hutch’s mutual friend is being coerced into selling his claim to a mining boss named Honey Fisher (heavy set actor/comedian Victor Buono) and Cat had won the claim in a poker game which means its theirs. So now Cat, Hutch, Thomas and Baby Doll ride off to take care of business.
It takes a very long time to actually get to the plot of the story, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with as long as the character development is interesting; I actually prefer interesting characters and even production design over plot. But here it takes a long boring road to get to your standard Spaghetti Western gold heist. The rest of the picture is a bit of a chore to sit through and many things seem…a bit off, is Hutch Gay now? He’s living with a deaf mute named Baby Doll, is that in reference to the Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams’ BABY DOLL in which a young 19 year old girl named Baby Doll (Carol Baker) is married to a much older man played by Karl Malden and also stared Eli Wallach, who had just stared in director Giuseppe Colizzi’s previous Cat and Hutch picture ACE HIGH? The character of Honey Fisher is played by Victor Buono who was openly gay, a rare thing to be at the time.
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The music is excellent…if it was in an episode of PETER GUN! The cool jazzy soundtrack just doesn’t fit really well with a western. Just sitting back and listening to it is great as it conjures up images of 50s cars, beatnik babes in tight sweaters and Capri pants, but not horses and spurs. Was Giuseppe Colizzi sick of doing these? The answer may lie in the fact that Colizzi was only supposed to write and produce and Romolo Guerrieri (JOHNNY YUMA) was to direct but was fired not long after production started. He was shooting the beginning which is Colizze had to cross edit to make it work and it doesn’t as it’s just too dark to see anything. I finally saw a remastered scene of this and it’s still way to dark.
The real stand out performance, and perhaps the main reason to watch it, is Woody Strode’s Thomas. Strode, who was one of the first black men to play integrated professional football and played for the UCLA Bruins and was inducted into the UCLA athletic hall of fame, mostly played smaller roles up to this point, but here his role is larger and shows he could’ve perhaps been a bigger star, he definitely was paid more; 70 grand for the 10 week shoot, were as the American picture THE PROFESSIONALS he was only paid 1000 a week. THE PROFESSIONALS is a much, much stronger film though, with heavy weights Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Jack Palance and was nominated for three Oscars in 1967.
BOOT HILL lacks the brilliant cinematography of GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T’s Alfio Contini (IL SORPASSO, THE NIGHT PORTER) and the charm and humor of ACE HIGH. I don’t want to criticize too harshly on the cinematography because as I said earlier I saw a murky PD version, I’m assuming its public domain as this picture was on TV quite often and is always in the dollar bins at discount stores even as far back as the VHS days. Sometimes it’s paired with the TRINITY pictures, which it is NOT, where it’s called TRINITY RIDES AGAIN. Which leads us to our next film…
“What I would really like to do someday (Carlo said) would be to make a spoof of these Westerns. We have made so many Italian Westerns in Italy that surely we have earned the right to make a spoof. Especially since we love the Western so…”
–Carlo Pedersoli aka Bud Spencer, in an interview with Roger Ebert on set of 5-MAN ARMY (1969)
THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1971)
Director: Enzo Barboni
Writers: Enzo Barboni and Gene Luotto
Music: Franco Micalizzi
Starring: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer
Bud Spencer would get his wish in a film that would make him and his co-star icons world wide. The origins of THEY CALL ME TRINITY would start a few years earlier though in 1966. Cinematographer Enzo Barboni, who did some outstanding work on pictures like DJANGO and NIGHTMARE CASTLE, while shooting TEXAS ADIOS had an idea for a comedy western. He approached the star of the picture Franco Nero (DJANGO) but he wasn’t interested in comedy. While shooting Ferninado Baldi’s LITTLE RITA OF THE WEST, Barboni met Terence Hill and later he would meet Bud Spencer while shooting 5-MAN ARMY.
When it came time for casting THEY CALL ME TRINITY’s producers wanted Peter Martell[ii] (MAY GOD FORGIVE…I WONT) and George Eastman (ANTHROPOPHAGUS, Baby Doll from BOOT HILL), but Enzo Barboni wanted Terence Hill and Bud Spencer and thank God for that because there is a chemistry between these two that really makes all their pictures special.
The picture opens with with Trinity (Terence Hill) sleeping on a travois that his horse is pulling across the desert. He stops at a saloon and he gets up and lazily drags his holster along as he steps in. The customers and bar keep are repulsed by his filth and ratty clothes. He sits down and scarfs up a plate of beans. Some local bounty hunters had a wounded Mexican they plan on collecting a bounty for but Trinity has other plans. When they ask who his name is he replies “They call me Trinity.” One of them replies “The right hand of the devil!” He shoots a guy behind him without looking and takes the Mexican with him.
Latter he goes into town where he meets the sheriff whose is being hassled. The sheriff turns out to not be a sheriff but Trinity’s horse rustler brother Bambino (Bud Spencer), who stole the star from the true sheriff who eventually tracks him down. Bambino runs his sheriff’s office a bit like John T. Chance in Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO complete with a Stumpy (Walter Brennen) like character in Jonathon (Steffen Zacharias), in fact the first part of the film is a lot like RIO BRAVO with Bambino carrying around a rifle like Wayne’s character in said picture and even deputizing Trinity like the dude.
We meet the main heavy in the picture Major Harriman (Stage and film actor Farley Granger of Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and Joseph Zito’s THE PROWLER) he’s been trying to muscle some Mormons off their land. The Mormons are also being hassled by Mescal (Remo Capitani) and his Bandidos.
Later, on the way to visit with the Mormons, Bambino lectures his kid brother “do something with your life, rustle horses, you’re pretty good with card sharkin’” Trinity’s reply is “whose got the time? I’m too busy doin’ nothin’.” They get to the Mormons “How are you, brothers?” Bambino looks at Trinity “How did they know we were brothers?” They introduce themselves and sit down for supper where Sarah and Judith (the lovelies Gisela Hahn and Elena Pedemonte), whom Trinity had protected from Harimen’s goons earlier, make goo goo eyes at Trinity. Mescal and his men return and start slapping people around but when Mescal slaps the gruff Bambino, Bambino instantly bitch-slaps him. The Mormon leader, Brother Tobias, informs Mescal that “these brothers practice an eye for an eye, so you best come back another day.” Mescal agrees.
Trinity decides to settle down and stay with the Mormons after he discovers that he can marry both, Judith and Sarah, and talks Bambino into helping the Mormons from Harriman, by convincing him they can take Mescals horses that were promised to him by Harriman. Bambino agrees, and like in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Trinity and Bambino, along with a couple of Bambino’s horse rustling friends, Timid and Weasel (Luciano Rossi and Ezio Marano) train the peaceful Mormons on how to fist fight, since they’re against the use of firearms as Judith says with dreamy eyes, “Only love can conquer evil, and from my body, heat to warm your blood and from my breast, drink the nectar to quench thy thirst, and from my lips you should hear only love. Thus spake Ezekiel.” To which Trinity replies “…and he was damned right.” The end is a long 10 minute brawl and after the fight is over and the evil Major Harriman defeated the brothers go their separate ways on account that Trinity let the Mormons brand the horses making them worthless. Trinity stays on until He hears a sermon about working and laboring for the lord and he high tails it outta there!
THEY CALL ME TRINITY was released in Italy in December of 1970 where it became a massive hit and it came out a few months later in the US where it was distributed by Avco Embassy Pictures and released uncut with a ‘G’ rating! The picture is pretty funny and entertaining and works both as a comedy and a western. I think the producers must have expected this would go over well in English speaking countries, as all the actors said their lines in English so the dubbing is quite well done and not at all distracting. THEY CALL ME TRINITY would go one to be the twenty-second most successful Italian film just behind THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, though it’s reputation isn’t as prestigious. “They Call Me Trinity” could be the best bad movie of the year.” said The Cleveland National Press.
TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME! (1971)
Director: Enzo Barboni
Writers: Enzo Barboni and Gene Luotto
Music: Franco Micalizzi
Starring: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Yanti Somer, Harry Carry Jr.
After the huge success of THEY CALL ME TRINITY, the comedy Spaghetti Western was launched and like the icons before Trinity, SARTANA and DJANGO, a few films unofficially used The Trinity name. Pictures like; TRINITY AND SARTANA ARE COMING, TWO SUNS OF TRINITY staring Michael Coby and Paul Smith, these two would make several “Hill and Spencer” type pictures like CONVOY BUDDIES, THE DIAMOND PEDDLERS both directed by Giuliano Carnimeo of SARTANA fame and WE’RE NO ANGELS directed by SABATA’s Gianfranco Parolini. Michael Coby (real name Antonio Cantafora) doesn’t look too much like Terence Hill but actor Paul Smith is a dead ringer for Bud Spencer, so much so that many people think they’re the same guy, I did when I was a kid, but Paul Smith is actually an American actor, born in Everett, Massachusetts, and is perhaps best known for playing Popeye’s competitor for Olive Oyl’s heart, Bluto, in Robert Altman’s illfated POPEYE, and horror aficionados will recognize him from the Spanish splatter film PIECES and as Baron Harkonnen’s nephew in David Lynch’s DUNE and many other films.
In a pre-credit sequence, Bambino (Bud Spencer) comes across a few cowboys. He chats with them takes their beans and horses and leaves them on their own in the middle of the desert. As the credits roll Trinity (Terence Hill) again riding on a travois being pulled by a horse until he too comes across the same gunslingers. He explains to them that he’s workin’ on becoming an outlaw but he only has a fifty dollar price on his head. “50 dollars! What did you do steal a chicken?” Thinking he’s some kind of idiot they invite him for their bean dinner. But before long he has them beating each other up and he steals their grub and leaves.
He goes home where we meet his and Bambinos parents, his dad played by John Ford alum Harry Carry Jr. and their mother played Jessica Dublin (THE PARA PSYCHICS) and they’re just as filthy and eccentric as they are, though Bambino is the more responsible one as Father says to Trinity “You need to get yourself a respectable trade like Bambino, he’s rustling horses!” though not very successfully. So he tells Bambino to teach his younger brother the art of horse robbing, and they set off to make their way in the world.
In the middle of the desert the encounter a small family of settlers making their way west, Bambino tells Trinity to cover his face “Why?” He asks as they go over to them with the intention of robbing them. Bambino tells the father, whose holding an infant to “get your hands up!” Trinity says “if you does that he’ll drop the baby!” Trinity goes to the back of the wagon to scope it out where he meets their daughter Perla, the drop dead gorgeous Finnish actress Yanti Somer (WAR OF THE PLANETS, Billy Wilder’s AVANTI) they are instantly smitten with each other. They end up fixing their broken wheel and Bambino reluctantly gives them what little money they have on account of the baby being ill, he has gas, Mel Brooks’ claim that BLAZING SADDLES was the first picture that has farting is laid to rest as TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME came out a full two years earlier, maybe first American film to break the mighty wind! The family is very grateful and the two move one.
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In what is perhaps the funniest scene in the picture, the boys go into town and go to a saloon and play a game of poker with some card sharks. Bambino clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, Trinity grabs a deck of cards and starts shuffling them in a brilliant comedic moment. The timing and execution of this scene is right up their with best of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and even Lucille Ball as Trinity skillfully shuffles the deck. To pull off a scene like this it takes great directing, editing and most of all great acting, Bambino, surprised bursts out laughing and Trinity shoots him al look, after all he’s supposed to have a poker face, which Bambino normally seems to go through life with! The most iconic moment of this whole scene is when the main Gambler intends on shooting Trinity but Trinity is too fast a draw pulling out his gun putting it back then slapping the guy which he does over and over, Bugs Bunny couldn’t have done it better.
“TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME was an even bigger hit than THEY CALL ME TRINITY and would go on to be Italy’s biggest grossing film for a while”
After their big score at the poker table they get themselves new duds and Trinity spots Perla and explains to her that he and his partner are not robbers but actually federal agents working undercover “but don’t tell my Captain I said that.” Bambino comes over and Perla’s parents thank him again for the money to save their petulant son[iii] Bambino reaches into his pocket and hands them more money and gruffly says “A couple of whiskies should fix him up fine.” “Thank you captain, if people were as generous as you—“ “the kid would be an alcoholic.”
Though the script is episodic in nature, TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME is a much better film that the first, I think so anyway. The comic timing and execution is better and it’s more about the the brothers and the situations they encounter, much more like the classic comedies of Laurel and Hardy. The dinner scene in the upscale restaurant comes to mind. This scene was not in the script but was made up on set by Hill and Spencer, these two were really getting into making their comic duo work in the tradition of golden era comedies. This scene is very similar to a scene several years later in THE BLUES BROTHERS.
It’s here where we get a bit of plot going, word is now out that these guys are a couple of Federal Agents and Some business men who are running guns want to kill them but Parker says its best to pay them off. Afterwards the boys meet with Parker and pays them 4 grand to keep their eyes shut, a thousand for each eye!
They go to another town where the encounter an abusive sheriff who beats on the local Mexicans and think the boys work for Parker. He tells them to stay away from a local mission. The Mexicans say the monks beat them as well. The boys smell something fishy and perhaps another money making opportunity so they go to investigate.
The go to the mission and ask the padres why they are abusing the peons. “It’s not us it’s Lucifer.” Trinity turns to Bambino “ever heard him?” “No, must be from back east.” Trinity tells the Padres “if this Lucifer comes back tell him to go to Hell.” They leave but Trinity wants to go back and he does and meets up with foxy Perla and her family and learns that Parker’s boys are basically holding the mission and the padres hostage, they dress up as the monks to deliver the weapons and a laundering the money through the mission, at least that’s how I understood it, these spaghetti western plots can get over wrought with details like a Christopher Nolan movie.
Like in the previous film they get the true monks together and the peons together as well as the gold that’s stashed there, in this case it’s a sand bag full and they wait for Parker and his men. When they arrive, they all brawl but again it’s much more funnier the the last picture as the play American football with the sack of gold, tossing it here tossing it there pushing people aside, like a Three Stooges Short! In the end they give back the money to the law to the frustration of Bambino and they meet up with Perla’s family again.
TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME was an even bigger hit than THEY CALL ME TRINITY and would go on to be Italy’s biggest grossing film for a while, making TRINITY a cultural icon, even as recently as 2006 in this Sprint commercial! TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME would be the final TRINITY picture for Terence Hill and Bud Spencer but not the last time They would be paired together eleven more times and the two became very popular world wide. Beautiful Yanti Somer would star again with Terence Hill in the spaghetti western MAN OF THE EAST also directed by Enzo Barboni!
Next: Sergio Leone produce’s two western comedies
Tonino Valerii’s MY NAME IS NOBODY and Damiano Damiani’s A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS, AND A DUPE both staring Terence Hill
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[i] Stander was outed as a communist during the McCarthy era and didn’t work in Hollywood for years. He wrote “We fought on every front because we realized that the forces of reaction and fascism fight democracy on every front. We too, have been forced, therefore to organize in order to combat them on every front: politically through such organizations as the Motion Picture Democratic Committee; economically through our guilds and unions, socially and culturally through such organizations as The Hollywood Ant-Nazi League.
[ii] Peter Martell Lost the role of Cat in GOD FORGIVES…I DON’T to Terence Hill.
[iii] There’s a baby in the first film THEY CALL ME TRINITY, in real life it was Terence Hill’s newborn son, I’m not sure if the baby is the same, I could be as these pictures were only a year apart!