Fistful of Westerns Part 20
Now that the TRINITY pictures where number one at the Italian box office and even making tons of money around the world; Sergio Leone decided to jump on the band wagon and make a comedy western and the result was…
MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973)
Il mio nome é essouno
Director: Tonino Valerii
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi based on an idea by Sergio Leone
Music: Ennio Morricone
Starring: Terence Hill, Henry Fonda
With MY NAME IS NOBODY, filmmaker Sergio Leone chose to sit this one out and work only as a producer, choosing Tonino Valerii as director. Tonino, whom had previously worked with Leone as an assistant director on FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and A FEW DOLLARS MORE, had shown he could handle the hot seat directing westerns such as DAY OF ANGER (1967) and THE PRICE OF POWER (1969).
Leone came up with the idea for story of an aging gunfighter, Jack Beauregard, whose fixing on retiring to Europe and a young up and coming gunfighter, who, more than likely is an angel, who wants to see him go out in a big way. For the scripting chores he chose the ever prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, who had written many Peplums and some great gothic horror pictures like THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK, Mario Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY and Antonio Margheriti’s spooky, LONG HAIR OF DEATH and, if you recall from previous blogs, he also was responsible for the SARTANA prequel 1,000 ON THE BLACK and some of the better SARTANA’S, as well; the original, I AM SARTANA…YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH and LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING! Around the time of MY NAME IS NOBODY, Gastaldi had penned Sergio Martino’s giallo, TORSO. Gastaldi had worked with director Tonino Valerii before on the westerns TASTE OF KILLING, DAY OF ANGER and Zapata western THE PRICE OF POWER. Sergio Leone was looking for something mythological and, as with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, something that would be an homage or a kind of pastiche to the western pictures he loved.
The film opens up as three men ride into town on horse back. This scene plays out long and is accompanied by a ticking clock, much like the squeaking wind mill in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and later the ringing telephone in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, but here the clock is the theme of the picture, as we we meet aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) whose time, we soon discover, is just about up. He gets news that a ship, The Sundowner, will be in port in a few days on its way to Europe and Beauregard hopes to catch it in New Orleans. The cowboys we saw earlier have tied up the barber and milking a cow and grooming a horse while they wait for Beauregard. This whole intro clearly has Sergio Leone written all over it, as it takes its time with every little detail and sounds from everything; cow milking, the brush on the horse etc. and is a bit of a send up to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which was a scene influenced by Fred Zinnermann’s HIGH NOON. Ennio Morricone even goofs on his own soundtrack from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, with a self deprecating version of The Harmonica Man. Beauregard goes into the barber for a shave and we see the barber (Steve Kanaly, probably best known as Ray Krebs on TV’s DALLAS) is one of the cowboys that strolled in earlier. As the barber gives him a close shave, Beauregard puts his pistol in the man’s crotch just to keep him honest. With the clock still ticking he stands up and from outside he’s ambushed, but Beauregard is much to quick on the draw and kills them all and walks away. The real barber and his son come “ain’t nobody faster on the draw than him?” Says his wide-eyed boy “Than him?” His dad replies shaking his head “NOBODY”
We immediately cut to Terence Hill as the child like Nobody, whose trying to catch a fish with his bare hands. Later he winds up at a saloon out in the woods, some of these locations are unique to Spaghetti Westerns, the lake, this old saloon where all shot in the the real ghost town of Mogollon, New Mexico. Nobody walks around with a saddle on his back, giving the illusion of angel wings, as he looks for a horse for himself. Having been possibly tricked into bringing Beauregard a basket with a bomb inside, Nobody meets Beauregard. He tells him that the cowboy, Honest John (veteran western character- actor, R.G. Armstrong) told him to give it to him.
“Well, I don’t want it.” He replies. Nobody informs him that there’s three men outside that are fixin’ to kill him and he enthusiastically proceeds to tell him the other times Beauregard faced off with three or more bad guys and won. Nobody knows the names, the places and how. “How come you know so much about me?” “Everyone knows about Jack Beauregard, only hope for law and order in the west.” The scene climaxes when Nobody shouts “He says he don’t want it!” And tosses the basket out where it blows up sending smoke into the saloon! The shot is pretty impressive as it’s all in one take, without anyone flinching! As with all great explosive Leone moments, it quiets down to a touching moment as the smoke clears Nobody tells him “Since I was a boy I always wanted to see you against 150 sons of bitches…” he wants him to face off against The Wild Bunch a cowboy gang who has a controlling interest in a gold mine and want Beauregard dead. “Who are you?” He asks “why, I’m Nobody.” “Well, when you get to be somebody we’ll get ‘em together.”
“After Nobody wins at a beer drinking shooting game he gets into a confrontation with a gunslinger where Nobody unholsters the mans pistol”
Nobody goes to another town where Leone/Valerii go to Gianfranco Parolini territory with a circus and carnival in full swing. This is also where Nobody starts to reveal that he may be a more supernatural being than just another hot shot gunfighter. As he walks around a guy on stilts standing 20 ft tall walks over calling him shorty, Nobody cuts him down to size shooting out pieces of his stilts. Several men have there heads sticking through holes in a large canvas as people pay to throw pies, eggs and fruit at their faces “The fun of the game is to give them everything you’ve got!” Shouts The Barker. Nobody steps up grabs a pie and throws it into the Barkers face leaving his it a bloody mess. The camera pans down as Nobody walks away and we see he took a chunk of the marble table top that was under the pie!
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Henry Fonda is absent for this whole sequence which has very little to do with the plot, but it does serve two purposes; it reveals Nobody’s character; cutting down braggarts and mean spirited people, as well as bringing in the kind of slapstick comedy that Terence Hill was so great at in the TRINITY pictures, in fact one of the big gags in THEY CALL ME TRINITY is repeated here. After Nobody wins at a beer drinking shooting game he gets into a confrontation with a gunslinger where Nobody unholsters the mans pistol, then shoving it back in and slapping his face, all sped up. Some people are taken aback by these types of scenes in a western, I guess it really depends on how much you like slapstick; as a fan of The Three Stooges I find this stuff hilarious, especially the punching bag scene, which is masterfully done as it goes from hilarious to poignant as Nobody ends up in a billiard room with Beauregard.
The film works best when it’s a touching ode to the American westerns of John Ford and a treatise on the rugged old men whom were no longer viable in the modern era in which Beauregard acknowledges in one of my favorite scenes in the picture shot at San Estevan Del Rey Mission. Beauregard goes to the cemetery of the mission to see his brother, The Nevada Kid, who was killed by Sullivan and The Wild Bunch, again Nobody is there waiting and they dual “Four shots and one whole, just like the good ol’ days!” Says Nobody “There never were no good ol’ days. What’s your game?” Nobody replies “When I was a kid, I used to make believe I was Jack Beauregard.” “Now that you’re all growed-up?” He again insists that he must fight The Wild Bunch “Just think you’ll be in all the history books!” Beauregard says “You’ll be down here readin’ ‘em and I’ll be up there playin’ a harp.”
Nobody is Beauregard’s Angel of Death coaxing him to have one last gunfight before he leaves this earth. In the end Beauregard does fight The Wild Bunch with Nobody helping him. He has one last dual with Nobody and is killed, or was he? After all “Nobody, was faster on the draw than Jack Beauregard.” If You haven’t guessed it by now Nobody is derived from Homer’s The Odyssey, when Odysseus gets the Cyclops Polyphemus drunk and blinds him he tells him his name is Nobody and makes his escape. When Polyphemus tells his brothers what happened they ask him who did this. His reply “Nobody.” This name was also used to good effect in Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN, another western about leaving this plain.
Beauregard makes it to his ship, The Sundowner, that will sail him away and he writes a letter to, well…Nobody.
“You can preserve a little of that illusion that made my generation tick. Maybe you’ll do it in your own funny way, but we’ll be grateful just the same. Because looking back, it seems to me we were all a bunch of romantic fools; we still believed that a good pistol and a quick showdown could solve everything. But then the West used to be wide-open spaces with lots of elbow room – where you never ran into the same person twice. By the time you came along it was changed. It got small and crowded, and you kept bumping into the same people all of the time. But if you’re able to run around in the West peacefully catching flies, it’s only because fellas like me where there first…”
There’s been a bit of controversy about how much of the picture Tonino Valerii actually directed, similar what would happen years later between Producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper on the film POLTERGEIST, Leone did do some second unit work, as they were falling behind schedule and he did direct some when Valerii fell ill for a day, but for the most part it’s Valerii’s picture.
Released December 21, 1973; MY NAME IS NOBODY was immensely successful throughout Europe, even surpassing THEY CALL ME TRINITY in Italy! Terence Hill was a huge box office draw at that moment, having just stared in his third western from THEY CALL ME TRINITY director, Enzo Barboni, MAN OF THE EAST, and a non western team-up with his pal Bud Spencer, in Giuseppe Colizzi’s ALL THE WAY BOYS. Universal Pictures picked it up for US distribution in July of 1974 where it was trimmed by five minutes and marketed to cash in on the success of Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES, with a marketing campaign that read “After Your Saddle Blazes…What Next? Shootin’, Fightin’ and All That Rootin’ Tootin’ Classic Western Bull! Unfortunately it did very little business in the US and UK markets. Film critic for The Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas, wrote “The film is in dire need of some soundtrack narration and possibly some astute editing, too. As it is, it’s a sprawling business to diffuse to keep attention from wandering, yet sprinkled with moments of stylish inspiration.”
MY NAME IS NOBODY is not a great film considering Sergio Leone’s oeuvre, but, nor is it a total failure, at least artistically. Like most of Leone’s films it wears its heart on it’s sleeve. It’s a loving tribute to the western cinema he loved so much; as well as a introspective film about obsolescence and dying, after all NOBODY would be his second to last western and he wouldn’t direct another film until ten years later with ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.
A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS, AND A DUPE (1975)
UN GENIO, DUE COMPARII, UN POLLO
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Fulvio Morsella and Damiano Damiani
Director: Damiano Damiani
Producer: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Claudio Mancini, Jean Gontier
Music: Ennio Morricone
Starring: Terence Hill, Miou-Miou, Patrick McGoohan, Klaus Kinski
I had no idea this film existed until researching this blog, a sequel to MY NAME IS NOBODY. After one viewing all I can say is that it’s an impeccably shot exercise in boredom, that’s pretty harsh, I know, but there really isn’t much going on in this picture. I mean everything is there, but a story. The acting is all good the production design, the beautiful cinematography, but…not much else.
Terence Hill’s Nobody is now a somebody named Joe Thanks, he still comes off as a naïve childlike angel, here early in the picture, in what is perhaps the best scene, he’s not the wide eyed fanboy of the previous film but almost a vengeful angel, where he goes specifically into a saloon to mess with card shark Doc Foster (Klaus Kinski) This scene is very similar to the carnival sequence in MY NAME IS NOBODY in that Thanks is cutting people to size. This scene was all shot on The Flagstone set from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
Leone was so horrified by the final product that he had his name removed and never made another western again. Leone said of the films director, Damiano Damiani, that he is a good director of violent drama but had absolutely no feeling for comedy. Which is a shame, I was really excited when I read that Damiani had directed this as his BULLET FOR THE GENERAL is one of my favorite Spaghetti Westerns, HOW TO KILL A JUDGE is a pretty good political thriller and AMITYVILLE II:THE POSSESSION is the best in the series, but then again, they are all violent dramas. There really isn’t a single laugh in the picture, the humor is there, it just never seems to work.
The pre-credit open was brilliantly directed by Sergio Leone, with plenty of frames within frames compositions, which I love, like the shuttered windows with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, opening up to see the beautiful vista of Monument Valley, this shot is just absolutely stunning, but this VERY long, 10 min, opening serves absolutely no purpose what so ever, maybe I just didn’t get it, I don’t know.
The film stock quality changes throughout the picture, but that’s not because the film has been restored using different sources, but rather because some of the negatives were stolen during production and editor Nino Baragli (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), had to assemble some scenes using alternate takes.
The plot revolves around a racist Calverman Major Cabot (Patrick McGoohan, TV’s THE PRISONER) and a plan to steal 300 grand in gold. The two partners of the title are the half-Indian Steam Engine Bill (Canadian actor Robert Charlebois)and his girlfriend Lucy (French actress Miou-Miou. The cinematography by Giuseppe Ruzzolini (BURN, DUCK YOU SUCKER) is quite breathtaking even better than his work on MY NAME IS NOBODY, from the breathtaking vistas of Monument Valley to an interesting scene in a brothel where the prostitutes are on a spinning pedestal.
It’s a shame that this would mark Sergio Leone’s final western, which is probably why it often over looked in regards to his work.
Next: The Twilight Years.
Gore meister Lucio Fulci’s FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE
Enzo G. Castellari’s KEOMA
Sergio Martino’s MANNAJA: A MAN CALLED BLADE
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