Archive for Ennio Morricone

Property Values

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2020 by dcairns

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IL GATTO (1977) is by Luigi Comencini, one of my most exciting recent discoveries. I like how he makes political comedies where the social commentary is inseparable from the humour: LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972) with Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten and Alberto Sordi and Silvana Mangano was the first one I saw that made that clear. Comencini worked in a variety of genres but so far his comedies interest me most. And Sergio Leone produced this one — I don’t see any sign of him getting hands-on, though, as he did with his Damiano Damiani films. Mind you, there are a few familiar faces in the cast, including Mario Brega, who I believe got killed in all three of the DOLLARS trilogy, and there’s a perky Morricone tango as theme tune.

But the stars are Ugo Tognazzi and Mariangela Melato as brother and sister landlords of a rent-controlled tenement building who resort to all kinds of dirty tricks to drive the tenants out so they can sell the property and get rich. When their titular cat turns up murdered, they show no sorrow but see it as an opportunity to investigate and possibly get at least one troublesome tenant evicted.

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It’s a wonderfully nasty piece of work — there are no really sympathetic characters (except the cat), but the plotting gets you involved in the vicious and creepy pair’s schemes, so this doesn’t result in loss of engagement. When a foot tries to kick the feline during the opening titles and then we tilt up to reveal the owner of the foot is a nun, the tone has been decisively set.

The two leads (the child-catcher from BARBARELLA and Kala “despatch rocket Ajax” from FLASH GORDON) perform with total lack of vanity or concern for our sympathies, though it’s true they’re in a hell of their own: they hate each other far more than they do their tenants, but are compelled to cooperate if they want to get rich. And they really, really want to get rich. Also, he’s always pilfering food, and she has a thing for the clergy.

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One can perhaps detect Leone misogyny amid the misanthropy — a gratuitous sequence of a guy mauling a girl in the back of a car anticipates similar unpleasantness in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA but is thankfully briefer and less pornographic. There’s a gay character who is certainly stereotyped and winds up dead. But it is hard to completely separate the retrograde elements from the capitalism-corrupts-absolutely message, which comes over strongly and with dark wit. If the ending weren’t a startling anticlimax this would be at least a minor classic.

IL GATTO  stars Mark Hand; Kala; Simon Charrier; Serafina Vitali; Col. Mathieu; Manu Borelli; and Cpl. Wallace.

 

Big Ben

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2020 by dcairns

Michele Lupo’s films are woven together with quips and names and odd little details — much as you might expect with a more important artist. Seven was obviously his lucky number — he made SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST ROME, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS and SEVEN TIMES SEVEN. Big Ben is the name of a character in the last-named, and it’s the name of a computerized security system in his next caper movie, THE MASTER TOUCH. The title of that film echoes the earlier MASTER STROKE. As in SEVEN TIMES SEVEN it features a character using prison as an alibi, and a heist conducted during a football match.

Lupo is extremely ill-served by home video, and THE MASTER TOUCH has only been released on DVD in Australia, where the job was done poorly — so we only have a soft, muddy and colourless version to look at, a particular shame for a film shot by the great Tonino Delli Colli. Still, it’s set in Hamburg and all the exterior locations look drizzly, overcast and horrid. I might as well go outside.

Indoors, there are sleek, futuristic security systems, which Lupo seems to love — a long sequence of Kirk Douglas pulling off a hi-tech heist amid a 2001-esque insurance company seems to particularly excite the director, going by the huge rack focuses (focii?) and Dutch tilts.

Kirk’s partner in crime is Giuliano Gemma, seemingly Lupo’s favourite actor (though he also worked a lot with Bud Spencer and Lionel Stander, pretty much opposites to the handsome GG). There’s something perverse about the way Douglas’s character welcomes this “thieving gypsy” stereotype into the marital home, and there’s a proud, fatherly look in Kirk’s eye whenever he beholds GG and his wife, Florinda Balkan in one another’s company. We can either read her as a beard for the unstated homosexual relationship, or as some kind of hotwife Kirk is urging to cuckold him. (Or kirkold?). Most strange.

The crafty plot involves simultaneous robberies, one of which is designed to go wrong and provide an alibi. It all goes very badly tits-up, but whose tits will be up when the chips are down?

Even though the plotting is loose and somewhat silly, with improbable solutions to burglary problems and a tendency to throw in irrelevant (but well-staged)punch-ups and car chases to pad out the story, things build nicely and then there’s a spectacular gut-punch of a plot twist that sends the story spiraling towards tragedy. It’d be unfair to spoil, spoiler or spoilerize this, but I can tell you in private.

An aspect of Lipo’s cinema I haven’t yet celebrated is his delight in peculiar physiognomy, more Fellini than Leone, and the primary mush here is that of centenarian Kirk Douglas, his extraordinary Belarussian rock-face, craggy, lipless and scowling, tipping into middle age without losing any of its intimidating majesty. Nice to see that he’s kept the classical record collection from A LETTER TO THREE WIVES all this time.

Really quite grim, with a great, unexpectedly bluesy score from Morricone, built around a kind of funereal wail from a solo fluegelhorn, that never develops, merely mourns. Still, despite the tone being totally different from the previous two Lupos I’ve enjoyed, the sense of hubristic failure, the tricksy visuals (think Leone plus Lester plus Sid Furie) and the total commitment to the ludic possibilities of straight genre filmmaking make it fit in quite neatly.

Michele Lupo is a major minor filmmaker!

THE MASTER TOUCH stars Spartacus; Lola Montes; and Dr. Mabuse. With Scott Mary and Baron Konstantin Von Essenbeck.

John Phillip Law West of the Pecos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2019 by dcairns

DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Also dismounts, walks about, drinks whisky-and-water, smokes a pipe. Death leads an active, outdoorsy kind of life.

This movie is Pure Cinema — pure cinema is a pretty violent place, it sometimes seems. The spaghetti western version amps everything up to eleven and reduces the script to something that could be scrawled in a matchbook. The plot is mythic, the characters iconic, which is another way of saying childish, maybe.

The movie begins with a gang of outlaws performing what Slim Pickens in BLAZING SADDLES calls a “number six” — killing the men and raping the women. Then, since it’s important that we realize these are the bad guys, they shoot some bottles, some jugs and some assorted carrots and parsnips.

No, not the vegetables!

One of the rapists is called Burt Kavanaugh which seems a bit on the nose.

So, a nasty beginning, though it manages to avoid fetishising the sexual assault, and is brief to the point of implausibility. Beginning with this violent primal scene — witnessed by the youngest child — the movie establishes an almost giallo-like tone, before turning into an episodic revenge narrative Cornell Woolrich might have approved of. Sort of The Dude Wore Black.

There’s a loophole in the “number six,” you see — a small boy, not covered in the articles of war. He survives, and through the miracle of editing grows up to be John Phillip Law, next seen shooting some objects of his own. But he does his target practice in the open air, like a civilised person.

Next, we meet Lee Van Cleef, being freed from a chain gang to the tune of one of Ennio Morricone’s finest western scores, a kind of shitkicker Carmina Burana with a male chorus that seems to have been recorded in a bathroom, in a cavern. Words cannot express.

The lyrics are pretty indecipherable but seem to include neat-o phrases like “Wiiiiild Women of Woo-gow!” though I may be mondegreening a little.

Screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni also worked on defensible films like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (but Leone employed whole swing-gangs of writers on each film) but also on less dignified-sounding ones like MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY and MR. HERCULES AGAINST KARATE.

Some great fractured compositions in the obligatory musical duel, timed to three strikes of the piano keyboard. Director Giulio Petroni worked almost exclusively in this genre, and delivers striking set-pieces as well as possibly the best landscape stuff I’ve ever seen in an Italian western.

Van Cleef is his dependable bad-ass self. Law is pretty good — the character is meant to be more callow than Eastwood’s grizzled stranger, so his lack of authority isn’t a major problem. But if the film is slightly less than the sum of its excellent/ridiculous parts, it may be because the pretty and sunny young fellow at its centre does not compellingly suggest a vengeance-driven nemesis eaten up by Hate.

DEATH RIDES A HORSE stars Angel Eyes; Pygar; Father Pablo Ramirez: Dial M for Me; Capannelle: and Boogulroo.