Archive for Sergio Leone

Sagebrushamon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2021 by dcairns

Retrospectively THE OUTRAGE, Martin Ritt’s western version of RASHOMON, is so nakedly a bad idea it’s hard to imagine intelligent adults not seeing it, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight until after they’d made it, when it was too late, and anyway, it’s kind of amazing as an example of what John Waters might call a failed art movie. The amazingness is mostly to do with James Wong Howe but the film didn’t direct itself.

Claire Bloom as “the wife” throws herself off a cliff and her underwater experience looks like this —

–and furthermore the soundtrack is a whistling wind with a trace of coyote howl. Absolutely mad, and even more extreme than anything in Kurosawa’s original, which is already a stylistic tour de force with only a few equals in all of cinema.

There’s something weirdly academic about it all, maybe because I know the original so well, so there’s a “Well, here’s this bit,” feeling about it all. Much of it is even more shot-for-shot faithful than Leone’s take on Kurosawa, even with extreme widescreen and a lot of really interesting shallow focus stuff added to the mix. The story gimmick is so dominant that I began to suspect that Kurosawa was walking a precipice with a rather dry film threatening to result if he lost his footing. But he had Mifune.

Ritt has Newman, wearing a William Tuttle nose and trying very hard to be a Mexican bandit. Mifune was theatrical as hell but he did it all physically, there was no disguise. It’s interesting to see Newman attempt this, but it’s bad for the movie and the obvious answer — hire a Mexican — is in this case the correct one. Hell, Martin Ritt had friends who weren’t Mexican but wouldn’t have been embarrassing — Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn… It’s not meant to be a racist caricature but how would you feel watching it with a Mexican?

Still, it is an unreasonably gorgeous-looking thing. Was William Shatner’s mother startled by Laurence Olivier or something? What’s with his strange faltering, rising pitch delivery? His Captain Kirk did all that without making me think he was about to burst into song, but here…

Edward G. Robinson has all the best lines. Shatner has the best closeups.

THE OUTRAGE stars Fast Eddie Felson; Raymond Shaw; The Lady Anne; Dr. Clitterhouse; James Tiberius Kirk; Chickamaw; Smerdjakov; and Teeler Yacey.

Sabata resubmitted

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by dcairns

If you wanna get money / And if you wanna be rich / If you want a good life / You’ve gotta be a son of a – / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom / Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom…

The inanity of the title song of RETURN OF SABATA is hard to beat, and if you happen to be looking for a non-Leone comedy western with Lee Van Cleef, so is RETURN OF SABATA. It might even have the edge on the original. It is not an important film, I stress. But it’s rather jolly. Even Van Cleef seems determined to show he’s not just a cold-eyed stone-face.

Sabata! / Sabata! / The fastest gun in the west! / I said the fastest gun in the west! / Nine-fingered man! / Four-barrelled Derringer! / Sabata is the only invincible man in the countryside…

Yes, you see, Van Cleef was missing the tip of his right index finger, something Leone was very enthusiastic about. In this film, the finger is mentioned and has a backstory (something about Sabata chewing it off to get out of the Southern army). And at the end he shoots a semi-bad guy in the finger, so it’s a motif. And the trick Derringer with extra barrels hidden in the handle (impossible to aim, one would have thought, but Sabata can use it with amazing skill) is a Bondian gadget established in the first film and reintroduced in the opening scene here, a bloody shoot-out that turns out to be part of a traveling wild west show. So Sabata invented the blood capsule, if anyone asks you.

Later, he produces a miniature squeeze-gun, cupped in the hand and fired by clenching the fingers — and this turns out to have been a real weapon, though very uncommon.

Ignazio Spalla, AKA “Pedro Sanchez” returns too, but as a different character, just to keep things confusing.

(Say, we know that Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonte are playing different characters in their two entries in the DOLLAR trilogy, but can we be sure Clint Eastwood is playing the same guy in all three? Sure, he has the poncho and cheroot in all three (though he only dons it neat the end of TGTBATU, but he has different names.)

Reiner Schöne is really entertaining, although he’s more of an out-and-out swine than the loveable scamp the movie seems to imagine him as. Similarly, both films in the series seem less sympathetic to the female characters then is warranted…

Both Sabata films are fairly boys-only, sexist affairs, with women as decorative murderees — they look forward to the gialli, in a way, with little moments of murder mystery amid the massacring, and director Gianfranco Parolini’s “circus western” atmosphere introduces some visual elements that would have fitted right in with later genre developments. Sabata acquires a kind of girlfriend, though he was sexless in the first film like a lot of spaghetti western heroes — “only interested in killing,” suggested Alex Cox, though money serves as a convenient universally-understood MacGuffin.

The weirdly asexual he-man mythos connects pretty directly to the peplum, where desire is expressed mainly through flexing and fighting — and Parolini was a veteran of that genre. It also goes back to Leone (FOR A FEW DOLLARS is an extended flirtation between two gunfighters), another graduate of the sword-and-sandal school, and I guess you can find some of its origins in YOJIMBO and SANJURO.

Van Cleef is by now more used to the idea of doing comedy, and his facial expressions get surprisingly varied. I didn’t want to see him camp it up TOO much — playing it straight is often a good policy in this kind of thing — but he manages to avoid embarrassing himself.

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.