Archive for Yojimbo

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.

Momo v.s. Yojimbo

Posted in FILM with tags , on December 14, 2019 by dcairns

Momo the Shadowcat has a lifelong grudge against Toshiro Mifune.

Today is a day for funny cat videos.

The Laddie and the Lake

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2019 by dcairns

I feel like wallowing in Paramount’s Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake pictures for a while (there are three, really, but I suppose I might get around to STAR-SPANGLED RHYTHM in which they cameo separately).

I used to think that the tiny Veronica Lake was invented specially so that the tiny Alan Ladd would have somebody to star opposite that he could look down on, but no, her stardom predates his. You might more convincingly argue that she made him possible. So it’s unfair that her stardom sputtered out before his, principally because she was forced to change her peekaboo hairstyle, but no doubt also because she didn’t have the right allies at the studio to keep her career going in the face of such an obstacle (her wartime, factory-safe new ‘do didn’t suit her as well as the old one, but something could have been worked out).

Her smile at the end of her sequence here is heartbreaking, because it’s The End and she doesn’t know it.

There was a lot more to this girl than a spectacular and distinctive (if inconvenient/dangerous) hairstyle. Lake is pretty much always the coolest, most modern player in any film she’s in, even giving noted underplayer Joel McCrea a a run for his money.

Now. Someone explain to me how THE GLASS KEY got made, and got past the censor? The whole “Crime Must Not Pay” dictum is gleefully thrown out the window here, like it annoyed Brian Donlevy or something. Everybody’s a gangster, fixer or moll, the respectable people are crooked too, and the cops are just a nuisance likely to pick up the wrong guy. Nobody reforms, and the happy ending allows vice and corruption to continue untrammelled. And we feel pretty good about it all. Well, leading man and leading lady are united, so at least the matrimonial norms are to be respected. Some liberties are no doubt taken with Dashiell Hammett”s original, but it’s still a wow on all fronts.

I must watch the George Raft version, curiously enough directed by Frank Tuttle who helped make a star out of Ladd in the previous Ladd-Lake vehicle, THIS GUN FOR HIRE. It should have been a precode but isn’t. Then there’s the other adaptation, MILLER’S CROSSING, for which the Coens could plausibly have been sued for plagiarism, and there’s YOJIMBO, which is theoretically an unlicensed version of Red Harvest — serves Kurosawa right that Leone ripped off his rip-off with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS — but which steals the giant sadist character (played by William Bendix here and by a pituitary case in YOJIMBO) from The Glass Key, quite unapologetically. Kurosawa’s claim that The Servant of Two Masters was his real source strikes me as untrue and lawyered-up.

I once read a Michael Caine quote where he claimed, with what accuracy I don’t know, that in Japan, being a lawyer is not a very respected profession because, “In Japan, if someone cheats you and gets caught, they kill themselves. Whereas over here, they try to kill you.”

Anyway, THE GLASS KEY. Very stylishly directed by Stuart Heisler, who had great talent but only occassionally seems to hit the ball out the park. Here, he smashes a floodlight with it, to explosive and scintillating effect. The luminous Paramount style adapts well to noir if you take it by the throat and talk softly to it. Fiona points out the weirdness of Ladd getting a spectacular introductory shot in his SECOND scene, which does seem like a blunder, but it’s still a nice shot (see top).

And we have an ideal cast, with Donlevy just the right kind of honest-hearted crook (Spencer Tracy would have worked too but maybe he’d have wanted to get the girl. Or the guy?). With his elevator shoes he can just barely see over Ladd & Lake. Bendix is extraordinary, unlike any other role he had, as Fiona remarked. A guy with a very distinctive look suddenly seems like someone you’ve never seen before — a malign garden gnome, shaved and soaked with oily sweat and somehow pumped up to giant size with an injection of testosterone right in his nose. His demonic glee in beating up Ladd is clearly sexual, even more so than in the book.

Ladd is beyond perfect. For me, he only works in anti-hero roles. Allow him a measure of rectitude and he’s a colossal small bore. Even playing a gunfighter in SHANE he’s a little too nice. Here, he gets his cold smile out a lot, and is a real Hammett hero, cards close to his chest, which beats with an icy heart. We’ll allow that he has a code, but it has nothing to do with legality or conventional morality, just maybe his own idiosyncratic understanding of the latter.

Anyway, by the end he’s found love and can express warmth but that’s OK because the movie’s over and we don’t need to see him again.

THE GLASS KEY stars Shane; The Girl; Quatermass McGinty; Nancy Drew; Hunk Jordan; Det. Maurice Obregon; ‘Babe’ Ruth; Nyoka Meredith; Big Mac; and the voice of the Senior Angel.