Wednesday, November 28, 2007

3rd August 2007: Spaghetti Western Apocalypse double


Run Man Run

Italy 1968 colour

aka Corri Uomo Corri, Big Gundown 2

Director Sergio Sollima Writers Pompeo De Angelis, Sergio Sollima

Cast Tomas Milian (Cuchillo), “Donal”/Donald O'Brien (Nathaniel Cassidy), John Ireland (Santillana), Linda Veras (Penny Bannington)

Run Man Run is a strange one, even for Schlock Treatment. Imagine an Italian western inspired by Marx - not Groucho, but KARL. Springing from the loins of the European mini-revolutions of 1968 comes a western with a conscience, courtesy of spaghetti socialist Sergio Sollima, who recycles his most memorable character from the 1967 The Big Gundown and builds an entire film around him.

Cuban-born Tomas Milian returns as Cuchillio, a wily yet endearingly naive opportunist who’s quick with a knife but not so quick on the uptake. A quick spell in a border prison sees him share a cell with a seditious poet named Rodriguez, whose dying breath reveals the last resting place of a $3 million cache of revolution-bound gold. And so begins Cuchillio’s journey, spreading his proto-revolutionary seed across the Texas border whilst pursued by a sleazy assortment of cutthroats and would-be revolutionaries, spaghetti western regular Donal O’Brien playing a sheriff with a conscience, two French secret agents, his jealous fiancee Dolores (played by the firey Chelo Alonso), and a blonde seargeant in the Salvation Army, a woman who sticks out of her unlikely surroundings like a turd tambourine. Cuchillio himself spends most of his screen time bound, gagged with dynamite, spreadeagled in some godforsaken location, or in one stunning sequence, strapped to the blade of a windmill. And STILL He doesn’t lose his sense of humour.

Like The Good The Bad And The Ugly it’s a deliberately open-ended epic quest for hidden treasure, but without Leone’s grandiose scale and pretentious camera histronics. It’s more like The Wizard of Oz wrapped in a burrito, and peppered with the most random of supporting characters. The usual grimness of these spaghetti westerns is contrasted with Tomas Milian’s comic timing, a rousing score by an uncredited Ennio Morricone, and a surprising cameo from veteran American actor John Ireland as a crusty, battlescarred soldier of the class struggle.

Socialist westerns don’t usually come this entertaining - come to think of it, socialists are rarely funny at all! So please, sit back and enjoy the picaresque, picturesque and thankfully undogmatic 1968 Run Man Run.

Four Of The Apocalypse

Italy 1975 colour

aka I Quattro dell'Apocalisse, Four Gunmen Of The Apocalypse, Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse

Director Lucio Fulci Writer Ennio De Concini

Cast Fabio Testi (Stubby Preston), Lynne Frederick (Bunny), Michael J. Pollard (Clem), Donald O'Brien (Sheriff), Tomas Milian (Chaco)

Now to the other face of spaghetti westerns: The Four Of The Apocalypse, from prolific B-filmmaker Lucio Fulci, made just after his violent giallo thrillers like Lizard In A Woman's Skin and Don't Torture The Duckling, and before he kickstarted the Euro-splatter genre with Zombie Flesheaters in 1979. With a pedigree like that, you can tell that Fulci specialized in the darker side of human nature. In The Four Of The Apocalypse, when the blood starts to flow - and it seems to appear more often than necessary - Fulci rises to the task and is not afraid to show it.

This is the West as rewritten by Leone, Peckinpah and company - lawless, brutal, and certainly no place for the righteous. Fabio Testi plays Stubby Preston, a super-suave card shark who rolls into town just as gambling is declared illegal. The sherrif (played by Run Man Run's sherrif Donal O'Brien, locks him in a cell with the so-called scum of the earth: the visibly pregnant woman of the night Bunny (played by the late British actress Lynne Frederick), an unnervingly upbeat African American named Bud, and the weird-looking cherubic Michael J Pollard, most famous for his role as the slightly brain-damaged CW in Bonnie And Clyde, here on his downhill career slide as Clem, the slightly brain-damaged town drunk.

Hooded killers cut a swathe through the rest of the town in a display of gloriously slow motion wholesale butchery while sherriff plugs his ears - and this is before the end of the credits! The four cellmates hitch their wagon southwards, bickering and sniping at each other, all to Greek Chorus courtesy of an abysmal 70s West Coast pop group. Along comes the mysterious half-Indian Chaco, played with demented abandon by a very different Tomas Milian. He soon shows his true talents - hunting, torture and administering peyote like a crazed psychedelic priest.

The harsh landscape suddenly becomes nightmarish and surreal, and the film frequently makes trips across the border into grand guignol territory, which is great news for lovers of Fulci’s zombie quartet. But it’s not all gloom; there are moments of genuine tenderness and heartbreak in the unlikely pairing of a gambler and a pregnant prostitute. And speaking of pregnant, you’re going to need a cast-iron stomache to handle this one, possibly the last word in nihilist splatter westerns: the 1975 Four Of The Apocalypse.

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