Saturday, December 22, 2007

26th January 2007: Socialist Spaghetti Western double!

A Bullet For The General

Italy 1966 colour

aka El Chuncho, Quién Sabe?

Director Damiano Damiani Writers Salvatore Laurani, Franco Solinas

Cast Gian Maria Volontè (El Chucho), Klaus Kinski (El Santo), Martine Beswick (Adelita), Lou Castel (Bill 'Niño' Tate)

So what the hell is a "spaghetti western", I hear one or two of you ask? Well... the international success of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy - A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad And The Ugly - all starring a young Clint Eastwood, opened the floodgates for similar European-made cowboy films, jokingly dubbed the “Spaghetti western”. Cruel and nihilistic, this new brand of cowboy drama has no good guys or bad guys, just characters with varying shades of grey.

A Bullet For The General (1967) reunites the European stars from For A Few Dollars More. Gian Maria Volonte reworks his wild-eyed sociopath character as a Mexican revolutionary; the equally crazed Klaus Kinski is his half-brother Santo, a priest who delivers salvation at the end of a smoking pistol. Baby-faced American (and that’s not a compliment) Lou Castel plays an American agent, and you’ll also see Jamaican beauty, Bond girl and future Hammer starlet Martine Beswick (Slave Girls, Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde) as the cigar-smoking Adalita.

As with many of his Vietnam War-era generation of Italian filmmakers, director Damiano Damiani is renowned for his westerns with a social conscience, with Marxist pronouncements from his characters and thinly veiled references to American imperialism. Even Gian Maria Volonte, who seems to be motivated by gross self-interest and his never-ending quest for “gonz and ammunition”, has a twisted but genuine sense of social justice.

The whole film can be described as operatic, not just with the incredible Ennio Morricone music, whose themes to both For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad And The Ugly has become THE iconic western scores, but in the ballet of bloodshed characteristic of the best westerns, and not just of the spaghetti variety. Grim, blackly comical, and in glorious widescreen so you can appreciate the beauty of the cinematography of A Bullet For The General.

Boot Hill

Italy 1969 colour

aka La Collina Degli Stivali, Trinity Rides Again

Director/Writer Giuseppe Colizzi

Cast Terence Hill (Cat Stevens), Woody Strode (Thomas), Bud Spencer (Hutch Bessy), Eduardo Ciannelli (Boone), Victor Buono (Honey Fisher), Lionel Stander (Mami)

Boot Hill from 1969 is directed by Giuseppe Colizzi and set in a Wild West circus. And before you ask “Who are those clowns?” I’ll remind those of you as old as me or older that our two heroes were a staple of growing up on Euro-trash in the Seventies. Terence Hill (real name Mario Girotti) is the blonde one usually referred to as blue eyes, and plays a wily trickster. Bud Spencer (real name Carlo Pedersoli) is the gruff ox, ill-tempered, and taken to bringing his fist down on top of his opponent’s skull.

These two Italian bit players were teamed up by director Giuseppe Colizzi in the 1966 spaghetti western God Forgives...I Don’t. They were such a winning combo that Colizzi paired them up again in the 1967 Ace High with Eli Wallach, and Boot Hill was their third feature. It wasn’t until their fourth film, the comic western They Call Me Trinity in 1970, that their personalities shone through, and started them on a long road through almost twenty features over the next 20 years, to becoming one of Italy’s most dubiously successful exports. Remember Watch Out We’re Mad? Who Finds A Friend Finds A Treasure? I’m For The Hippopotamus? It’s all coming flooding back, isn’t it!!!

Boot Hill is a much more “serious” western, in which Terence Hill playing a grimy cheroot-huffing hombre called “Cat Stevens”, teams up with a circus run by Lionel Stander, an American character actor who always looks either drunk or looking at a bug on the end of his nose, if you knows what I mean. Between them they help the local mining townsfolk defeat a money-grubbing land baron (played by our favourite jolly evil fatman Victor Buono, who was also Batman’s King Tut).

These firey Latino filmmakers are all about extremes - of love and hate, sex and violence, God and the Devil - and the eccentric Colizzi loves to cut between childlike whimsy and brutal violence. Like all good Spaghetti Westerns, Boot Hill combines a lumpen left wing cabaret with claustrophobic visuals - like Sergio Leone, he’s fond of his closeups - with the added novelty of a multi-racial circus backdrop. Bud's almost a supporting player to black actor Woody Strode AND his team of Italian circus midgets, but thankfully the dumb ox still gets to throw his weight around. Even if you’re not a Terence Hill and Bud Spencer fan, hopefully we here at Schlock Treatment will convert you with this serving of spaghetti with oats, Boot Hill.

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