Monday, March 3, 2008

11th May 2007: Franco Nero Western double!

Texas Adios

Italy/Spain 1966 colour

aka Texas Addio, Goodbye Texas, The Avenger, Django 2

Director Ferdinando Baldi Writers Ferdinando Baldi, Franco Rossetti

Cast Franco Nero (Burt Sullivan), “Cole Kitosch”/Alberto Dell'Acqua (Jim Sullivan), Elisa Montés (Mulatta Girl), José Guardiola (McLeod), José Suárez (Cisco Delgado)

Of course you’ve all heard the one about the dog that limps into town looking for the man who shot his paw. With that, welcome to a blood-soaked pair of spaghetti revenge operas starring Franco Nero.

These days you forget what a name Nero was in the Sixties and Seventies. In 1966, the former army grunt turned physical actor starred in three westerns within six months - Django, Massacre Time and Texas Adios - before heading to Hollywood for a supporting role in Camelot, and then international stardom. It was as Django, however, that turned him into a major star in Europe; Nero as the steel-eyed Angel of Death dragging a coffin behind him personified the fashionable neo-nihilism of the Italian western and made him as iconic as the Kings of the Squint, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.

Texas Adios, released in 1966, was a much more deliberately American western. Franco Nero is a clear-cut moral figure as Burt Sullivan, sheriff in a Texas town who takes his younger womanizing brother Jim across the border to find their father’s killer, the mysterious “Delgado”. It’s Adios Texas and Hola Mexico, but the country they find is more hostile than Burt imagined. It’s a lawless landscape where no-one can be trusted, controlled by morally bankrupt power brokers and would-be revolutionaries, and Delgado turns out to be the most powerful land baron in Mexico who likes to play with his captives before executing them. What begins as a simple quest for revenge becomes much more ambiguous as the plot unfolds and family secrets are revealed.

Like all great Italian westerns, Texas Adios is beautifully shot by Enzo Barboni, who as “EB Clutcher” would later create his own sub-genre of Trinity movies with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. And, despite its allusions to the classic models of Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, it’s a spaghetti western at heart, and its heart is cold and cruel. “Are you tired of leeeeving?” asks Delgado’s greasy right hand man, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes: sympathetic characters are disposed of with little fanfare, and Nero’s idealistic younger brother Jim played by Alberto Dell’Acqua is taught that becoming a man means becoming immune to killing.

Me, I’m already numb to the wholesale slaughter, and you will be too, as we ride the blood-soaked plains in Texas Adios.


Italy 1976 colour

aka Desperado, Django Rides Again, Django's Great Return, The Violent Breed

Director Enzo G. Castellari Writers Enzo G. Castellari, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Mino Roli

Cast Franco Nero (Keoma), Woody Strode (George), William Berger (William Shannon), Donald O'Brien (Caldwell), Olga Karlatos (Lisa)

Cut to ten years later, and Franco Nero is an intentional superstar who returns for the first time in years to the dying artform that made him who he is, the spaghetti western. Director Enzo G. Castellari, a filmmaker for whom the word “subtlety” dropped off the end of his business card, obviously sees parallels in Franco’s story with that of his character Keoma. He’s a half-breed marksman who returns home after the Civil War to find a plague-ravaged landscape and his town run by corrupt landowner Caldwell, who won’t let medicine in and won’t let the plague victims out. It’s a dying town that resembles more of a medieval hamlet than the Wild West, and its apocalyptic feel is augmented with the mud and dust and constant sense of despair, with Nero perfectly cast as a Pale Rider delivering death from the end of his gun.

Keoma finds his father almost at the end of his rope, and his three half-brothers on Caldwell’s payroll. He’s haunted by the ghosts of his past wherever he turns - figures from his childhood, including the now hopelessly drunk banjo-playing George (played by renowned black actor Woody Strode). When he brings the pregnant but plague-carrying Lisa - a western version of Typhoid Mary - into the town, all hell breaks loose.

From the last dying gasps of the spaghetti western cycle, Keoma means to be the final word, a coda to the apocalyptic tradition begun by Franco Nero’s Django in 1966. Castellari’s characters all burst blood vessels making every line profound, and you can tell the film itself is haunted by three ghosts. Sergio Leone is there in Keoma’s epic sweep and impressive camera theatrics, the ghost of Sam Peckinpah every time the bloodshed slows to a crawl, and the ghost of Pasolini in its overt religious symbolism - and by the end of the movie, the Jesus and Mary references are out of control.

You, the audience, will be haunted by the theme song, a turgid folk-country nightmare sung by a would-be Joan Baez that pops its ugly head up in every scene. “Oooooooh, Keoma....” At the film’s mid point she’s joined by a guttural, atonal crooner, presumably Nero or an accomplice, who functions as a one-man Greek chorus: “Why do these men haaaaate me sooooooo...”

A friend of mine describes this film as a lasagna western - one with many layers. Of cheese. Ladies and gentlemen, from the director of 1990 The Bronx Warriors, we present the final word - or is it? - in Italian westerns, the enjoyably pretentious 1976 Keoma.

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