Dir: Giulio Petroni
Comedy westerns are two words I usually link with two other words. Wide and berth. I like comedies and I like westerns but for some reason it is rare for the two to marry well together into a worthwhile end product. There are exceptions of course. Blazing Saddles obviously bucked the trend. While, Support Your Local Gunfighter, Maverick and Shanghai Noon were all passable. But, on the whole, it is fair to say that comedy westerns do not feature largely in my 'all time favourite film' lists. What is more is that if it's fair to say I don't like comedy westerns very much, then it is equally fair to say that I dislike Italian comedy westerns most of all. Again there are exceptions. I do like the Trinity films. Both of the real ones anyway. But after that I've always found the brutish slapstick of italian comedy westerns to be the lowest form in the genre. So that is regular Spaghetti Western, good. Comedy Spaghetti Western, very,very bad.
Therefore, it is understandable that I approached Sometimes Life is Tough, Eh Providence? with some trepidation. It appeared to tick all the boxes that would repel me; including the great Tomas Milian dressed up like some bizarre Charlie Chaplin figure complete with moustache, oversized bowler hat and umbrella. Amazingly, I was pleasantly surprised.
How could this be? Are my tastes changing? Or am I just going soft?
The truth is neither. My tastes haven't changed a bit and I've always been soft, so no reason to expect any different reaction to normal. No, the fact is Sometimes Life is Tough, Eh Providenzia? is just a pretty decent comic film which highlights the versatility of the very talented people responsible for making it. The fact that it is also an italian western turns out to be just a bonus.
First among these versatile and talented people is, of course, Tomas Milian who had shown glimpses of comic ability in films such as Companeros and Run Man Run but who is still surprisingly good in this completely comic role. The Chaplinesque appearance could really have worked against him; setting our expectations of his physical clowning too high for him to live up to. But his dexterity, timing and posture are remarkably effective and rather than appearing as a poor copy of Chaplin he manages to present the character of Providence with true Chaplin qualities. The scene at the billiard table in particular stands out as an excellent example of his ability to merge physical manoeuvring with a true sense of the absurd. His leaning back while using his foot to bridge the cue was perfect.
Second is the direction of Giulio Petroni. Again, Petroni had shown himself to be a director from the higher echelons of the Spaghetti Western ranks; having been responsible for such winning titles as Death Rides a Horse and Tepepa. But his ability to handle comedy was still unproved and his skill in this department is another pleasant surprise. You get the genuine feeling that he allowed Milian the space and freedom to experiment with the character of Providence. To flex his comic muscles if you like. He also worked with a pretty funny script which, although decidedly silly, never descends into buffoonery.
There is also the bonus of a Morricone score; catchy rather than stirring or truly memorable in this case, but still effective for all that. And finally, it is clear that the budget was reasonable; allowing for decent sets as well as set pieces.
But I think the real key to enjoying this film is to approach it in the right way. When we talk of Spaghetti Westerns in general we are talking about gritty, adult action films. Westerns with a european sensibility and harder edge than their american counterparts. But with a film like this, where comedy is the only feature to speak of, it is important to take it for what it is and go along for the ride. If you are expecting the Tomas Milian of Django Kill or the Giulio Petroni of Death Rides a Horse you will be disappointed. This is a family film, complete with clowning and silliness, not a hard nosed revenge flick with showdowns and slaughter. In fact it is noticeable that there is very little shooting at all in this film and certainly no deaths as a result of it. Gregg Palmer's hulking 'Hurricane Kid' character sticks strictly to Bud Spencer type brawling while Milian relies on his guile or the afore mentioned umbrella to dispatch his adversaries. Even the bad guys don't shoot much, and rarely hit anything when they do.
So I sat and watched this one with my kids and they laughed out loud the whole way through. And that was a real pleasure for me. As not only do I enjoy seeing them enjoy themselves, but I also get a self centred satisfaction from seeing them enjoy a western. I grew up watching westerns on TV all the time and it was that which made me such a lifelong fan of the genre. So whenever I can get them sucked in to liking them too I figure I have scored a small, pathetic, somewhat self obsessed victory in the war to make them just a bit more like me.
And for that, if nothing else, Providence gets my undiluted seal of approval.