Thursday, 31 December 2009
Monday, 30 November 2009
In fact reviewing a film like Brother Outlaw is always going to be problematic. In particular the reviewer is faced with the dilemma of how to approach it in the first place. As an example of the Spaghetti Western in general or just as an example of the 1970s, end of cycle, El Cheapo film which were the death knell of the genre. Perhaps both. As compared to the better films of the genre it is pretty weak but if you are a fan of the films of this period a la Demofilo Fidani and his ilk you may find this an entertaining ride. Maybe.
Dakota Thompson (Tony Kendall) is sheriff of Tombstone. But during a stagecoach robbery in which all his men are killed his life is mysteriously spared while the money is carried off by bandits led by Alvarez (Dean Stratford). On his return to town Dakota is accused by local lawyer Donovan (Omero Gargano) of masterminding the robbery and is sentenced to 15 years hard labour. In fact it is Donovan who is directing the bandits' activities and with Dakota out of the way they continue their nefarious deeds. Meanwhile Donovan forces his beautiful young ward Jean (Sophia Kammara) into an agreement of marriage. All seems perfect for the villainous lawyer but Dakota's brother Slim (Jean Louis) manages to free his sibling from Gaol and the two team up in their quest to sort out the bad guys and clear Dakota's name.
The above is a pretty standard 'revenge for a wrongful imprisonment' plotline and Mulargia doesn't try to complicate matters any by dressing it up any further. In fact, the whole thing is so loose and erratic that I couldn't help but feel that everyone involved had simply gone through the motions to the point of shooting a whole bunch of cliched scenes and then arranging them into a flimsy plot line afterwards. This may sound harsh but consider the evidence. Dakota and his brother turn up at a Mexican pueblo early on asking for the whereabouts of Alvarez. No information is offered in response to their enquiries and as they leave they are involved in an elongated shoot out with various gang members. Soon after, however, they decide to attack Alvarez's hide out while he is busy elsewhere. How did they know where it was? Donovan tells Alvarez to lay low and wait for orders later on only for him to turn up in an ambush immediately after where Slim is killed. Whereupon instead of trying to kill Dakota too he rides off. What the...??? These are just two examples of a patchwork plot that bares no scrutiny but if this was as far as it went I could shrug and let it go. Lack of logic in Spaghetti scripts is a common enough occurrence for me to make allowances for such things. But in this film Mulargia crosses the line into outright sloppiness that builds up into an unacceptable mess.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
The Spaghetti Western genre, in fact the Western genre in general for that matter, has always been a male dominated place. These were films almost exclusively made by men for men and the women who took part often did so in a marginalised sense; appearing as victims, eye candy or both. This is undoubtedly one of the failings of an otherwise vibrant genre and it is to the credit of those women who did make a career in these films that their presence became memorable despite the chauvinism of the arena in which they worked. Occasionally though, a female performer managed to feature as a lead and Lola Colt is a prime example, not only of one of these rare occurrences, but also of why they so often failed to succeed.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
The Spaghetti Western genre has always been known for its violence. Sometimes it would be fair to say it has been notorious for it. And Sergio Corbucci has always been at the forefront in terms of pushing the boundaries of good taste in this area. In its time Corbucci's most famous film, Django, was banned because of its graphic ear cutting, whipping and wanton slaying of countless extras. Physical brutality, or the imminent and constant threat of it, is a regular ingredient in this genre and became as much a part of its make up as horses, big hats and Mexican peons. But never, to my knowledge, was there such an emotionally violent film made during the entire cycle as Sonny and Jed.
Sonny dreams of an exciting life as an outlaw and when notoriuous bandit Jed Tregado crosses her path in need of help she thinks her chance has come to make some money and change her life forever. Her life certainly is changed but not neccesarily for the better. Tregado proves himself to be every bit as mean as his reputation and by attaching herself to him Sonny embarks on a roller coaster journey of abuse, murder and mayhem where money is won and lost but her search for love is ever ongoing and ultimately futile.
Sonny and Jed despite its western trappings is the story of a disfunctional, co dependent relationship between two people who are plagued by their own base instincts, self loathing and deep desire to have and be something better. Sonny longs to be loved yet the man she chooses gives her nothing but abuse, both verbal and physical, from their first encounter. Jed lives by his own admission "like an animal"; caring for no one and taking what he wants when he wants it but, on occasion, he shows himself to capable of better sentiments despite himself. Together they expose both the best and the worst in each other but can never quite escape their own failings and weaknesses. This is not an easy film to watch. If you are hoping for some classic Corbucci action you will be largely disappointed as the gunfights and explosions are sporadic and appear only after long periods of bickering between the two protagonists. If you are hoping for a tale of love in adversity with a happy resolution you will be equally disappointed. The happy scenes (of which there are some) are far outweighed by the miserable and ugly ones and the unhealthy relationship between the two miserable individuals weighs as heavy on us as it does them. It is a gruelling ride for all concerned and that includes the viewer. I admit to being on the verge of switching it off on more than one occasion. But, ultimately, I was glad I stuck with it. It may not be a western tale in the conventional sense but it is a story worth telling. I know some people lose patience with the film as they become increasingly irritated by the abusive nature of Jed and the pathetic willingness of Sonny to be abused and I can understand that view. It is hard to warm to either character but, for me, it is this uncompromising nature of the characters which is the film's greatest strength. In stories such as these we always hope for some form of revelation on the part of the protagonists which will change their behaviour. Or, failing that, a nasty come uppance for the dominant, abusive partner. But, in reality, life is rarely that straight forward. Sonny constantly comes back to Jed. And in so doing she both encourages his abusive behaviour and is a constant reminder to him of his own weakness. At the same time she elicits moments of tenderness from him and reinforces her own inner sense that she is not worthy of anything better.
This is harrowing stuff and I believe works on an emotional level rarely attempted in any genre films, let alone a western. And its success is largely due to the strong performances of Tomas Milian and Susan George in the eponymous roles. Milian is the Marmite of actors. People tend to love him or hate him and this role will likely do nothing to change anyone's preset opinions. I believe he does a great job here, inhabiting Jed in true 'method' fashion but if you are prone to find his style annoying this one will probably only reinforce your dislike. Likewise with Susan George. In the 1970s she made a number of films where she portrayed unlikeable, petulant characters and for some she became synonymous with these features. Although Sonny I think is a little more sympathetic in nature she is not an easy character to feel great sympathy for either but here I think it is a great credit to her abilities as an actress that she carries off the role without compromise. It is also to her and Corbucci's credit that despite her obvious good looks she is never used here simply as eye candy. She gives a real performance and the film is all the better for it.
Sonny and Jed will not be everyone's cup of tea. It is a difficult film to like and it is certainly not a film I would recommend to anyone looking for a couple of hours of escapist fun. But it is a well made film and considering it was made at a time when Corbucci was seeming to lose his way it doesn't exhibit any of the sloppiness the great man was occasionally prone to. It benefits from some solid acting and an uncompromising approach. Just don't be fooled by Milian's beret. Companeros this most definitely is not.
Monday, 31 August 2009
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Friday, 31 July 2009
Much of the film's charm can be attributed to Ivan Rassimov. This was his first lead role, in anything as far as I can tell not just in a Spaghetti, but he carries it off with real confidence and is already exhibiting the qualities that would go on to cement him as a firm favourite among genre film fans. Rassimov does the strong, taciturn type well and is athletic enough to be convincing in an action role. It is unfortunate however, that his performance is somewhat spoiled by an illfitting english dubbed voice. Cjamango is not the first film to suffer from such a fate (Django springs to mind) but it is always a shame when an otherwise solid performance gets lessened in this way and makes you wonder who was in charge of casting the voice actors on some of these films. The guy who does the voice for Rassimov sounds about twenty years older.
The film also benefits from a solid supporting cast with the always reliable Pierro Lulli and Livio Lorenzon delivering bad guy bravura with consumate ease and Helene Chanel providing the kind of mussed up, smouldering beauty we all like in such pictures. Chanel made a handful of Spaghettis but, unfortunately, most were of the Franco and Ciccio comedy variety. Outside of this film her only other Spaghetti of note was Killer Caliber .32, one of Peter Lee Lawrence's better westerns. On the down side we are also put through the ordeal of suffering the appearance of a 'cute kid' character played by Giusva Fioravanti. It's not that young Master Fioravanti does a bad job it's just that I disagree in principle with the inclusion of such characters in any way shape or form. For my money Leone had the right idea in Once Upon a Time in the West when Frank wiped out the cute red headed McBain kids before the story even got properly started. Not that I've got anything against children in reality. I've got a bunch of them and love them all to bits. I just don't think they belong in films like these where they invariably are given awful high pitched dubbed voices and bring nothing to the story except an overdose of sentimentality. I don't mind a fair helping of corn with my spaghetti but I tend to gag on too much syrup. In Cjamango the youngster provides the hero with the chance to show he is a full on white hatted good guy which, I guess, is ok. But I can't help but feel that once this was established the director missed a golden opportunity in not having the kid blown up with dynamite when he had the chance. In one of those strange coincidences that you couldn't make up the scene where the youngster is strapped to dynamite has an eery reflection in real life as the child actor later grew into a covicted terrorist, jointly responsible for the bombing of Bologna Station in 1980 where some 85 people died. Truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.
Cute kid not withstanding, most of the film is pretty solid, if not outstanding. It is probably best described as one of those films which is unlikely to over impress but is a decent enough picture which gives enough rewards to merit the time spent watching it. Mulargia's direction is ok but the film does seem to jump around somewhat, giving me the impression it was rushed through the editing process. But this is a minor criticism. As I said earlier, the film has no great pretentions to anything loftier than an entertaining programme filler and that's what it delivers on. It did reasonably good box office business in its day too; surprisingly squeezing into the top 20 Spaghetti Western box office performers back in 1967 and posting numbers similar to those of Requiescant and $10,000 Dollars Blood Money. These latter two films have stood the test of time somewhat better than Cjamango it must be said but with Koch Media's good looking new release now available you could do a lot worse with any spare hour and a half you may find yourself with.
The aforementioned Koch Media release was the one I saw the film on and it is of the sort of standard in terms of picture and sound quality which we have come to expect from this excellent German company. 2.35:1 ratio with Italian, German and English audio options plus some nice extras which unfortunately only have italian audio with german subs. Well worth the purchase price though for any fan.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Friday, 29 May 2009
Dir: Giuseppe Rosati
1973 was not exactly a stellar year in the history of the Italian western. It was a time when the genre was genuinely breathing its last gasps and those films which were still being made in the western cycle were predominantly leaning heavily towards parody and pastiche. This was post Trinity time and there was precious little being made of any great note. Consequently, I approached Those Dirty Dogs with some understandable trepidation. But the opening scenes were promising. The film opens with a massacre, followed by the carrying off of a female hostage. Stephen Boyd rides in, closely followed by Giannio Garko as a koran reading bounty hunter. Maybe this was going to buck the trend and prove to be an 'old school' spaghetti. One where the themes would be dark and the actor's stubble even darker. Maybe this would be the film from '73 which proved that all was not silly bar room brawls and prat falls. Then again, maybe not.
To be fair, before I go off and list all the ways in which the film fails, I should say that Those Dirty Dogs is by no means a terrible film. In some ways it is quite enjoyable. It just isn't as good as it could be and, moreover, can't quite seem to make up its mind as to what it wants to be. This, for my mind, is a greater sin and merely adds to my sense of disappointment when I should be coming away feeling much better.
As mentioned above, the opening scenes and the introduction of the key protagonists set a darkish, if slightly ironic, mood. Garko's character, Korano, is somewhat offbeat with his sun umbrella and arabic holy book but he is offered as an essentially serious character. Likewise, Stephen Boyd and his companions show no suggestions of parody at this stage. This continues for some time. The uneasy alliance between Garko and Boyd is established and the conflicting interests of their relationship (military on the one side, mercenary on the other) are laid out. So far so good and all seems to be shaping up for an interesting ride. Then, as if the producers couldn't help themselves in a post Trinity world, a fist fight looms and the next thing you know Boyd has performed a double handed ear slap on a dumb faced adversary accompanied by a twanging spring sound effect. Oh dear. The ensuing extended brawl embodies everything that went wrong with the genre in its latter period and takes the film down an ill-judged path which it cannot survive with its integrity intact. From this moment on we see-saw with little concern for consistancy between a serious narrative and a spoof and the viewer is left wondering what, if anything, were the people responsible thinking?
Let me make myself clear. I am not a great fan of parody westerns but, when handled correctly, they can be entertaining. There is nothing wrong with a comedy western if that is what the film makers set out to make. They may not be everyone's cup of tea but in the right hands are harmless fun. But you can't have your cake and eat it. If you are going for laughs don't include a threat of torture or expect me to engage in a serious story thread. It needs to be one thing or the other or at least play the middle ground without venturing too far in either direction. The makers Those Dirty Dogs appear to have been unable to decide which way to go and the end result, despite its potential, is unsatisfying whichever way you cut it.
I'll give two examples as to what I mean. The film opens with a massacre carried out by Angel Sanchez (Simon Andreu) and his men. Sanchez is clearly a nasty piece of work and is played strictly straight in this regard. But Sanchez is not the big boss. He works for General Lopez and it is this ultimate leader who Stephen Boyd has been sent to tackle. Yet when we meet the Generalisimo he turns out to be a strutting buffoon of a man who is neither menacing nor in any way believable as a genuine threat to anyone. The scenes which include him are cringe worthy and undermine everything the narrative is built around. Not only that but despite their obvious intention they are just not funny either. Why they included him at all is beyond my comprehension. Sanchez would have sufficed perfectly well as the prime villain and, indeed, by the film's climax it is he who becomes the main antagonist to Boyd whereas Lopez is killed off almost in passing and without any real focus. Secondly, despite the nonsense surrounding Lopez and the Trinityesque fist fights we are brought to an abrupt about face in a scene where a woman is interrogated by Boyd to find out the whereabouts of the bandit gang. In a film which has become increasingly parodic in style seeing this woman's dress front violently ripped open by the supposed hero is genuinely alarming and in complete contrast to the pervading atmosphere to this point. Boyd then goes on to threaten the bare breasted woman with a blade, promising torture if she doesn't offer up the information he wants. Where in heck did this come from? It's almost like a scene from a different film. Moreover, it is quickly followed by the woman throwing herself at her attacker, offering herself willingly, whereby Boyd becomes the embarrassed and overcome victim who we are expected to laugh at. It's like the whole film is exhibiting more mood swings than a pre menstrual bipolar teenager. This particular scene is also just plain ill judged. Without it I could probably have watched it with my kids and the silliness would have been absorbed a little easier. With it and family viewing is out of the question. Moreover, it undermines the character of the main protagonists and left me feeling confused and just a little bit dirty. In fact the scene is so badly devised and poorly executed that it sticks out in the mind throughout the rest of the movie; casting a shadow that obscures, for me, what merits the film genuinely has.
And, despite all my complaints, the film does have some merits. Garko is always likable and his character of Korano, if somewhat underdeveloped, is entertaining and has some real potential to be exploited further. To be honest I find it hard not to enjoy anything that Garko appears in to some degree and it has to be said that he carries off his part faultlessly. Fans of the Sartana franchise will also probably enjoy his unconventional use of the umbrella; using it as a hidden gun to mow down his adversaries with bondlike precision. Simon Andreu is fine as the mexican bandit and although Harry Baird doesn't bring much to the table he does what is required of him well enough. Stephen Boyd is also good value for the most part and although this is not his best performance by a long chalk his very presence is a bonus. He even sings and co writes the theme song; a ditty that will stay with you for days afterwards. I still can't get it out of my head no matter how hard I try. In fact the music in general is probably one of the films undeniable strengths. Nico Fidenco delivers an excellent score which really deserves to hang on to a better all round film.
In many ways it is probably the film's strengths and potentials that throw its weaknesses and failings into a greater spotlight for me. This shouldn't be such a poor and disappointing movie. It has a number of good ingredients and, in parts, works well enough to suggest it could have been a pretty decent film. But its ill judged character and plot decisions and, above all, its inconsistancy and inability to decide what kind of film it wants to be leaves me feeling short changed. A pity as I wanted to like this film much more but, in the end, I just couldn't.