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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Trinity is still my name (1972), continuation of comedy

After the stupendous success of a comedy (or any other movie), what would expect next ? You would expect a sequel, and that is exactly what happened when "They call me Trinity" was released and became a huge success; after all, it was a bet that a comic turn to the spaghetti western would do well, and it was against odds that the movie did really well. And lo and behold, the next movie in the series was ready for viewers the next year. The movie had the same principal crew, with the same Director (Enzo Barboni), same principal cast (Terence Hill and Bud Spencer). And you know what, the sequel did even better, being Italy's highest grossing movie of all time. Both the cast members, Terence and Bud, could not have asked for a better jump to their movie career with this movie.

The movie is a continuation of a comedy, with several scenes, such as the one where Bambino hits a convict over the head, knocks him out, and when the guy gets up, he has become addlepated, similarly, in another scene, Trinity is able to draw his gun and slap another guy 15 times before the other person can do anything (this is how fast Trinity is). You see them trying to be bad guys, but are so good-hearted that they end up helping a family multiple times, such as helping repair a broken wheel on their wagon.
Again, when they finally manage to get some loot after tricking some more of the bad guys, they give it to the Rangers to ally their suspicion.

Trinity is still my name (1972), continuation of comedy, starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer

They Call Me Trinity (1971) - starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer

Italian made western spaghetti movies were all the rage during the 60's, and till the early half of the 70's, by which time there were a number of movies that had started lampooning such movies. In addition, audiences had also changed their tastes, and the culture of spaghetti movies died out, but not before making the reputations of a number of characters. Both Terence Hill and Bud Spencer gained immensely from the making of this movie, since the movie was a huge success worldwide and made them hugely successful starts. In fact, this success led to a short period of craze for comedy westerns, and also led to the inevitable sequel called 'Trinity is still my name' which was even more successful. The movie was written and directed by Enzo Barboni. Right now, the movie is in the public domain.

As you would expect from such a movie, the story is not very complicated. However, there are visual effects in the movie that are important, such as the starting scene where Trinity appears, with his horse dragging him around in a travois, perfectly content to live an easy life, dirty as his horse drags him around. What seems to contradict this view is that he is known as the fastest hand in the west with a gun, a person who can move faster than any other gunslinger.
The story starts with Trinity getting into a dwelling where the restaurant is, quite logically, unsure of Trinity's ability to pay for his meals; so Trinity eats directly from the pan, burping while doing so (and these types of eating scenes are part of the comedy elements of the Trinity series). He then proceeds to relieve 2 bounty hunters of their Mexican prisoner, and shoots them effortlessly when they try to shoot him down from inside the dwelling. This is part of the magic, how easy he handles a gun. He moves along with the Mexican, and moves to another town. There he sees an enormous sheriff being challenged by 3 roughs, and apparently the sheriff is in the same league as Trinity. However, it soon becomes clear that the make-believe Sheriff, Bambino, is actually Trinity's brother, and although they do not get along with each other, they cooperate for different reasons to support Mormons against their fight with Major Harriman (Farley Granger). How the fight goes should be clear, but is fun to watch.

They Call me Trinity (released in 1971), a spaghetti western film starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

Westerns have been a popular theme in the history of the United States, and there have been many many movies and books on the same theme. There have been many famous figures and incidents in the history of the Westerns in the US, with the most prominent being characters such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Halliday, both of whom took part in a real life incident that took place in the town of Tombstone in Cochise County, Arizona, United States. The town of Tombstone was founded in 1879, while the actual incident took place on October 26, 1881 (read about the shootout at Wikipedia).

The movie was directed by John Sturges, and was written based on a screenplay by the famous author Leon Uris, and was released in 1957. The movie was nominated for 2 academy awards for the Sound and Editing categories, but did not win anything. It starred some of the big stars of that era such as Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. The movie looks at the lives of these 2 pivotal characters of Marshall Wyatt Earp and his companion, the famous gun fighter Doc Holliday (who was very sickly at that point of time), and builds up to the battle they had with the rival Clanton gang. The movie details the friendship between two, starting when Earp helps Doc Holliday escape from a tricky situation.
The movie portrays Doc Holliday as a larger than life person, a person who has a strong sense of honor, and yet is driven by his own private demons, something that makes him struggle and leads a tortured life; his portrayal by Kirk Douglas threatened to steal the show out from under Lancaster's portrayal of Earp. The actual scene of course is always dramatized, and many aspects of it is inaccurate.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, movie released in 1957, starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday

For a few Dollars more (1965) - Second part of the 'Man with no name' trilogy

'For a few dollars More' was a movie directed by Sergei Leone and starred Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volontè. It followed the first successful movie of the spaghetti western trilogy, 'The Man with No Name'. However, what was interesting was that when Clint Eastwood was sought to be signed on for the second movie of the series (after the first, A Fistful of Dollars was not yet released), and Clint was hesitant to sign on the second movie without having even seen the movie (A Fistful of Dollars had been released in Italy, and was a success there, but not yet released in the US). For him, an urgent copy of the print was ordered, and after seeing the movie (even though the print was not in English, but in Italian), he believed enough to sign on for another movie. Another interesting bit from the movie was that the set that was built for the movie, a town called 'El Paso' in the Almeria desert, still exists. The movie is rated as one of the best in this category, with the classic portrayal of the characters in the Wild West along with the depiction of the American Southwest.
Clint Eastwood was called 'Manco' in the movie because people would see him doing any work using his left hand, his character always kept the right hand free to draw a gun and always be ready.

The movie is about the hunt for an outlaw called "El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè)" by 2 bounty hunters, one of them being the` younger 'Manco' (CLint) and the older, once highly respected Colonel Douglas Mortimer (who is no longer much respected, since he is now reduced to being a bounty hunter - one who hunts down criminals for the cash reward on offer against them). Colonel Mortimer has a personal agenda in the hunt for "El Indio", since El Indio had once raped and killed the Colonel's sister. Manco however is after the bounty money.
The 2 join hands in the hunt for El Indio, however, each has their own agenda. As a part of the hunt, it is decided that a reluctant Manco will join Indio's gang, as Indio is planning a raid on a safe in El Paso that contains almost half-a-million dollars, a huge sum of money by any standard. After the raid, Manco and Colonel Mortimer are caught in the act of stealing the money from the bandits, and are brutally thrashed, but are left free by Indio who in reality wants to have a fight between the gang members and the bounty hunters so as to ensure that the entire money belongs only to Indio. This action dutifully happens, and now there is a face off between Colonel Mortimer and Indio.

For a Few Dollars more, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and directed by Sergei Leone, released in 1965

The Searchers, a movie starring John Wayne, released in 1956

The Searchers was a movie released in 1956. It was the 12th collaboration between the Western star John Wayne and the director John Ford, and is acknowledged to be one of the best westerns ever made. The movie takes the iconic image of a western hero, who stands alone, and is also seen as an anti-hero. The movie takes the violence, the conflicts between settlers and the native Indians, and most importantly, the emotions that drive a person to a relentless quest, and how this search can harden a person and make him full of hatred. The movie is similar to the story of a Cynthia Ann Parker in 1836, who was kidnapped by native Comanches, spent 24 years with them, and married an Indian chief. She had a complete family, but was taken away from her family by Texas Rangers, driven by her uncle.

The movie is the story of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne, also known as 'The Duke'), a ex-Confederate soldier returning from the American Civil war. He returns to his brother's (Aaron) home; they accept him and the money he brings, although it is hinted that Ethan had been upto no good. Soon after, a raid by the native Indian tribe, the Comanches, burns down the homestead and kills his entire set of relatives, except for 2 nieces, Lucy (Pippa Scott) and Debbie (Lana Wood), who are abducted.
A group of Texas Rangers led by Captain Clayton accompanied by Ethan set out in pursuit of the Comanches, and they have clashes with the party. It is soon clear that Ethan is willing to take risks that could get the girls killed, and Captain Clayton is unwilling to take these risks. However, Lucy's fiancee Brad and Aaron's adopted son Martin are determined to continue, and find the Comanche camp. Ethan soon reports that he found Lucy's body and buried her, at this Lucy's fiancee charges to the Comanche camp and is killed.
Ethan and Martin continue this search, a search that takes them 5 years. In this time, Debbie has crossed childhood and marries an Indian chief called Scar, a native Indian who is the same as Ethan. Just as Ethan hates native Indians, Scar hates the whites. This knowledge transforms Ethan, he is struck by hatred at the fact that Debbie is now married to a native Indian, and his mission is now converted to killing Debbie. Soon after, Martin and Ethan manage to meet Debbie, where Martin manages to save Debbie from getting killed by Ethan.
Martin and Ethan find Debbie again, and this time the hatred in Ethan cannot be controlled. In a conflict, Martin kills Scar, and then Ethan does the incredible, he scalps Ethan. It is then he realizes that this hatred has made him become what he did not want. He realizes his emotions, and brings Debbie back to her friends and safety.

The Searchers, a 1956 epic movie starring John Wayne, and directed by John Ford

The Comancheros - Starring John Wayne (1961)

The Comancheros was a Western movie starring John Wayne. The movie is reckoned as one of the better of Wayne's western movies. John Wayne also played a role in direction of the movie (although his role in direction is not credited, since he took over the direction after the Director, Michael Curtiz, cancer-stricken, was unable to complete the movie) along with action specialist Cliff Lyons. The movie is about Wayne's role as a Texas Ranger who is accompanying a convict after a duel, and how they strike a partnership to fight the bad guys.

The year is set as 1843. Dueling has been banned, and Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) has just had a duel with the son of a Louisiana judge, and as a result of the death of the son in the duel, Regret has been sentenced to be hanged. He escapes, and Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne) is sent after him. Jake manages to capture Regret, and is taking him to his tryst with the hangman, however, Jake has another assignment, to infiltrate and destroy a group of white outlaws called the Comancheros. The Comancheros supply a group of American Indians called the Comanches with guns and whiskey, and incite them against to commit violence. The rest of the movie is about the fights they have, and how they eventually work as partners against the gang.

The Comancheros starring John Wayne and Stuart Whitman, released in 1961

The Untouchables starring Kevin Costner (1987)

The story of Al Capone, and the mafia as such, is a popular story with dramatists. There have been numerous books and movies that deal with the story of gangsters, and many of them have been exceedingly popular. The story of Al Capone, his rise, the terror he inflicted on society, the way he fought his way to the top, his exploitation of Prohibition to smuggle alcohol, all these were part of his mystique. What was equally remembered about him was the St. Valentine's Day massacre that he committed on his rivals, first disarming 7 of them using his men in police uniform, and then using Tommy guns on them. Equally remembered about him were the efforts of the Government to bring him down (even when Chicago and neighboring towns were controlled by his men, with the police and officials on his payroll), and how we was brought down on a charge of tax evasion rather than for the numerous crimes he committed. The jail term on him was a stiff one, and effectively broke his empire.

Brian De Palma made 4 gangster movies, these 4 being Scarface, Wise guys, Carlito's way, and The Untouchables. The other 3 movies were all about the gangsters, while The Untouchables takes the action from the perspective of lawkeepers, the persons out on a mission to capture the gangster, even when they have to follow rules and laws, while the Gangster can use any kind of force, can subvert the authorities, and threaten whoever they want. The Untouchables is the real life story of the people who managed to break the power of a mob lord against all these factors, and the methods they used (who would have believed that you could send a gangster to prison for tax evasion rather than for the various crimes!).
The movie is based on a subject that has been created earlier as well, and is essentially based on the autobiography of Eliot Ness. Eliot Ness was the agent who was sent to bring Al Capone to justice, and to free Chicago from his destructive and criminal ways. The movie starred Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro and Andy Garcia. Sean Connery won a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of the Irish American cop Jim Malone. The movie does not fully present this as a good vs. evil fight, also portraying the parts where Capone showed support for the poor by running soup kitchens and other similar efforts, as also the role where Ness actually throws a hood off the roof of a building rather than bring him in for justice.
The movie is well choreographed, with the scenes bringing out the drama. The scene right at the end, where the juries are switched is gripping, especially if you don't know the story. An eminently watchable movie.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Directed by Sergei Leone

Sergei Leone became famous for the spaghetti westerns that he made, and for which he was the prime creator. At the same time, some of these westerns were very acclaimed movies, ranked among the great movies. One of the great westerns he made was 'Once Upon a time in the West' made in 1968, and it was almost from that time that he read a book by a mafia insider (known by a pseudonym called Harry Grey) called 'The Hoods'. He was inspired by this book, and wanted to make a movie out of this book, but because the movie rights of the book was held by another producer, it took him a couple of decades to finally make this movie. Over this long time, a number of different actors were thought of for the key roles of Max, Noodles, and Deborah (with the number of people being thought reading like a roll call of the actors of the movie industry), in the end, the main adult roles of the characters were played by Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern (adult female lead), Jennifer Connelly (younger female lead).

The movie itself came in for controversy because of its long length. After the shooting, the director and editor found themselves with more than 8 hours of footage. Leone, not wanting to cut down from the many scenes, initially wanted to release the movie as 2 three hour long movie parts, but had to back down after the producers insisted. He finally cut down the movie to an almost 4 hour long, 229 minute movie (which is also fairly long by most standards). This 229 minute long movie was very well received by critics; but the US release had a different story. Against Leone's wishes, the movie was cut down further, by cutting another 90 minutes from the movie, resulting in a movie that was not welcomed by the critics. However, when they saw the original 229 minute cut, they changed their opinion, and that is the version that is the popular one now, with most people pretending that the shorter version does not exist.
The movie takes 3 different timelines, with different ages for the main characters. In the early part of the movie, in the early 1910's, with the characters in their early years, struggling to survive in the ghettoised neighborhood. Noodles and Max meet up, and become the local leaders of a small gang, until they have a fight with another gang, at which Noodles kills the the other gang leader and attacks a police officer. He is now jailed for 12 years.
After Max comes out of jail in 1932, he re-joins Noodles and other gang members, and they slowly start getting involved in Mafia matters, taking part in jobs, getting involved in strikes and being on the side of the union leaders. However, Noodles is hesitant at the pace proposed by Max and tries to get them to slow down. He calls the police when the gang is at another job in order to get them to slow down, but this results in an encounter in which his gang friends, including Max, are killed. Noodles goes to get the gang money, but finds that missing. He eventually changes his identity to escape the hunt by the Syndicate for the traitor, and lives in Buffalo for decades.
In the fast forward to the future, in 1968, Noodles returns to New York City, and finds that there are some surprised. He discovers that Max had actually faked his death with help from the Syndicate, and then deceived his friends, and had stolen the money. He now wants Noodles to assassinate him, but when Noodle refuses, Max commits suicide by throwing himself into a garbage truck (an iconic scene).
However, there is a flashback, where the Noodles of 1933, in an opium den, on the run from the Syndicate is shown; he is an opium induced trance, and the supposition is that the entire future events of 1968 are actually a dream, and this is something that Sergei Leone has confirmed in an interview.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Directed by Sergei Leone, and starring Robert De Niro and James Woods

My name is Nobody (1973) - a comic Western

Spaghetti westerns were all the craze starting with the 'Man with No Name' series, starring Clint Eastwood, and directed by Sergei Leone. More directors and stars got into the act, and soon, there were a number of such movies in the market. However by, the early 1970's, the whole concept of spaghetti westerns were becoming a joke, and there were a number of movies made on the concept of creating a comedy western. There had been other comedy westerns made, such as the Trinity series (They Call Me Trinity and, Trinity Is STILL My Name!). Both of the Trinity movies also starred Terence Hill (making him the star of comedy westerns, while Henry Fonda was the star of serious westerns). The movie was mostly directed by Tonino Valerii, with Sergei Leone directing a few scenes, but since there was the involvement of Sergei, the movie came to be known as a Sergei Leone movie (something that Torino was not happy about). The music by Ennio Morricone was superb as usual.

However, 'My Name Is Nobody' is the story of a famous (and old) gunslinger Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda); since he is famous, he is constantly hunted by the younger punks who want to challenge him, and if they win, they will be the next famous ones. Jack, after a lifetime of fighting, now just wants to hang up his boots, and is in Europe, hoping for some peace and quiet.
The movie starts out with 3 men challenging Jack, and they are dispatched in a barber's shop; and there the name of the movie is born, since, when asked who can defeat Jack, the barber replies "Faster than him? Nobody!"
And Nobody is Terence Hill, who is a big fan of Jack, and wants to setup him against a finale sequence against the Wild Bunch, a bunch of bandits. Nobody keeps after Jack, finally managing to get him into the fight against the Wild Bunch. Job and fight done, Nobody thanks Jack by setting up a fake fight with Jack, which is apparently won by Nobody, letting Jack off in retirement on a boat to Europe.

My name is Nobody (1973) (partial direction by Sergei Leone and starring Henry Fonda, Terrence Hill, and Jean Martin)

A Fistful of Dollars (1964): The original spaghetti western

In the 60's, and the early 70's, Spaghetti Westerns, shot with young or ageing US leads along with Spanish / Italian stars, and using an Italian / Spanish cast caught on, and continued till the early 70's, when people started getting tired of this line of films. Two of the people who were most closely associated with these types of movies were the director, Sergei Leone, and the young upcoming star, Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood came to be famous for a trilogy of movies called the "The Dollars Trilogy" or "The Man With No Name Trilogy" - primarily because Clint was not given a screen name in these movies, and this was in effect used as a promotion point for these movies. A Fistful of Dollars was the movie that started this trend, and was the first movie in the trilogy, with the others being For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Most of these movies were shot in Spain, in regions that resembled the dry, wasteland like region of the American Southwest. Another great highlight of the movie was the music by Ennio Morricone.

The Spaghetti Western culture had a touch of irony to it, since the original role was offered to Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, but both of them refused, and a few others, after which Clint Eastwood was signed on. With the success of the genre, both of them starred in a later movie of his, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
A Fistful of Dollars is the story of a man arriving at a small town on the Mexican Border called San Miguel, and how he gets involved in the huge rivalry in the town between 2 families who want to establish their dominance in the town. These 2 families are;
- The Rojo brothers, Don Miguel, Esteban, and Ramón.
- The other family is that of the sheriff John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy)
The Man with No Name arrives in the town, and sees a chance to make some money ('a fistful of dollars') in this rivalry between them, but gets involved in a different way, by rescuing the captive of Ramon, Ramon's mistress (Marisol).
The Rojos catch Clint Eastwood and torture him for this effrontery, but he manages to get free with the help of the coffin maker. In their search for him, the Rojos finally get up on the Baxters by burning down their home and killing them all. Now that they are the one strong family in the town, the stranger returns to a final fight, and finally kills them all, and then moves out before the authorities make their presence felt.

A fistful of Dollars (1964), released in the United States in 1967, and starring Clint Eastwood, directed by Sergei Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Sergio Leone was the king of the Spaghetti Western brand of movies, with Clint Eastwood being the star in many of those. Henry Fonda was another famous star of the era, acting as the hero in many a film. However, in this film, Henry Fonda plays one of the villains, with Charles Bronson playing the lead role in the movie. The movie 'Once Upon a time in the West' was released in 1968 in Europe and was a fairly big success, running for a long time in many cities. However, this was not be in the United States, where it was released in 1969, and was a flop. Like some other movies that were well made but did not do well commercially, Once Upon a Time in the West is now regarded as a very well made movie, and among the greatest westerns. The movie starred, besides Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, Jason Robards as the bandit Cheyenne and Claudia Cardinale as Jill (a lady who arrives at her new house to find herself a widow and her entire family killed).

The movie is about the fight for getting control of the rights for providing water (and a supply depot) to the railroad that will run past the town of Flagstone, with the farm being in the best position to supply water and other supplies to the railroad. The movie starts with a scene of a remote town in Arizona, where a train arrives, on which a stranger with a harmonica in his mouth (Bronson) gets down, hoping to find Frank (Fonda) there, but instead meets 3 men with whom he has a showdown and, he is the only survivor. At the same on a remote farm, where the McBains are waiting for a new wife Jill (Claudia Cardinale) for Brett McBain, a gang led by Frank come and kill all of them.
Soon after, Jill arrives at the station and starts to the farm. On the way, she meets the harmonica player and also the bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards). When confronted by Branson about the shoot-out, Cheyenne denies that the men killed were his men. And then Jill arrives at the farm to find that her new family is all dead, but she tells the assembled crowd that she had already married McBain a month back. On the basis of some false evidence, the crowd believe that the murders were done by Cheyenne, and form a posse to hunt him down.
And then you start to discover as to why these killing happened .. this is all related to the railroad that the tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) was building that would go upto the Pacific, and Frank works for him. The story is interesting, with the collision between these different men, all of them with their own interests, and how they all come together in the end. The movie is interesting, and with some great scenes. A must watch.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and directed by Sergio Leone

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) - A great Spaghetti Western

This is a movie that will certainly not win any major awards, and was a major constituent of what were called the 'spaghetti westerns'. It was a movie directed by Sergio Leone, and starred Clint Eastwood (and Sergio Leone was the master of the art, having made a large number of such movies). What were Spaghetti Westerns ? - These were films that started coming out in the 60's, and continued till they started becoming the butt of jokes in the 70's, after which these died out. The other specialty of these movies is that they were primarily directed and produced by Italians, with a mix of young and upcoming Hollywood actors, and many other members of the cast being a mix of Italian and Spanish actors. A large number of these movies were made with a desert, wild countryside, to resemble the American Southwest (although the shooting of many of them was done in a region of Spain that was similar).

The movie has 3 characters representing each of the 3 terms:
- The Good: Clint Eastwood as Blondie. Also famously known as 'The Man with No Name'. A bounty hunter who is the best of the 3, but who can shoot first if his morals allow it as a case of self-defense. He can also swindle as part of his bounty hunter job in order to make money. Blondie knows the name of the grave stone where confederate money is hidden, but his partner knows the name of the cemetery, and hence they need to work together.
- The Bad. Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes. A sociopath, a mercenary also known as 'Angel Eyes', who can kill or shoot anybody in his path. He, as a Sergeant interrogates Tuco, and discovers the name of the cemetery where the gold is hidden, but is unable to get the exact grave stone.
- The Ugly. Eli Wallach as Tuco. More of a lout, wanted by the authorities (and he uses this fact as part of his partnership with Blondie to make money). He finds the name of the cemetery (Sad Hill Cemetery) where the gold is hidden, but Blondie gets to know the name of the grave stone. He is partnering with Blondie, but at some point, they are all in for themselves.

The movie is mainly about these 3, and their quest for finding hidden confederate gold. Blondie and Tuco are on/off partners, but are forced to become good partners when one of them gets to know the name of the cemetery where the gold is hidden, and the other gets to know the name of the grave stone. And then there is the third one, Angel Eyes, who also gets to know about the gold, and will not let anything stand in his way, including making a temporary partnership with Blondie to discover the gold. The movie is about their quest, mixed with scenes of treachery, bitter battles between the Union and Confederate forces (the movie is set in the Civil War timeframe). In the end, the three are standing in the cemetery, guns drawn, in a Mexican stand-off with each other. Who will win ?

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, a spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (released in 1966)