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April 20, 2006

A Plateful of Spaghetti Westerns

shootfirst.jpg

Shoot First . . . Ask Questions Later/Il Bianco, il Giallo, il Nero
Sergio Corbucci - 1975
DVD Storm Region 0 DVD

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Have a Good Funeral, My Friend . . . Sartana will Pay/Buon Funerale, Amigos!... paga Sartana
Anthony Ascott (Giuliano Carnimeo) - 1970
X Rated Kult Region 2 DVD

Sometimes there are gems to be found when exploring Italian westerns not made by Sergio Leone. Sometimes the films turn out to be less than promised. The two films I saw today attest to Leone's inescapable influence. At the very least the existence of these films on DVD allows for a greater sense of a genre that received spotty distribution and often indifferent critical reception in the United States.

Shoot First is the last Western by Sergio Corbucci. At the time of release, the Italian western genre was primarily comprised of comic spoofs. The best of these was the Leone produced My Name is Nobody. The Italian title translates as the colors white, yellow and black. The colors refer to the colors of three locks on a trunk full of money, as well as to the three main characters. The white is a conman known as "Swiss" in the English language version, but also as Blanc de Blanc, European audiences being more familiar with Mont Blanc. The yellow is a would be samurai portrayed by the Cuban Tomas Milian, more Jerry Lewis than Toshiro Mifune. The black is Eli Wallach's sheriff, known as Black Jack. The orginal Italian title recalls Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, reinforced with the casting of Wallach from the earlier film. Corbucci's film is also something of a takeoff on Red Sun, a film more popular in Europe than the U.S.

Corbucci's film starts on a promising note, literally, with a folk-country theme by the De Angelis brothers, a shift from the imitation Ennio Morricone scores one often expects. Perhaps Corbucci and company try too hard, as Shoot First gets dragged down by too much heavy-handed humor, whether it's Wallach calling his wife "My darling Clementine", or Milian closely examing the back end of a horse. It could also be that Corbucci is more suited to the more serious subversiveness of Companeros, The Big Silence and even Navaho Joe.

Coincidentally, the Sartana film also features an Asian character. In this case George Wang portrays the Chinese owner of a local gambling hall. Not so coincidentally, bankers are the chief villains of both films. Funeral is the third of the Sartana series, and the first that I've seen. Sartana is a well-dressed gambler who travels around playing cards. In this installment he's seeking the murderers of an old prospector. Compared to Clint Eastwood's man with no name character, Sartana is a regular chatterbox. Sartana is clever with cards, whether gambling, or using them as in more creative ways such as snuffing out candles. Giuliano Carnimeo stages a variety of unusual gunfights and keeps things moving in little more than an hour and a half. Having seen three films by Carnimeo working in three different genres, I can say that he's not a bad filmmaker. But no matter which genre, there's always someone better.

Posted by peter at April 20, 2006 04:54 PM