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August 13, 2015

Face to Face

face to face french poster.jpg

Facia a Facia
Sergio Sollima - 1967
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

There's a wonderful meta moment in Face to Face. The outlaw Beauregard Bennett shows up in a town to try and free a jailed member of his Wild Bunch. The person who knows the whereabouts of the prisoner is a man named Williams who represents himself as an "honest citizen". William is a heavy-set man, the kind of character played by Raymond Burr or Robert Middleton in Hollywood westerns. The price for freeing the prisoner is Bennett's taking on the henchmen who work for Taylor. Taylor is the town boss, and his name is on several buildings, notably the hotel, the bar and the bank. Bennett has a shootout with the henchmen, with Taylor coming up to watch the proceedings, sitting next to Williams. Right before the shootout, Williams looks at his pocket watch. It's a darkly humorous scene revealing that the gunfighters are essentially pawns for monied interests. The scene also works as commentary on the spectacle of the gunfight as part of the western genre.

Unless you have a phobia regarding subtitles, it's the "bonus" of the full original version of Face to Face that you want to see, in Italian with English subtitles. There is a marked difference with the longer version, significantly with a couple of scenes that show the initial development of the relationship between Bennett, and the former history teacher, Brett Fletcher. Based on a remark by Fletcher, and a photograph of President Grant in a sheriff's office, the film takes place sometime not long after the Civil War. Fletcher, a history teacher, leaves Boston for somewhere in Texas, for his health. Fletcher is told that his apparent lack of ambition has held up his academic career. The scene foreshadows Fletcher's change of character following his initial encounter with Bennett. A scene deleted in the English language version shows Fletcher coughing and physically weak while hiding in a shelter with Bennett, at first a prisoner of the outlaw, but later to join him in banditry.

Face to Face was the second of three westerns made by Sergio Sollima, all starring Tomas Milian. Like the previous, The Big Gundown, it's a film about a symbiotic relationship between to men. The two men exchange some the characteristics of each other, both for better and for worse. The film is also an observation on how the concepts of strength and weakness are perceived.

I find it interesting that the one scene that did not get cut out from the English language release was the scene that provides a pause in the narrative. Bennett brings Fletcher to the remote mountain village called Blazing Rock. It's some kind of utopia for former outlaws, slaves, some Native Americans, and others, away from the legally established communities and their hierarchies. With the return of Bennet, the community has a dance, mostly people gathered in a circle. We get to see Tomas Milian and some of the other cast members literally kicking up their heels. A fair number of Italian westerns were barely disguised political allegories, and the dance scene was designed to show an idealized, classless society.

Still relatively early in their respective careers, Tomas Milian started to establish himself as the loose cannon in Italian genre film, while Gian Maria Volonte would frequently be the cerebral protagonist. One other way the Italian language version wins over the English language version - an extra minute or so of Ennio Morricone's music closing out the film.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 13, 2015 08:06 AM