Thursday, April 20, 2006
Laughing with Nobody
I’ve always been a fan of Westerns but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started watching them with regularity. About this time my friend Jack Daves became obsessed with the genre and it was then impossible to be around him without being infected with his love. Being a Euro Cult film nut I have a tendency to gravitate to the legendary Spaghetti Westerns made in the 60’s and 70’s and luckily this was such a fertile time that I'll still be tracking down titles to watch in my 80’s.
I recently rented one that I knew by reputation and had already seen.... I thought. It turns out I had only seen parts of this gem in my youth and I’m glad I finally watched the whole thing. MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973) is the last western with the great Sergio Leone’s name attached to it. He didn’t direct the film (although fans have debated this) but he did produce and provide the story, which was shaped into a script by Ernesto Gastaldi. This is a very fun movie with a lot to recommend it. I remember my father and uncles being big fans of this when I was a kid. Having seen the whole thing I can understand why. This is a very entertaining ‘film for guys’ with several iconic moments throughout that I will forever link to my Uncle Paul’s laughter.
Primarily a spoof of the Spaghetti western genre’s motifs it sometimes slides a little too far into comedy for my tastes but the story is so well played and genial that I came away loving it anyway. Henry Fonda is Jack Beauregaurd, an aging gunfighter making his way to the coast where a ship will take him to retirement in Europe. In his path is an appointment with the man responsible for his brother’s death, a large number of freelance killers looking to make themselves a name by taking the legend out, and Nobody. Nobody (Terrance Hill) is an unassuming young man in awe of lawman Beauregaurd’s gun slinging prowess. He wants to see his hero do one last great thing to make his name an entry in the history books- take on the 150 men strong ’Wild Bunch’. Beauregaurd has no interest in acting out his fan’s hopes but events manipulated by Nobody push him toward the confrontation. Easing the young man’s quest are his own amazing skills with pistols and an almost supernaturally fast quick draw. It’s in these moments of sped up quick-time action that the movie veers too far into silliness but (for me, at least) they never overwhelm the story’s charms.
Playing the material perfectly both Fonda and Hill are wonderful. With their tense but humorous byplay and the fantastic cinematography I found myself enjoying the film so much that each slight advance in the story almost snuck up on me. I was happy to just watch what was happening with no real need for the plot to advance. This is pure entertainment for western fans with a sense of humor and it had me laughing out loud more times than I can remember. There’s even a touching end to the tale with Fonda’s voiceover farewell wrapping up both the story and the ‘Old West’ as myth. And as a side note, it’s nice to have Fonda’s last go round in the genre not be the nasty as Hell bastard Frank he played in Leone’s brilliant ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Beauregaurd seems to be a furthering of the characters he played in WARLOCK (1959) or THE TIN STAR (1957) years before. I was glad to see him play a good guy even as he demonstrated the steel resolve that kept Beauregaurd alive long enough to be able to retire. This is one great film!
I must warn folks of a perfection oriented nature to bware the Image DVD released here in the States. It is nicely letterboxed and colorful but even my forgiving eyes caught lots of digital authoring glitches. MY NAME IS NOBODY deserves a better disc. And some extras would be nice too.