Archive for October, 2010

Spaghetti Westerns, Part 8

Posted in Film on October 31, 2010 by thebigsmoke

Tepepa (Tepepa) (1968)

One more Zapata western and then I’ll move on to something a bit different. This one again features Tomas Milian, this time in the title role as morally ambiguous revolutionary Jesus Maria “Tepepa” Moran.

Opposite Milian, John Steiner plays an English doctor who has travelled to Mexico to pursue a personal vendetta against Tepepa. However, in order to have his revenge, he has to first save Tepepa from a firing squad. From then on he finds himself consistently thwarted by Mexican’s cunning and his own humanitarian instincts.

Giulio Petroni does a fairly decent job in the director’s chair and Ennio Morricone provides another sterling soundtrack. If you have seen any of the Zapata westerns I’ve previously mentioned, you will know what to expect. This is fairly standard stuff, but it has that epic feel which is particualrly to Zapatas. That quality was enchanced for me in this instance, as the English doctor’s adventures in Mexico put me in mind of films like Lawrence Of Arabia or The English Patient.

Tepepa is not overly formulaic and it does have a few peculiarities. Not least of which is the appearance of Orson Welles as dastardly Colonel Carrosco. It isn’t Welles’ best role, but he’s a very welcome addition to an already rewarding film.


Spaghetti Westerns, Part 7

Posted in Film on October 21, 2010 by thebigsmoke

Face To Face (Faccia a Faccia) (1967)

I’ve been watching these films much faster than I can write the reviews. I thought I was still on top of it, but just realised it has been a few weeks since the last spaghetti western mention. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to another spaghetti western.

Face To Face is probably Sergio Sollima’s best western, although The Big Gundown comes a very close second. It has all the features you would expect from your average Italian western, but this is more ambitious, thought-provoking effort than most. The theme of the film is violence, its causes and effects.

Gian Maria Volonte plays a timid history professor forced to travel south due to ill health. There he falls in with Beauregard Bennet, a ruthless bandit, played by the versatile but ever-charistmatic Tomas Milian. As their odd relationship develops, the two men are forced to make difficult personal decisions about the direction of their lives.

Volonte and Milian’s performances are so filled intensity that they set the screen ablaze. The acting in Face To Face is of an extremely high quality, with the two incredible leads supported by a fantastic cast, which includes the brilliant William Berger as a wily Pinkerton agent.

This is a personal favourite of mine, a relentlessly exciting film which will keep you breathless with anticipation. The driving pace is underscored by what is in my opinon one of Ennio Morricone’s finest soundtracks. This is a real gem of a film, and the sort of spaghetti western which gets people hooked on the genre.

Spaghetti Westerns, Part 6

Posted in Film on October 3, 2010 by thebigsmoke

Run, Man Run (Corri, Uomo, Corri) (1968)

Sergio Sollima is sometimes referred to as “the third Sergio”, as he is generally considered to be of less importance to the genre than Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Although he made fewer movies and enjoyed less success than Leone or Corbucci, it’s unfair to the director and he deserves to be considered on his own merits. I raved about his first western, The Big Gundown in my last spaghetti western post, so now is a good time to spotlight another of his films, Run, Man, Run.

Run, Man, Run is a sequel of sorts, as Tomas Milian reprises his role of Cuchillo. There’s no Lee Van Cleef, sadly, but Donal O’Brien is on hand to fill the sharpshooting gringo quota as Daniel Cassidy. O’Brien starred in numerous spaghetti westerns, but it’s unusual to find him getting such high billing. He plays his part admirably, but of course it’s Milian who is the star and dominates on screen.

More ambitious than The Big Gundown perhaps, Run, Man, Run is slightly more overt politically and is more what you might expect from a Zapata western. For me, The Big Gundown is the superior film, but Run, Man, Run is seriously enjoyable and a wonderful follow-up. Fans of his first film will be happy to know Sollima even saw fit to include another knife versus gun showdown.

Other cool shit I’ve watched recently

Posted in Film on October 1, 2010 by thebigsmoke

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Okay, I hadn’t heard of Rolling Thunder either until recently, when I found a list of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite grindhouse films online. An obscurity, which is strange considering what a well made and enjoyable film this is.

William Devane stars as Major Charles Rane, returned from Vietnam where he was captured and tortured relentessly. Once back on American soil he has to come to terms with his wife’s infidelity and forge a relationship with a son who cannot remember him. Rane’s readjustment goes from bad to worse when a gang of criminals pays a visit after seeing him being gifted a suticase full of silver dollars on television. What follows is a vigilante revenge thriller with sudden bursts of explosive violence.

Directed by John Flynn, Rolling Thunder was adapted from a script by Paul Schrader and filmed shortly after the release of Taxi Driver. The two films have a lot in common, but Rolling Thunder is definitely the nastier of the two. Whereas Travis Bickle was confused by his emotional responses, Rane has been stripped of his humanity and struggles to have any kind of emotional response at all. He functions mechanically and constantly has to be told by others what his feelings ought to be and how he might reasonably be expected to act.

Rane is a quiet man, broken by his experiences, and William Devane’s performance is suitably studied and convincing. There’s a fantastic scene early on in the film where he shares a beer with his wife’s lover, completely devoid of resentment or anger. This inhuman lack of emotion makes him all the more threatening, so that when he politely asks for the man to stop calling his son “Runt” it carries real menace.

Similarly affected by his experiences in Vietnam is Johnny Vohden, played by a very young Tommy Lee Jones. Vohden is even more soulless than Rane and later in the film it is clear he’s completely detached from the rest of his family. Even more disturbingly, the only people Rane and Vohden seem to be able to properly relate to is each other. They respond to each other almost instinctively, without uncertainty or even a hint of an argument, even when lives hang in the balance.

These marvellous performances are underpinned by a tragedy which will stay with you after the credits roll. However exciting the action in the film may be, these are men left whose ability to maintain a fulfilling existence has been irreparably damaged. As its revealed right at the very start, they don’t wear sunglasses because of the way they look, they wear them because they don’t know how to face the world. After so many years of suffering, they find that suffering is all they know how to do.

Perhaps it’s this haunting quality which stops the film from being a commercial success. Perhaps audiences don’t want films without hope of a happy ending. I don’t honestly know why Rolling Thunder remains an obscure film, but I know it doesn’t deserve to be.

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