Film Review: The White, The Yellow, and The Black (1975)

Also known as: Il bianco il giallo il nero (original Italian title), Samurai (Canada), Ring Around the Horse’s Tail (US dubbed version), Shoot First… Ask Questions Later (US alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Amendola & Corbucci, Santiago Moncada, Renee Asseo, Antonio Troisio, Marcello Coscia, Sergio Spina
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Milian, Eli Wallach

Filmel, Mundial Film, Tritone Cinematografica, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[about to be hanged by a gang] I’ll never die without my boots on, and a star on my chest.” – Sheriff Edward Gideon

I’ve seen and reviewed about a half dozen Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns in recent years. I didn’t know about this one, however, until I stumbled across it while looking for something else. But I’m glad I did, even if it’s one of Corbucci’s weaker westerns.

Still, it’s a well cast film with three cool characters that had nice chemistry and provided solid performances that required dramatic and comedic acting with a little pinch of badassness sprinkled in.

People today would probably find the fact that Italian actor Tomas Milian plays a samurai in the Old West to be “problematic” and while the character is written mostly for laughs by tapping into cultural stereotypes, Milian still gives his character a certain panache and coolness when push comes to shove.

Spaghetti western legends Eli Wallach and Giuliano Gemma also add some fun to the proceedings, with Wallach playing a Sheriff and Gemma playing a typical western cowboy.

The plot sees this unlikely trio come together to track down a stolen Japanese horse that was intended to be a gift for the US government. The three men end up embroiled in a rivalry with a band of desperadoes that are made up of former Confederate soldiers.

Side note: this film was actually made as a loose parody of the Charles Bronson starring Red Sun. Milian’s samurai character would also reappear in the film Crime at the Chinese Restaurant in 1981, directed by Sergio’s younger brother, Bruno Corbucci.

Out of the Corbucci westerns I’ve seen, this one is, unfortunately, the weakest. But I can’t fault the director for trying to do something different for his last picture in the genre. While the characters are amusing and work fairly well together, the movie does kind of miss its mark and pales in comparison to Django, The Great Silence, Compañeros and The Mercenary. I’d also rank it behind Navajo Joe, which wasn’t anywhere near as goofy and borderline slapstick-y despite having more humorous bits than Corbucci’s other spaghetti westerns.

This also lacks the gravitas of those earlier films. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, but Corbucci sort of had a particular style with his westerns and this plays more like a generic western comedy than the great action flicks one could expect from Corbucci.

Overall, I like the casting and I enjoyed their characters but apart from that, this is almost forgettable and probably only stayed afloat in a sea of spaghetti flicks due to who made it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.

Film Review: The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

The Dollars Trilogy, also known as The Man With No Name Trilogy, is one of the best film series there has ever been, capped off by the greatest film ever made.

These films also featured the best soundtracks ever created by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

But let me talk about all three of Sergio Leone’s masterpieces on their own.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964):

Also known as: Per un pugno di dollari (Italy), lit. For a Fistful of Dollars
Release Date: September, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, Tonino Valerii (all uncredited), Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood (English version)
Based on: Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Josef Edger, Wolfgang Lukschy, Gian Maria Volontè (as John Wells)

Jolly Film, Constantin Film, Ocean Films, Unidis, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“To kill a man you shoot him in the heart. Isn’t that what you said, Ramon?” – Joe (The Man With No Name)

The first film in the series is the smallest in scope. The story is very straightforward and compared to its sequels, it is pretty basic. It is still a fantastic film on its own and is one of the best westerns ever made. Had Sergio Leone just made this film and not the other two, it may have had the same level of love and admiration that accompanies The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

It introduces us to the character referred to as “The Man With No Name”. In the film, he is casually referred to as “Joe” but it isn’t the true name of this stranger who wanders into town and changes things for the better before leaving.

This film is a template for the ones after it and that isn’t a knock, as it was executed greatly and fits well within the series that this trilogy became. You can tell that Sergio Leone is getting his feet wet with the western genre and for a first effort, this is a magnificent work of art.

It is also a lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It turns the samurai wandering into a Japanese village and switches it to a gunslinger wandering into an Old West town.

Clint Eastwood truly owns the character and the villainous Ramón (played by Gian Maria Volontè) is a perfect foil for the hero.

The movie ends with one of the greatest and imaginative gun duels in film history. In fact, it would go on to be seen in Back to the Future, Part II and would inspire Marty McFly when he had to face his evil foil in a gun battle in Back to the Future, Part III.

Plus, the opening sequence of this film is absolute perfection and maybe my second favorite sequence in any spaghetti western, only surpassed by the finale of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But those two scenes were incredible bookends to this film series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

For A Few Dollars More (1965):

Also known as: Per qualche dollaro in più (Italy)
Release Date: December 30th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Enzo Dell’Aquila (uncredited), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Alive or dead? It’s your choice.” – Monco (The Man With No Name)

The first sequel expands on the world of the first film. It feels bigger, the plot has more meat to it and our hero gets to team up with a bounty hunter named Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by the always spectacular Lee Van Cleef). The villain, El Indio is played by the previous installment’s villain actor, Gian Maria Volontè.

The two heroes work together and sometimes against one another in trying to take down El Indio and his gang. There are a lot of twists to the story and there is a lot more depth and layers than the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Leone really found his stride in this film but it still wasn’t absolute perfection – that was yet to come.

This installment is also a bit more humorous than the previous film, in that the relationship between “The Man With No Name” (referred to as “Monco”) and Col. Douglas Mortimer is pretty chummy and entertaining. But this was Eastwood and Van Cleef in their prime, if you ask me. Both are magnetic, charismatic and each brings so much gravitas to any role that the cup was overflowing with masculine intensity.

As the story unfolds and the relationships build, you are left with a pretty lovable tale. Albeit a pretty badass lovable tale.

And as incredible as Ennio Morricone is as a composer, each chapter in this trilogy sees him evolve into something even greater.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966):

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 177 Minutes

Review:

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – Blondie (The Man With No Name)

In my opinion, this is the greatest film ever made. It is perfect and truly has no flaws. Sure, westerns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but some people eat laundry detergent because the Internet tells them to.

Clint Eastwood (The Good) is back, as is Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) who plays the evil Angel Eyes. Eli Wallach (The Ugly) joins them and becomes one of the best characters in cinematic history.

This is a three hour epic and not a single moment of film is wasted. Each segment serves the story well and fleshes out these dynamic characters. Everyone is given a chance to play off of each other and each exchange between characters drives the story forward and strengthens the relationship between all three men.

Even though Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” is the hero of this series, it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco Ramirez that is the actual star of this picture. He goes from annoying but funny bandit to a lovable and tragic character that you find yourself cheering for by the time this thing is over.

This film is a perfect example of how to develop characters well but with a minimalist approach. Their backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in every detail. You can hint at their past, drop clues and come to conclusions based off of the emotion the actor wears on their face at certain points. Eli Wallach really gave an Oscar caliber performance here but these sort of films are ignored by elitist Academy snobbery.

The cinematography, the geography, the interiors – all are perfect. This film takes place in a massive and dirty world and it really feels like the American West, even though it was filmed in Europe in 1960s spaghetti western fashion.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly plays like an old opera in its level of scope, story and violence. While the violence isn’t over the top, it serves a real narrative purpose and has a gritty authenticity about it that no other director has been able to capture since.

There isn’t a single thing about this movie that I would tweak, edit out or even try to expand on. I keep saying “perfect” and “flawless” because those are the only words I can even use to describe this untouchable film.

This is Sergio Leone’s magnum opus and the man was one of the greatest directors to ever live.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

Film Review: The Two Jakes (1990)

Release Date: August 10th, 1990
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Van Dyke Parks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Rubén Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, James Hong, Tracey Walter, Luana Anders, Tom Waits (uncredited), Faye Dunaway (voice)

88 Productions, Paramount Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“I’m used to seein’ the intimate details of people’s lives, but lookin’ at a guy’s x-rays is as intimate as it gets. It’s the kind of thing most guys don’t even tell their wives about.” – Jake Gittes

I have never seen The Two Jakes until recently. I feel like I was psychologically deterred for decades because I remember people bashing it ever since it came out. It is this film’s existence that pointed me towards Chinatown, the film it is a sequel too. Sure, I would’ve eventually discovered Chinatown but I saw trailers for The Two Jakes on the big screen when I was just eleven years-old, so I wasn’t quite up on my knowledge of neo-noir or 1970s crime dramas. I was big on Jack Nicholson, however, as he wowed me a year earlier as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

The Two Jakes has been treated unfairly, though. Is it as stellar as Chinatown? Not really but those are massive shoes to fill. However, it is one of the best, if not… the best, neo-noir film of the 1990s. Jack Nicholson directed this sequel and while he isn’t Roman Polanski behind the camera, he still had a great eye and knew what the hell he was doing, putting this second chapter of Jake Gittes life to celluloid.

The cast in this film really makes this thing work. I loved seeing Nicholson play opposite of greats like Harvey Keitel and Eli Wallach. It was cool seeing James Hong come back too. While Faye Dunaway was obviously missing from the film, despite lending her voice to a scene, Madeleine Stowe and Meg Tilly were really good as the two top ladies in the picture. Stowe was a hot drunken maniac in the best way and Tilly was a soft yet strong women with a good presence. David Keith, a guy I have always liked, shows up a few times and gets a real moment to shine alongside Nicholson and Wallach. Rubén Blades steals the show in his scenes and after really loving that guy on Fear the Walking Dead, it was neat seeing him so young, full of vigor and not so dissimilar from his character on that AMC zombie show.

Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography. He was not the cinematographer on the original Chinatown but he had a lot of experience, his most notable credit at the time being Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His management of the film’s visual allure is worth some serious props, as he and Nicholson created a very authentic and lived in 1940s Los Angeles.

I feel that this film actually does rival its predecessor in its cinematography and overall ambiance. The tone isn’t as brooding and sinister as Chinatown but that’s film’s narrative went to some places that brought out that underlying darkness. The Two Jakes isn’t a cold and bleak tale wrapped in beauty and opulence like Chinatown was, but it is a perfect visual and narrative extension of what was established in the first film without copying it. I kind of respect The Two Jakes for being its own thing and not trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice… or at least, in the same way.

Robert Towne, who wrote both of these Jake Gittes pictures and won an Academy Award for Chinatown, had plans for a trilogy. Unfortunately, this film was not the success that Paramount Pictures had hoped for. The third film was cancelled, which is a shame. It was going to bring the story of Jake Gittes to a proper close, as it was to be focused on him later in life.

If you love Chinatown and have never seen The Two Jakes, you probably should. It isn’t as bad as some people have said and its lack of success upon its release was probably more of a reflection of the time and not the overall quality of the film itself.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Let me sleep. It’s too early for a hanging.” – Max Lozoya

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.

Rating: 6/10

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt