Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

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: Death Rides A Horse (1967)

Also known as: Da uomo a uomo, lit. As Man to Man (Italy)
Release Date: August 31st, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Giulio Petroni
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson, Jose Torres, Mario Brega

Produzione Esecutiva Cinematografica (P.E.C.), Sancro International Film, Titanus Distribuzione, United Artists, 120 Minutes (Italy), 114 Minutes (USA)

death_rides_a_horseReview:

I know I’ve been reviewing a lot of spaghetti westerns lately but that’s where my heads been at. And honestly, there are several that are considered classics that I am trying to get my hands on and see.

I have seen Death Rides A Horse. However, it has been a really long time. The reason being, is that I used to own it on VHS but I no longer have a working VCR. I’ve tried to track down a good quality version on DVD or Blu-ray for awhile, to no avail. I had to settle for the crappy quality DVD, as there doesn’t seem to be a remastered edition in the US. The visual quality of the trailer linked below is infinitely better than any copy of the film I have been able to find on DVD or streaming online.

The reason I bring up the quality issue is that it has a very negative impact on the film. Luckily, I have the patience to sit through it but the average film viewer wouldn’t have gotten through the opening sequence. Additionally, the audio is atrocious. I hope someone remasters this thing or releases a better quality version in the States.

In regards to the movie itself, Lee Van Cleef is perfection. John Phillip Law is good as the vengeance seeking Bill. The cast is rounded out with Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega (both from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly).

Death Rides A Horse follows a young man (John Phillip Law) seeking revenge against the gang that raped and murdered his family. He confronts them one-by-one and finds an unlikely ally (and rival) in Lee Van Cleef’s Ryan.

The film is accompanied by the most recognizable Ennio Morricone theme song not associated with a Sergio Leone picture. It was one of the many great Morricone themes recycled by Quentin Tarantino over the years.

Ultimately, this is a really good spaghetti western. It is severely hurt by the poor quality of the DVD and streaming releases. It is a classic in certain respects but it is unfortunately, almost unwatchable.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Great Silence (1968)

Also known as: Il grande silenzio (Italy), The Big Silence (UK)
Release Date: November 19th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Vittoriano Petrilli, Mario Amendola, Bruno Corbucci, Sergio Corbucci, John Davis Hart, Lewis E. Ciannelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Jean Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Marisa Merlini, Vonetta Mc Gee

Adelphia Compagnia, Cinematografica, Les Films Corona, 20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes

the-great-silenceReview:

Sergio Corbucci is the lesser known Sergio between himself and Leone but he was also an accomplished spaghetti western director. I’ve been a huge fan of his film Django for years. I haven’t ventured too far into his catalog outside of that though. Not until recently anyway.

I’ve wanted to watch The Great Silence for quite some time. It is hard to track down and actually wasn’t even released in the United States until ten years ago on DVD. No store I have ever been to has sold it. I was able to find it on Amazon but my previous attempts at buying it always showed it as “out of stock”. In any event, I finally got my hand on it.

The Great Silence is epic. And that isn’t an overstatement, as I hate casually throwing the word “epic” around. From what I’ve seen from Corbucci, this is his magnum opus – even more so than the near perfect Django.

The film takes place in Utah but was filmed in the Italian Dolemites, giving it a distinct look in comparison to the typical spaghetti westerns of the era. The landscape is lush with forests, mountains and snow. It is a complete departure from the desolate and barren wastelands of Leone’s films.

The film stars French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant in his only western role. He plays the silent hero simply called “Silent”. A man who, as a boy, had his throat slit – rendering him permanently speechless. He seeks revenge over the corrupt officials and bounty killers who murdered his father and took his voice.

The always sinister German actor Klaus Kinski plays the head bounty killer Loco (Tigrero in the original Italian language version). Kinski is chilling in this film and I would put this in the upper echelon of his superb performances.

The film also features a slew of other well-known spaghetti western actors and it is also the debut of Vonetta McGee, who would become more famous for being featured in several well-known blaxploitation films a few years later.

The Great Silence is actually an anti-western, as it establishes several common tropes in the genre and then turns them all on their head. It takes social and political risks unlike any other film of its time. The film in certain respects was inspired by the deaths of Malcolm X and Che Guevara, as noted by the director himself.

Stylistically, it has gone on to inspire several films after it. It is hard to see this film and not notice the environmental and tonal influences that helped to give life to Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film The Hateful Eight. In fact, between this film and Django, Corbucci has been a huge influence on Tarantino’s critically acclaimed work over the last few years.

The Great Silence isn’t perfect but it is damned good. It is probably the best spaghetti western not directed by Leone and is as good as some of his work. In fact, it makes me want to explore Corbucci’s catalog even deeper.

Also, the score by Ennio Morricone is great and adds a level of authenticity and a superb musical quality to the movie.

If you are a fan of the spaghetti western genre and haven’t seen this or added it to your collection, you really need to.

Rating: 9.25/10