Spaghetti Westerns Disc 4

It Can Be Done…Amigo, 1972, color (orig. Si può fare… amigo and actual screen title Can Be Done, Amigo). Maurizio Lucidi (dir.), Bud Spencer, Jack Palance. 1:40 [1:38].

I first saw and reviewed this in 2008, as part of the Classic Westerns set. At the time, I was watching it over four days, while exercising, on a 15″ screen. Here’s what I had to say at the time:

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. Before the title, we get Bud Spencer’s and Jack Palance’s names, arranged in a circle, rotating. Spencer’s character, Coburn, is a huge beefy type who seems gentle enough and somehow keeps getting into trouble—well, he is a sometimes horse thief. He typically deals with trouble by staring, slowly putting on a pair of glasses, and then pounding his opponents into the ground—almost literally. They punch him a few times with no effect, then he either hits two opponents’ heads together or hits them over the head and they go down. He’s involved with a kid whose uncle is taking him to a western town—but the uncle gets bushwhacked and, when Coburn finds him dying, gives Coburn an envelope to pass along to the kid. The envelope turns out to contain $50 (a lot of money) and the deed to a run-down house just outside town. Meanwhile, there’s Palance’s character, Sonny Bronston, a fast-shooting eccentric who runs a group of female entertainers (in, apparently, more than one tradition of that word) and who’s after Coburn. Why? Seems Coburn sullied the virtue of Bronston’s sister (a case of mistaken identity)—and now Coburn needs to marry her so she can be an honorable widow (since he’ll get shot as soon as he gets married.

The town’s priest is also the sheriff and judge and generally doesn’t want Coburn around—and has designs on the kid’s house and land, for unclear reasons. There’s a strange guy who eats dirt—and who starts paying people $2 a bucket (one bucket per person) for dirt that he tastes. Which pastime leads him to the kid’s place. There’s lots more plot, and it mostly winds up with a remarkable six-minute free-for-all: No bullets fired (lots of guns fired, but all blanks), lots of fists, and mostly Coburn putting people out of action.

It felt as though I was joining a conversation partway through. The odd title refers to one of Coburn’s sayings. The plot line between Coburn and Bronston seems to go back quite a ways. It’s a spaghetti western, to be sure—but it’s also a comedy and pretty decent. It’s also a decent print (missing just a minute or two), a fair amount of fun, and with a lot fewer killings and shootings than some—only one, as I remember. I’ll give it $1.25.

I’m pretty sure this is the same print, but I found myself watching the whole thing—this time, in one day on a great 32″ TV. And found myself enjoying it even more—as a spaghetti western farce. One thing I noticed: In some early scenes and in most of the last 20 minutes or so, the color’s odd, as though this was a partly-colorized black-and-white movie, with some natural colors and lots of bright blue-green, a sort of teal. That may be a print problem; it might be intentional, but it adds to the surreal quality of the film (when Coburn stops a bank robbery—only because they wanted to take his money as well—the bank proprietor complains that his head-bashing and consequent furniture damage has turned a nice simple bank robbery into a disaster). This really only works as farce, but works very well in that regard. (In fact, there are no killings—the one death is a heart attack with a Monty Pythonesque quality to it, as the dead man—the uncle—keeps waking up to provide further instructions to Coburn.) The title song is, well, very strange. It’s decidedly an odd one, and an easy $1.75.

God’s Gun (orig. Diamante Lobo), 1976, color. Gianfranco Parolini (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, Leif Garrett, Robert Lipton. 1:34 [1:37].

The good stuff: An impressive cast—not only Lee Van Cleef, but also Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning and Leif Garrett. (Oh, and Peggy Lipton’s brother.) Also, there’s clearly a plot, hinted at right at the start of the flick and carried through to its conclusion.

That’s the good stuff. The other list is considerably longer—including the print itself, which is soft and almost seems to have been digitized from 8mm.. But that’s the print. In this case, I have zero interest in seeing a better one because—well, if this had been the first true spaghetti western in the package, I might have thrown the entire package away on the spot.

What’s wrong? First, there’s almost no humor, usually a staple of spaghetti westerns. Second, the villains—the Clancy gang, headed by Palance—are apparently on drugs or just crazed, notably including Palance. It’s not just that they’re gratuitously violent and sadistic; they’re nuts. Third, unlike spaghetti westerns where the body count may be high but it’s largely cartoon violence (you hear a shot, someone cries out, spins around, falls down), this one seems to linger lovingly on the violence, with a fair amount of blood and close-ups. Ditto sexual assault—a lot of time spent on this as well. Fourth, the acting (Van Cleef, in a dual role of twin brothers, one a priest, one a reformed gambler/gunslinger, aside) is somewhere between horrendous and nonexistent. I’ve never seen Palance this bad, Richard Boone is a shocking waste, Leif Garrett made me wish for stronger child labor laws. The hostesses in the saloon seem to think that standing around sort of swaying back and forth to music is hot stuff.

Fifth, the logic—even by spaghetti western standards, this one’s loony. The kid (Garrett) is apparently the owner of the saloon/gambling hall that seems to be the only business in a town specifically founded by the priest, in which everybody—everybody—attends daily Mass. At one key plot point, the bad guys tear down the rear wall of the jail one evening…and the next morning, everybody goes off to Mass as though nothing at all has happened. The priest seems to think the right way to arrest one of the gang members is to sneak up on the gang while they’re sleeping—and successfully remove every rifle and pistol, including holsters, without disturbing them. Oh, and then confront them…without a weapon. He’s also apparently convinced that a clearly vicious gang of 20 or so thugs won’t make any attempt to rescue one of their leaders from a local jail with one guard and an incompetent sheriff.

Oh, there’s more. The kid flees on horseback, then, after defeating a bad guy who’s after him, goes the rest of the way on foot. (He finds the priest’s twin brother, who’s “somewhere in Mexico,” in less than two days of walking. Right.) There are some plot twists that could be interesting in a better flick; I won’t spoil them for any sap determined to watch this. I’ll stop there, leaving out the lack of good scenery and the absurd sound effects and production values.

Apparently this turkey was filmed in Israel. I’m not sure that explains anything. This is a nasty little film, one that gives trash a bad name.

What a waste. Checking other sets (some free, some purchased), I’m appalled to find that I now own three copies of this turkey. For my own taste, not worth a cent—but I’ll reluctantly, and only for Van Cleef fans, give it $0.75.

The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (orig. Il mio nome è Shangai Joe or My name is Shanghai Joe), 1972, color. Mario Caiano (dir.), Chen Lee, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, Claudio Undari, Katsutoshi Mikuriya, Carla Romanelli. 1:38 [1:34].

Unlike most earlier Mill Creek collections, with main menus consisting of a still from each of the flicks and your choice of play or scenes, this set has a clip from a film—wide-screen, scenic, with a first-rate Spaghetti Western theme song—that runs for a few seconds and then has the particular disc’s menu superimposed. I’d wondered which movie that great theme came from.

Now I know—but it’s a peculiar situation. The theme is from this flick, but the clip used for the main menu is widescreen, where the movie is pan-and-scan (full-frame). That seems odd, particularly since some of the movies in this set are presented widescreen. (The movie was filmed in full Cinemascope ratio—that is, very widescreen.)

Ah, but what of this movie? Well, first, the title as presented is actually The Fighting Fist of Shangai Joe—note singular “fist” and odd spelling of the city. Second, it is indeed a Eurowestern with a mild-mannered Asian protagonist played by Chen Lee, who never uses a gun (at least not as a weapon) but has somewhat superhuman abilities in the martial arts and several other areas. He shows up in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, having come from China and dressing in Chinese garb. He buys a stagecoach ticket to “Texas” and has to ride up top (for predictably racist reasons, and that seems all too likely in terms of historical accuracy). He gets in various kinds of trouble in Texas, all of which leads up to the finale, a long showdown with a would-be assassin who happens to be the only other Chinese in the U.S. from this mysterious organization of superheroes. (OK, that could be a spoiler, but it’s both obvious and doesn’t detract from the movie.)

All in all, very good. Chen Lee (I don’t think we ever learn the character’s name) does a first-rate job. With one exception (a massacre of Mexican peasants handled cartoon-violence style, but still), the only victims of violence are Bad Guys (although I could have done with less explicit gore). The action and dialogue are over the top in some interesting ways. It’s fun and it has probably the only ending it could have without being a total downer. Pretty good print, very good sound. I’ll give it $1.75.

Between God, The Devil and a Winchester (orig. Anche nel west c’era una volta Dio or Even in the West once upon a time God or God Was in the West, Too, at One Time), 1968, color. Marino Girolami (dir.), Gilbert Roland, Richard Harrison, Ennio Girolami, Folco Lulli, Raf Baldassare, Dominique Boschero, Robert Camardiel, Humberto Zempere, Luis Barboo. 1:38.

Another widescreen presentation, with a pretty decent print (although the sound’s sometimes a bit distorted on music)—and an unusual plot, with a lot more travel than usual. It really seems to be two different films, although the progression makes sense in terms of plot. The first quarter involves a fat outlaw, combinations of not enough trust and too much trust, a treasure map and an outlaw gang: Fast-moving, violent…and winding up with one nameless hero, a mild-mannered type who saves a kid from fire and also saves another victim.

The rest of the movie involves that hero, the kid, the treasure map and a whole collection of bad guys—some of them people the hero’s hired to lead a wagon train (to find the treasure, which they’re not supposed to know about), some of them an outlaw gang. The ending is, well…the ending. The plot partly involves the Civil War, partly involves religion, and is partly inspired by Treasure Island.

I’m not sure what to say about the plot or the acting. The film works reasonably well, has mostly cartoon SpaghettiWestern violence (not lots of closeup blood), has a fair amount of humor along with lots of scenery—lots of scenery—and, after the first quarter, has only one innocent victim. This may be too generous, but I’m inclined to give it $1.50.

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