Posts Tagged ‘Ennio Morricone’

Movie Reviews 421 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

January 10, 2020

During the midst of the Italian Spaghetti Western craze other countries started to get in on the action, so to speak. Two Mules for Sister Sarah is a Mexican production that has the odd pairing of Clint Eastwood, the predominant Goombah oater at the time, with the whimsical Shirley MacLaine best known for her comedic talents.

What brought back memories of this movie was watching Tarantino’s Django Unchained and hearing the distinct whistling of Ennio Morricone’s great “The Braying Mule” theme song from this movie (you can hear a mule bray if you listen carefully) as well as “Sister Sara’s Theme” later in the film. But the relationship to Django Unchained is actually something of a triangle as there are distinct plot elements here that were lifted right from the original Django. For starters, this movie begins with our protagonist Hogan (Eastwood) meandering in the mountains when he suddenly comes across a damsel in distress, Sara (MacLaine) about to be raped by a group of armed thugs. With precision gunslinging Hogan picks of the ravagers like a 5-7-10 bowling split and ends up being accompanied by the woman, shocked to find out that she is a nun, the rest of the film. This is not only the exact same beginning as Django but the revelation of Sara’s true identity – which I’m not going to mention here as it would spoil the movie – is also nearly identical.

Hogan is on a mission to aide Mexican revolutionaries take out a French garrison in the city of Chihuahua with a promise to get half of the gold being held there should they succeed. As it turns out, Sara has intimate knowledge of the layout and defence of that garrison. A fortuitous meeting for a pair made in heaven – well at least the nun.

While evading the French cavalry who have a particular sore to settle with Sara, the duo avoid rattlesnakes and dynamite the odd trestle bridge making their way to the city. Dealing with her constant prayers, huge silver cross that Sara brandishes to ward off evil and her feisty temperament that is conveniently flexible to catholic doctrines whenever necessary, Hogan must fight off the urge to get his hands on his lovely companion who is much more than she claims to be. The two trade barbs as Brother and Sister children, polar opposites pitting his carefree, vagabond lifestyle against her feigned abstinence and purity.

The revelation isn’t much of a surprise but both the comedy and action are more than enough to sustain this odd western. The climactic battle pulls no punches and even has a bit of gore that would make Sam Peckinpah proud. Entertaining, but make no mistake that this is not anywhere near Eastwood as his Man with No Name spaghetti best.

Call this one a spaghettini western with a bit of salsa.

Movie Reviews 416 – My Name is Nobody (1973)

December 6, 2019

There are almost as many western films that ruminate on the final days of legendary crack shot gunmen as there are ones that have then merely going on killing sprees whether they be samaritan bounty hunters or charcoal wearing villains. My Name is Nobody is the former with Henry Fonda as the aged shooter who just wants to sail off into the sunset – literally in this case.

The plots of these movies basically have wannabe replacements hoping to earn their reputation by besting the veteran in a shootout. But Jack Beauregard (Fonda) has a slightly different problem. Sure he has more than a few eager guns hoping to take him on, but one particular fellow who doesn’t have a name (Terence Hill) isn’t inclined to have a shootout at all. Although he is clearly as good as, even better than Jack, he just turns up at every corner pestering Jack with a steady stream of advice and guidance, whether wanted or not.

As Jack makes his way towards New Orleans (and eventual passage to Europe) his voyage includes making a pit stop in search of his brother The Nevada Kid (an acknowledged scoundrel and outlaw) and shutting down the owner of a dry goldmine (Jean Martin) who is using stolen gold as a replacement for extract. The mine owner doesn’t take to kindly with Jack’s interference and assembles a small army of marauders to hunt him down. All this leads to a finale in which Jack is stranded next to train tracks in the middle of nowhere as the cavalcade of fifty armed horse riders descend on him.

The symbolism of the cherubic Nobody representing Jack’s guardian angel is as plain as the outline of wings projected by the saddle that he carries on his back throughout the film. Able to recite the day and foes of every gun battle Jack ever fought, his guidance proves to be divinely appropriate despite Jack’s reluctance to heed it at times.

If you haven’t picked it up yet there are plenty of homage references to Sam Peckinpaw and The Wild Bunch including that final battle.And just like it’s inspiration, there are plenty of battles and the blood that goes with it. But this is no mere oater bloodfest.

Il mio nome è Nessuno (original Italian title) was directed by Tonino Valerii (with a helping hand from Sergio Leone) and departs from the usual gritty Spaghetti Western in many other ways aside from the heavenly inferences. While maestro Ennio Morricone provided the score his theme is decidedly bubbly to go along with the story, even going so far as playfully adapting Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries. The script straddles the line of comedy and drama and is more like a collection of stringed skill shooting skits than a linear narrative. The comedy does go over the top at times with sped up sequences resembling Keystone Kops or even Stooge-like.

If you want your westerns to be pure spit and dust this is probably not what you’re looking for. To be sure, there is plenty of that but be prepared for a light hearted approach and little fantasy thrown in as well.

Movie Reviews 392 – Danger: Diabolik (1968)

May 17, 2019

Some of you may recall my review of Les Diaboliques the magnificent French thriller by director Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Simone Signoret. That film had it all. Dynamic performances. European easygoing, yet thought provoking pace which at the same time delivers a nerve-wracking murder plot.  A love triangle with a unique feminist twist. In a nutshell a groundbreaking classic.

Well the similarly titled Danger: Diabolik has none of that. And yet…

Sculpted from a completely different cinematic mold, this Italian production based on a fumetti (Italian term for comics) was brought to us by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who also produced  such campy fare as Flash Gordon, Conan the Destroyer, King Kong (the World Trade Center version), and notably in this case Barbarella. In the right hands, in this case being director Mario Bava, the patriarch of Italian horror cinema (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires), this cult-favorite anti-hero is faithfully transformed from print to screen without losing any of the outlandish premise, characterizations or artistry of the source material.

Thwarted by every attempt to capture him, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his statuesque sidekick Eva (Marisa Mell) stage elaborate high priced crimes across the land much to the chagrin of police inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) who also has to placate the politicians (one being everyone’s favorite gap-toothed comedian Terry Thomas) as he tries to apprend the headline grabbing foe. As Diabolik keeps one step ahead of each trap set – and making off with the bait – Ginko turns to another criminal, mobster Valmont (Adolfo Celi, the eye patched SPECTRE agent in Thunderball) to help him by capturing Eva. But one daring plane jump and a few theatrics later (including death itself) Diabolic and Eva are reunited only to fall for Ginko’s surprise backup plan. But does a molten gold body cast really spell the end of Diabolik?

Part Austin Powers with all the James Bond gadgetry, part Phantom of the Paradise, Bava’s colorful cinematography and use of fisheye lenses delivers an action packed story with all the rampant zaniness of the 60’s wrapped in the flamboyant fashion of the times. Speaking of the cinematography, comic readers will recognize how the framing of many shots in the film are indicative of comic panels, sometimes in the most clever ways. Aside from Andy Warhol zeitgeist, viewers will revel in Diabolik’s secret, subterranean lair, second  only to the Batcave. One thing that you probably could not pull off today is the concept of a sympathetic terrorist, but during the counterculture movement, this was palatable to a degree. All this and a music score by maestro Ennio Morricone to boot!

My Paramount DVD contained an exceptional special feature documentary in which comic artist, Stephen Bissette (clearly a huge fan of the film and original comic) presents many details that went into the adaptation, in some cases from original panel to scenes. And you have to check out the Beastie Boys Body Movin’ hommage video track.

Movie Reviews 246 – Nightmare Castle (1965)

November 21, 2015

Nightmare CastleWhat could be better than watching fiery eyed Barbara Steel in a gothic horror role? Having her play the role of two sisters in the same film, one a sultry blonde, the other a dark vixen. Grrrowl! Nightmare Castle may not be a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a few horror staples (besides Steel) that make it worthy of a late night viewing.

Botanist Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) discovers his wife Muriel (Steel) fooling around with the handyman David in the greenhouse after the doctor supposedly just left for a trip. Catching them in the act he savagely beats and whips them before having them hung in shackles in the castle basement. As he tortures Muriel and she begs to be killed she also reveals that she has already preempted any plans he may have had to kill her and inherit the castle as she secretly created a will bequeathing her possessions to her sister Jenny, currently resident in an asylum.

This surprise revelation also worries the scraggly old housemaid Solange (Helga Liné) as Dr. Arrowsmith had developed a serum that would rejuvenate her to her former beauty and the two had planned to live together in the castle after killing Muriel. Undaunted, Arrowsmith kills the lovestruck Muriel and David, removing their bloody, beating hearts, and has equally sinister plans for dealing with Jenny.

We then cut to the doctor arriving at the front door by horse and buggy with his new wife… Jenny!. (It seems marrying your widowed brother-in-law was deemed acceptable in Victorian times.) His plan is simple. Have Muriel believe that she is once again losing her sanity (or at least believing so) which will give him title to the castle. Going so far as to invite a psychiatrist to live with them for a while, with Solange as his accomplice (inexplicably now a beautiful young woman again, although she is getting blood transfusions from Jenny with perhaps with the aid of some serum) they no sooner begin their assault on Jenny’s senses when the murdered duo start appearing for real. Revenge can be sweet especially when dealt by Steel, now walking around in a zombie like state with her dark hair covering half her face.

There are plot holes galore including no explanation of Solange’s decrepit old state at the beginning of the film (and why would Arrowsmith even fathom rejuvenating her?), why Muriel bothered sticking around in the first place since she already made sure Arrowsmith would not inherit the castle, and most of all, why invite an impartial psychiatrist to stay in the house as you play with someone’s senses.

This Italian horror serving courtesy of director Mario Caiano (as Allen Grünewald) also went by the title The Faceless Monster, apropos given the glimpse we get of a scarred half face Muriel in the final moments of the film. Maestro Ennio Morricone provides the score, but don’t expect any of his later musical magistry here.

Not a classic, but Steel fans will be amply rewarded and there are a few neat FX and makeup scenes to make it watchable. My DVD was one from the 50 Horror Movie collection of public domain movies and was lackluster transfer. It would be nice to someday see this in a clean and restored form as it deserves better.