My Name is Nobody: 40th Anniversary Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits another film that close out the spaghetti western phenomenon...
Young, ambitious gunman Nobody (Terence Hill) sets his eye on his idol, gunslinger Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda), who's intent on sailing off into retirement. Deciding his hero should go out with guns blazing, Nobody sets him up for a showdown with a pack of the deadliest bad guys in the West – The Wild Bunch. (From Image Entertainment’s official synopsis)
Like most cinematic fads, Italy’s spaghetti western movement eventually burned itself out. What began as a direct imitation of classic Hollywood formulas blossomed into a purely Italian artistic endeavor, brimming with political subtexts and dynamic imagery. As the golden era of the 1960s passed, the spaghettis turned to comedy and subversion. Besides the occasional brush with ‘old school’ greatness (Sergio Corbucci’s Companeros, Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma), and the post- Once Upon a Time in the West Italian brand of western that was largely dominated by Terrence Hill (aka: Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli). These two real life friends were first paired in more serious spaghettis, specifically Giuseppe Colizzi’s loose trilogy of God Forgives…I Don’t (1967), Ace High (aka: I Quattro dell'Ave Maria – which loosely translates to 'The Four Hail Marys' (1968), and Boot Hill (1969). These movies made enough money, but didn’t have much personality of their own (at the risk of alienating fans, I find them pretty boring). Hill & Spencer’s chemistry endured, though, and they were paired again in Enzo Barboni’s (aka: E.B. Clucher) They Call Me Trinity (1971) – a parody of the genre's stale repetition. It was enormously popular and led to an even more popular sequel, Trinity is Still My Name, a year later. Hill & Spencer would be paired eleven more times after the Trinity movies, but never in a western setting.
In the years following his rise to prominence, Sergio Leone was a vocal critic of the the genre's political and satirical leanings. After all, he was one of the chief architects of the entire movement. At the same time, he was trying to escape typecasting as a director. Following the worldwide success of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, he was lured back to the genre by a Hollywood studio and made Once Upon a Time in the West, which is, for most intents and purposes, his final word on the subject – not to mention the grandest film to carry the spaghetti western label. Following Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone began the arduous, sixteen-year process of bringing Harry Goldberg’s novel, The Hoods, to the big screen under the title Once Upon a Time in America. In the decade that followed, the maestro kept busy making post-post modern westerns in a production capacity. The first of these was Giù la testa (1971), which was retitled Duck, You Sucker! on Leone’s insistence that it was a common American colloquialism (for the benefit of non-American readers, I can assure you it isn’t). Following a series of ‘artistic differences’ with its intended director, Peter Bogdanovich, Leone took over directing duties.
Duck, You Sucker! is easily Leone’s most underrated and, at the same time, messiest film, but it's important in the context of this particular review because it was made in reaction to the left-wing, revisionist westerns of Corbucci, Sergio Donati, Sergio Sollima, and Damiano Damiani – a sub-subgenre known as the Zapata westerns, named for Emiliano Zapata, the famed Mexican Revolution general that stood alongside Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco. Leone’s film is a thinly veiled criticism of the films that reframed the Mexican Revolution as a stand-in for (then) modern socialist politics. Leone had grown cynical and stated plainly that Duck, You Sucker! was about ‘the lie of the revolution.’ The film begins sardonically, much funnier than Barboni’s crude Trinity movies, but then slowly delves into utterly bleak misanthropy that burns for days. Trinity is Still My Name was released a week before Leone’s film and Italian audiences preferred the light-hearted, boorish laughs that Hill & Spencer afforded them (though Duck, You Sucker! didn’t bomb on the same level as Once Upon a Time in the West). Meanwhile, US distributor Paramount was disappointed with the returns. They cut Duck, You Sucker! to ribbons and re-released it under the title Fistful of Dynamite in hopes of cashing in on the popularity of Fistful of Dollars. Frustrated by the continuing success of slapstick westerns, Leone teamed-up with undervalued spaghetti director Tonino Valerii to make the ne plus ultra of referential western parodies. Instead of rejecting the competition, Leone and Valerii embraced it by hiring Hill to effectively recreate his Trinity character, then they titled their movie My Name is Nobody – an obvious dig at Barboni’s film.
In his exhaustive spaghetti western database, 10,000 Ways to Die, Alex Cox (director of Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, and Walker) refers to My Name is Nobody as ‘an attempt to reconcile at least four different types of westerns: the classic, American western, personified by (Henry) Fonda; the modern, revisionist American western, in the many references to Sam Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch; the spaghetti alla Leone, with its soaring (Ennio) Morricone scores and classic showdowns; and the spaghetti alla Barboni, with (Terence) Hill and baked beans and cute/funny jokes.' (Valerii/Leone also take several pages from George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kind, including the relentless, faceless horde of enemies and the use of sepia stills). The results of this referential pastiche are weird – weirder even than the already erratic Duck, You Sucker!. The pervading issue is that Once Upon a Time in the West already put a cap on the Italian brand of revisionist western, a process that included the use of Henry Fonda as a representative of the old guard. It ends with The Man with No Name (personified by Charles Bronson instead of Clint Eastwood) fulfilling his vengeance by murdering the classic western villain. He then disappears into the sunset as the Transcontinental Railroad is busily constructed, signifying the true death of the Wild West. My Name is Nobody might’ve worked perfectly as a Trinity-flavoured spoof of Peckinpah and Arthur Penn’s American revisionist westerns, but Leone’s temptation to revisit the end of the era seems particularly superfluous following the conceptual and technical perfection of Once Upon a Time in the West.
Contrary to some critical accounts, it's possible to tell the difference between many of Valerii and Leone's scenes and, as author/spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes notes in Once Upon a Time in the Italian West, the two filmmakers styles don’t always compliment each other. Coupled with the use of dual cinematographers –Giuseppe Ruzzolini in Italy & Spain with Valerii and Armando Nannuzzi in the US with Leone – My Name is Nobody becomes patchy on a visual level as well as a storytelling level. It would probably be pretty simple to cut two short films from the final feature – one slapstick comedy, one mournful obituary to the genre (it should be noted that, unlike Duck, You Sucker!, My Name is Nobody wasn't heavily re-edited when released stateside). On the other hand, the erratic filmmaking kind of fits the material, almost as if Valerii/Leone are making a pointed statement on the fact that these various conventional subversions can’t really play together in the same sandbox without getting dirty. More importantly, when taken as the sum of these disparate parts, it is a truly wonderful motion picture experience.
Leone’s ‘scent’ does permeate throughout the fabric of My Name is Nobody. There are ongoing arguments as to exactly how much of the film belongs to each filmmaker, but we know for certain that Leone directed all of the ‘second unit’ footage that was shot stateside. This could cover almost an hour of the total runtime, but ignoring Valerii’s contributions is selling him short. Before My Name is Nobody, he had already directed a handful of westerns, including Per il Gusto di Uccidere (aka: A Taste For Killing, 1966), Day of Anger (1967), The Price of Power (1968), and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (1972). He also briefly jumped on the spaghetti-paralleling giallo wagon, when he made a middling thriller called My Dear Killer (1972). Day of Anger was an early attempt to cash-in on Lee Van Cleef’s post- For a Few Dollars More popularity and casts the actor in his usual role as a lawman/bounty hunter that acts as a mentor to a younger, less experienced gunfighter. It is pretty easily confused with Giulio Petroni’s superior Death Rides a Horse (which was released the same year), but stands out with some truly fantastic stunt sequences. A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die is a more Hollywoodized production – an epic Civil War version of Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (a very common template for Italian action/adventure films in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s), starring Bud Spencer (sans Terrence Hill), Telly Savalas (fresh off of Eugenio Martín’s Pancho Villa), and James Coburn (fresh off of Duck, You Sucker!). It’s kind of an overly somber, slow moving film, but definitely feels like a practice run for something as ambitious as My Name is Nobody.
The film opens in a particularly Leone fashion, thrusting us into a dialogue-free, deceptively mundane situation we don’t understand. The silence is shattered via the typical spaghetti quick draw action, but Valerii/Leone change the context by interjecting operatic slow motion into their violence, marking their first and most obvious attempt at paying homage to Peckinpah’s work. After years of watching the instantaneous murders of Leon’s films, the sudden slowdown is breathtaking. From here, the violence is more commonly fodder for jokes, though always with reverence towards the supernatural powers gunfighters seem to possess in these types of movies. The gunslinging is most successfully satirized when Nobody and Beauregard take on Wild Bunch thugs in a carnival setting, using appropriately-themed props. Here, the time-honoured western standoff degenerates into a collection of Looney Tunes gags, the best of which take place in a horror-themed funhouse, complete with distorted mirrors and floor panels that trigger pop-up ghosts. Other jokes aren't as clever or unique. The closer Valerii/Leone get to Trinity, the less funny their movie is. Hill's awestruck fanboy shtick is charming (not to mention even more relevant in this day and age of geek culture normalcy and Twitter/convention interactions with celebrities) and the glib, situational bits are funnier than either of the Trinity movies, but the dopey physical comedy grows tedious. While Hill wastes time with his Bugs Bunny-styled solo antics, Fonda’s unflappable performance holds the film together on a dramatic level, crafting a genuinely moving portrayal of a bygone era with seemingly zero effort expended. Of course, the ultimate gunslinger joke is saved for last – Nobody and Beauregard’s stage their final showdown before the largest audience they can find and slyly time it to coincide with a photograph commemorating the event (in widescreen, naturally). It might be the most metatextual quip in any spaghetti ever – a very tall order indeed.
Note: The box art lists the runtime as 115 minutes, which seems short of the original, international runtime of 117 minutes. The titles do end at about 115 minutes, but the music runs through a black screen for 116 minutes and 27 seconds.
I hadn’t seen My Name is Nobody for quite some time before sitting down with Image Entertainment’s new Blu-ray. I’m relatively sure that the last time I did, it was a pan & scan VHS tape, so the 1080p image upgrade here may be more impressive to my eyes than those that have owned Image’s previous DVD release (or Paramount’s PAL German release, which was, apparently, the best version to own in days past). This disc is framed in 2.35:1, slightly re-cropped from the original 2.33:1 aspect ratio, though you wouldn’t know that unless you were told, because there are no obvious issues with miscropping. Image doesn’t have the facilities of MGM or Paramount, which is fine by me, because it means this transfer hasn’t been over-sharpened or graced with excessive DNR enhancement. The lack of digital tinkering does lead to more print damage artefacts than many collectors may have come to expect from the format, but the flutter of white flecks and scanning lines aren’t too distracting. The only real problems in terms of damage are a handful of tears and dirty splices. The grain appears mostly natural, but there is a sheen of digital noise that more or less matches the telecine damaged transfers Blue Underground was handed for some of their Italian-born releases. Detail quality and clarity comes and goes throughout the film’s runtime, often coinciding with process shots or speed ramping. Most shots are sharp, though, especially the close-ups, like the ones that expose every crag and hair on Fonda’s face. In keeping Leone’s and Valerii’s other westerns, My Name is Nobody isn’t a particularly colourful film. There’s a whole lot of dusty browns and yellows that are only occasionally punched up with greens, blues, or purples. The carnival sets offer the most hue variety, but even these are pretty limited. The film was supposedly printed using the Technicolor process, which gives the restricted palette plenty of vibrancy and tight element separation. In a perfect world someone would remaster this footage further to create slightly more dynamic contrasts.
Thankfully, Image didn’t waste time and money remixing My Name is Nobody’s mono soundtrack into 5.1, saving our ears from a The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly-style monstrosity (it’s probably that a remix wasn’t in their budget, but I thank them anyway). This Blu-ray’s lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz/24-bit) version of the soundtrack is presented in 2.0 mono. The minimal source sound effects are crisp, clean and well-separated with no notable distortion on higher volume levels. Despite the lack of a discrete LFE channel, gunshots, trampling horses, and chugging train engines are plenty bassy. The dialogue is a mixed bag, divided between original English language performances and awkwardly dubbed Italian (Spanish?) performances. The words are normalized in terms of volume, but their clarity and organic qualities are all over the place. The key reason to celebrate this track is the same reason to celebrate most lossless spaghetti western tracks – the music. In this case, the most celebratory of all film music – Ennio Morricone music. Morricone was in on the joke as well and takes plenty of chances to poke fun at his previous spaghetti western soundtracks, repeating melodies in different keys and recalling aural motifs, like For a Few Dollars More’s ticking clock. The music sounds perfect here. The instrumentations are complex and busy, creating a deep field even in the cramped, single-channel track. Some tracks are a bit warmer than others, but none are so tinny that they’ll make you’re ears ring at high volume levels.
This Blu-ray has quite literally nothing in the way of special features, which is too bad, because the Universal’s French DVD release had a director’s commentary, an alternate ending, a documentary, and filmmaker interviews.
My Name is Nobody remains a problematic film, but is an entertaining and interesting mess that grows more fascinating the more the viewer knows about the western films. I'm relatively sure that novice viewers will still get plenty of entertainment value out of the film, while aficionados of the genre will get an extra layer of gratification from the experience – even those, like me, that aren't particularly fond of the Trinity movies. Image Entertainment hasn't taken a full-bore approach to digitally remastering the film for this HD presentation, but the results are true to the source and certainly more impressive than any previous home video release. The audio presentation is tops, however, which mostly makes up for the utter lack of special features.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 5th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tonino Valerii, Sergio Leone
Cast: Terence Hill, Henry Fonda, Jean Martin, R.G. Armstrong, Karl Braun
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy and Western
Length: 116 minutes
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