Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Name Is Nobody (1973)

          One of the best spaghetti Westerns to emerge in the latter part of the genre’s short life cycle, this strangely compelling dramedy was conceived and partially directed by the genre’s grand master, Sergio Leone. The bizarre story begins with the introduction of Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda), an aging outlaw who wants to live out his retirement in peace and quiet. Unfortunately, Beauregard’s reputation precedes him, and young gunslingers regularly challenge him to shoot-outs. One day, Beauregard meets a mysterious young man who calls himself “Nobody” (Terence Hill).
          A lightning-fast shot and a mischievous prankster, Nobody regards Beauregard as a living legend. They share adventures together, and then Nobody says it’s his dream to see Beauregard die in a blaze of glory. (Hey, what are friends for?) Accepting that a violent death is probably his fate, Beauregard agrees to confront “The Wild Bunch,” a giant horde of 150 robbers who ride the West looking for trouble. In the movie’s outrageous finale, Beauregard and Nobody both find the destinies they seek.
          As with the best Leone movies, what makes My Name Is Nobody work is the style, not the story. Through a combination of elaborate editing, histrionic music, and mythic characterization, Leone and the picture’s credited director, Tonio Valerii, create a sense of gods walking the earth, men with gifts and problems mere mortals cannot comprehend. In Leone’s expansive worldview, the people Beauregard and Nobody kill should be grateful to enrich the outlaws’ legacies, and the West is the scroll on which the characters’ inspiring stories are being written. When this kind of hokum connects, as it does many times in this movie, the effect is intoxicating, a larger-than-life opera of bullets and testosterone.
          It helps, a lot, that regular Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone contributes one of his most demented musical scores, employing everything from cavalry charges to elegiac melodies to shrill flute solos and weird vocal shrieks. The sequences that approach surrealism—like a scene of a stilt-walker having his “legs” shot out from under him—are incredibly vivid, even though scenes like Nobody’s painstaking attempt to capture a drowning fly are merely peculiar. (With Leone, you take the bad to get the good.)
          Fonda is strong, investing his performance with a likeable flavor of world-weary bitchiness, and the vivacious Hill blends physical comedy with tough-guy heroics. Reliable supporting players including R.G. Armstrong and Geoffrey Lewis add flavor, as do a slew of Italian character actors, though the real star of the movie is actually Leone. Whether he or Valerii directed the bulk of the film is ultimately irrelevant, since this picture is unquestionably infused with Leone’s unique sensibility. More importantly, the heartfelt ending is deepened by the knowledge that My Name Is Nobody was Leone’s last major statement in a wild subgenre he dominated.

My Name Is Nobody: GROOVY

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