Wednesday, May 23, 2012

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)

          Even though the movie as a whole is deeply problematic, there are things to like in China 9, Liberty 37, the last feature cult-fave director Monte Hellman made before entering the wilderness years of his peculiar career. A soft-spoken cowboy drama, the picture is nominally a spaghetti Western because it was shot in Europe, co-produced and co-written by Italians, and stars an Italian hunk whose dialogue is dubbed (badly) into English. Yet the film’s key supporting actors are native English speakers, and Hellman’s sensitivity to American idioms lends a degree of credibility. So, while China 9, Liberty 37 has many of the usual storytelling hiccups that bedevil spaghetti Westerns, it’s possible to see the framework of a better movie beneath the dodgy façade. The story begins when an outlaw named Clayton Drumm (Fabio Testi) is offered a choice: He can die by hanging or agree to kill a miner named Matthew Sebanek (Warren Oates), whose refusal to sell his land is causing headaches for a railroad company. Clayton consents to murder Matthew, but upon arriving at the miner’s homestead, Clayton finds Matthew to be so welcoming that pulling the trigger becomes difficult. Furthermore, Clayton falls for Matthew’s sexy young wife, Catherine (Jenny Agutter).
          There’s nothing particularly fresh in this plot, the characters aren’t especially well-developed, and the dialogue can tend toward triteness. Furthermore, Hellman’s images are rather drab, even though the great Italian cinematographer Giusseppe Rotunno brightens the director’s uninspired frames with warm lighting. Therefore, what makes the picture work, at least to the modest degree that it does, is the humanity of Hellman’s storytelling and the textured quality of Oates’ performance. While not completely eschewing his signature gruffness, Oates gets to paint with softer colors than usual, so it’s poignant to see his character realize he’s a target. As for his costars, Agutter is alluring and tough while Testi is an impressive physical specimen but nothing more. Yet even when hindered by choppy writing and iffy acting, Hellman keeps the focus on simple human dynamics. Thus, China 9, Liberty 37 ends up having several worthwhile elements, even if they’re probably outnumbered by the film’s myriad weaknesses.

China 9, Liberty 37: FUNKY

1 comment:

Chaarles said...

Looks interesting. I'll try to check it out. Great site. I'm always learning lots on here.