Thursday, June 7, 2012

Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears (1973)

A terrible spaghetti Western that wastes a potentially interesting premise, Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears takes place in the Republic of Texas following the region’s breakaway from Mexico but prior to its annexation by America. The republic’s president, Sam Houston, sends one of his spies to squash a burgeoning rebellion, so the story is rife with possibilities for intrigue and sociopolitical commentary. Unfortunately, the filmmakers behind Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears opt for the usual Euro-Western bilge of offbeat buddy comedy and overwrought melodrama. The “heroes” at the center of the story are the spy, Erastus “Deaf” Smith (Anthony Quinn), and his slow-witted sidekick, Johnny Ears (Franco Nero). Quinn’s character is a deaf-mute, which raises all sorts of questions about how he functions in the world of espionage, and Johnny is such a hot-tempered dolt that it’s inconceivable he provides anything more useful to Deaf than companionship and occasional translation. Inordinate amounts of screen time get wasted on silly scenes featuring these two characters bickering with each other and/or getting into trouble, so they seem like the most easily distracted spies in cinema history. Exacerbating these storytelling flaws is the lack of a compelling villain, since the rebel leader the spies are sent to derail is a colorless nobody who has no personal connection to either main character. In fact, the only character beyond the titular duo given anything resembling a personality is a saloon whore named Susie (Pamela Tiffin), who screeches her way through an unconvincing romance with Johnny. As for the leads, Nero comes across like a childish nincompoop, and Quinn seems so concerned with looking sensitive—he’s introduced smelling a flower with an expression of poetic reverie on his face—that his entire performance feels like a desperate request for approval. Request denied.

Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears: LAME

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