My Name is Nobody Blu-ray Review (originally published 2013)
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 Italian cinematic fads, the spaghetti western movement 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 rock ‘n roll era imagery. As the all too brief golden age that was the 1960s passed, the spaghettis continued subverting the old Hollywood formulas, but began turning more towards straight comedy. Outside the occasional throwback, Sergio Leone’s massive, partially Hollywood-backed epics (more on those in a moment), the final leg of the era were dominated by two stars – Terrence Hill (real name Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (real name Carlo Pedersoli). These two real life friends were first paired in standard-issue spaghettis, beginning with Giuseppe Colizzi’s loose trilogy of God Forgives…I Don’t (Italian: Dio perdona... Io no!, 1967), Ace High (Italian: I Quattro dell'Ave Maria, 1968), and Boot Hill (Italian: La collina degli stivali, 1969). Hill & Spencer’s chemistry shown through Colizzi’s modest efforts and they were paired again in Enzo Barboni’s (pseudonym: E.B. Clucher) They Call Me Trinity (Italian: Lo chiamavano Trinità…, 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 (Italian: ...continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità), a year later. Hill & Spencer would be paired in eleven comedies after the Trinity movies, but, by then, poliziottesco had all but completely overtaken westerns at Italian cinemas.
In the years following his rise to prominence, one of the spaghetti westerns’ greatest architects, Sergio Leone, was a vocal critic of both political and satirical Italian westerns. He was also growing weary of the genre and trying to escape typecasting as a director. Following the worldwide success of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Italian: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, 1966), he was lured back for one last western via Hollywood studio backing and made Once Upon a Time in the West (Italian: C'era una volta il West, 1968), which he designed as his final word on the subject of cowboy movies and their mythology. Following Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone began the arduous, sixteen-year process of bringing Harry Grey (Goldberg)’s novel, The Hoods (pub: 1952), to the big screen under the title Once Upon a Time in America (Italian: C'era una volta in America, 1984). 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. Following a series of ‘artistic differences’ with its intended director, Peter Bogdanovich, Leone took over directing duties.
Duck, You Sucker! is Leone’s most unabashedly heartfelt and sloppy film – underappreciated outside of Italy and France until it was finally released, unaltered, on DVD. It was made in reaction to the left-wing, revisionist westerns of Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Donati, Sergio Sollima, and Damiano Damiani, a subgenre known as the Zapata westerns, so 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 these films, which 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,” meaning (among other things) that he didn’t think those other filmmakers had accounted for the human cost of a revolution, especially upon peasant populations. Duck, You Sucker! also begins as a comedy, though a more sardonic one than Barboni’s crude Trinity movies. Following that, it slowly falls into a kind of tragedy and misanthropy not seen in any of Leone’s films or, really, many spaghetti westerns, outside of other Zapata westerns. Trinity is Still My Name was released a week before Leone’s film and, according to final receipts, Italian audiences preferred the light-hearted, boorish laughs of Hill & Spencer’s romp to Leone’s big budget bummer (though, for the record, Duck, You Sucker! didn’t bomb). Meanwhile, US distributor Paramount was disappointed with the sub Good, the Bad, and the Ugly returns, so 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 A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964). Frustrated by the continuing success of slapstick westerns, Leone teamed-up with 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: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western (Kamera Books, 2010) Alex Cox (the director of Repo Man  and post-modern westerns Walker  and Straight to Hell ) 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 Kid , 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 thematic issue is that Once Upon a Time in the West already put a cap on the Leone brand of revisionist western. It ends with The Man with No Name (personified by Charles Bronson instead of Clint Eastwood) vengefully murdering the classic western villain, ironically embodied by classic western goodguy Henry Fonda. His function fulfilled, he disappears into the sunset like a spaghetti western robot, as the Transcontinental Railroad is busily constructed, signifying the true historical 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 his version of the end of the era reads superfluous following the conceptual and technical perfection of Once Upon a Time in the West.
Contrary to some critical accounts, it's possible, nay, easy to tell the difference between the scenes Leone and Valerii directed. Furthermore, as author/spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes notes in Once Upon a Time in the Italian West (I.B. Tauris, 2006), 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 is as patchy on a visual level as it is on a storytelling level. It would probably be simple enough to cut two short films, one slapstick comedy and 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 and Leone are making a pointed statement on the nature of these various conventional subversions. Goofball comedies and strong thematic statements can’t play in the same sandbox without getting dirty. More importantly, when considered as the sum of disparate parts, My Name is Nobody is a unique experience.
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 so-called second unit footage 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 A Taste For Killing (Italian: Per il Gusto di Uccidere, 1966), Day of Anger (Italian: I Giorni Dell'ira; aka: Gunlaw), The Price of Power (Italian: Il prezzo del potere, 1968), and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (Italian: Una Ragione Per Vivere E Una Per Morire; aka: Massacre at Fort Holman, 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 (Italian: Per qualche dollaro in più,1965) 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 easily confused with Giulio Petroni’s superior Death Rides a Horse (Italian: Da Uomo a Uomo, also 1967), but stands out with some truly fantastic stunt sequences. A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die is a bigger, 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, in retrospect, 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 then 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. 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 skills are best satirized when Nobody and Beauregard take on Wild Bunch thugs in a carnival setting, using appropriately themed props. Here, the time honored quickdraw standoff devolves 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 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.
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 artifacts 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 colorful 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.
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