Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Duccio Tessari was an associate of both Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci and he was actively involved in scripting Peplums with the pair (see The Colossus of Rhodes and Goliath and the Vampires). Tessari also made significant contributions to the nascent Spaghetti Western genre: he helped to write A Fistful of Dollars and he directed a couple of early classics (A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo) that served to establish Giuliano Gemma and Fernando Sancho as iconic figures within the genre. Unfortunately, decent quality presentations of Tessari's work have generally been slow to surface on home video, resulting in his contributions to the genre failing to receive the critical attention that they deserve. Wild East's timely issue of a restored version of Tessari's big budget and slightly humorous take on the political Spaghetti Western sub genre, Don't Turn the Other Cheek, reveals the film to be a smartly assembled show that is as charming and as entertaining as his highly regarded Ringo features.
Appearing soon after Leone's Duck You Sucker, Don't Turn the Other Cheek plays like an affectionate re-imagining of key themes from both that film and Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This approach is wholly appropriate because the film stars none other than Eli Wallach as a suitably Tuco-esque Mexican miscreant. Interestingly, the film's Mexican Revolution-set story and aesthetic look offer viewers a chance to see just how Wallach might have fared if the initial plans for him to play Juan in Duck You Sucker had come to fruition. Wallach puts in a superb performance here and he gets equally good support from Franco Nero and a host of other genre stalwarts. A likeable turn from Lynn Redgrave, appearing in her one and only Spaghetti Western, provides the show with one of the genre's most interesting and unusual female characters. A comedy Spaghetti Western of sorts, Don't Turn the Other Cheek is a near perfect mix of action, spectacle and laughs.
A Russian prince-turned-confidence trickster, Dmitri Orlowsky (Franco Nero), is roaming the West posing as a priest when he discovers that $1,000,000 has been buried somewhere in the city of Piedras Negras. To find the money he will need the help of a condemned Mexican criminal, Lozoya (Eli Wallach), who is currently languishing in the Yuma State Penitentiary. Lozoya doesn't know the name of the city that the money is buried in but he does know how to construct a rudimentary map that shows a section of the city and the money's exact location. An insurgent Irish journalist, Mary O'Donnell (Lynn Redgrave), is also visiting Yuma on a mission to buy the release of a revolutionary figurehead, El Salvador. Unfortunately, the corrupt local sheriff, Randall (Horst Janson), tries to double cross O'Donnell and she winds up thinking that Lozoya is El Salvador. Lozoya ultimately finds himself torn between his growing sympathy for the flagging Revolution that O'Donnell is determined to kick-start and his desire to find the gold with Orlowsky. However, the trio soon find themselves dealing with more pressing problems when Randall pursues them into Mexico and teams up with a sadistic Federale, General Huerta (Eduardo Fajardo).
Don't Turn the Other Cheek's central narrative thread never attempts to hide its Sergio Leone influences. If anything, it positively revels in them. The first familiar narrative theme encountered here is the replay of Tuco and Blondie's reluctant and uneasy working relationship from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Just like Tuco and Blondie, Lozoya and Orlowsky each hold unique bits of information that, when brought together, will lead the duo to a fortune in gold. True to the genre's form, the untrusting duo's greedy natures result in a series of broken promises and inventive double crosses. But the Leone influence doesn't end there. The film's writers were ambitious enough to cleverly and convincingly bolt another Leone-inspired narrative theme onto the film's storyline: Mary O'Donnell sets out to manipulate Lozoya into becoming a reluctant (initially at least) hero of the Revolution in the same way that Sean Mallory manipulates Juan in Duck You Sucker. Rather than being duped into thinking that he's in with a chance of robbing the bank of his dreams, Lozoya entertains O'Donnell's revolutionary schemes because he's obsessed with the idea that he might get to sleep with her.
The interactions that take place between Lozoya and O'Donnell are pretty funny and O'Donnell makes for an interesting genre character. A fervent if slightly ditzy idealist, she genuinely believes in the flagging Revolution and actively wants to kick-start it. Interestingly, her adventures in Mexico are actually being sponsored by the New York Times: O'Donnell photographs and files reports on the revolutionary occurrences that she is secretly responsible for instigating and the New York-based paper then syndicates her sensational reportage to the world's press. This novel narrative twist raises some interesting questions concerning the actions and ethics of media practitioners. The influence of Sergio Corbucci's A Professional Gun and Compañeros can be readily found in Orlowsky. Just like the characters that Franco Nero played in those two films, Orlowsky is a mercenary individual who always has financial gain at the forefront of his mind. As with most political Spaghetti Westerns, Don't Turn the Other Cheek features some effective scenes that detail the exploitation of the working classes: in one such sequence Euro cult cinema stalwart Victor Israel appears as Mendoza, a heartless Mexican foreman who oversees the running of a mine whose labourers are being woefully underpaid by their stern American employer (Lorenzo Robledo).
This is a decently paced and grand looking feature that possesses some generally impressive production values and technical aspects. There are a number of interesting period motor vehicles on display here (motorbikes, cars, buses, tanks, etc) along with some great sets and some neat costume designs. Jose F. Aguayo's cinematography skills are utilized to good effect too: Aguayo's framing is generally good and he and Tessari use some effective camera placements and camera moves in order to imbue some sequences with a really quite epic look and feel. Genre stalwart Gianni Ferrio's soundtrack score mostly consists of dreamy Euro muzak cues that are consistently nice to listen to. They're not particularly Western sounding but they fit with the film's light-hearted approach perfectly. Ferrio does provide more serious sounding cues on occasion: he expertly scores a dramatic and moving scene that allows Lozoya to show some emotion and finally commit himself to the Revolution in earnest. The acting here is generally very good too: familiar faces like Eduardo Fajardo (Django, Lisa and the Devil), Horst Janson (Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, Murphy's War), Marilu Tolo (Django Kill, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) and Dan Van Husen are on hand to offer good support. The film's English title is a play on words that refers to one of the show's main narrative conceits: Lozoya has to construct his rudimentary map by examining tattoos that the gold's owner, the Governor of Sonora, ordered to be etched onto the butt cheeks of two male Mexicans.
While it's a fair bet that fans of Eli Wallach in "Tuco mode" or Franco Nero in "dapper European mercenary mode" could enjoy this show purely on the strength of the two actors' iconic performances, the feature does possess enough in the way of novelty and narrative surprises to wholly distinguish itself from the films that so obviously inspired it. Indeed, the film projects an appealing identity and ambience all of its own: rather than letting Wallach and Nero's admittedly enjoyable Tuco and Blondie-like shenanigans overstay their welcome, the film's writers introduce a number of inspired narrative contrivances that serve to shape the show's plotline into something more than a simple treasure hunt. Furthermore, Lynn Redgrave's turn as Mary O'Donnell works surprisingly well and can be regarded as one of the key elements that make the film a success. Redgrave fits in perfectly with Wallach and Nero and there's a pleasing enough chemistry present between the three. Perhaps more crucially, Redgrave's character is really quite unique in genre terms and represents something of a welcome change of approach. Another welcome bonus is the fact that the film's gentle attempts at humour are actually funny. Here clever dialogue replaces the over the top slapstick silliness that bedevils many a lesser comedy Spaghetti Western.
The original English language version of this show tended to run to around 93 minutes or less. Wild East's restored version of the film is 112 minutes long. The restored scenes, sourced from the longer Italian cut of the film, bring much to the show in terms of plot development, character background and character motivation. Whilst the bulk of the film is presented here in English, the restored scenes are presented in Italian with English language subtitles. Critics of Spaghetti Westerns will still no doubt cite Don't Turn the Other Cheek as being a prime example of how derivative the genre could be. I personally hold to the argument that pleasure can often be found in the familiar if it is re-presented in a novel or new way and that is most definitely the case here. For example, the familiar, the new and the humorous come together brilliantly for the film's hilarious parting shot wherein The Good, The Bad and The Ugly's final moments are reworked in order to accommodate Duck You Sucker's liberal use of swear words. The result is a finale that boasts what could well be the most shocking and yet the most humorous use of expletives ever to appear in a film from this period.
This is a fine looking presentation overall. There are odd outbreaks of small scratches present from time to time but the picture quality here is just less than excellent for the most part. There is one short section where the film's colour quality is a little spotty but this isn't a major problem. The disc's sound quality is generally very good too.
Amongst the disc's extra features is a charming video interview with Eli Wallach (filmed in 2008) in which he discusses his work on Italian Westerns. His anecdotes concerning The Good, The Bad and The Ugly have mostly been heard before but the intimate and personal nature of the interview makes it a thoroughly enjoyable extra non-the-less. Wallach has been a fantastic ambassador for the genre over the years, always willing to talk to both media professionals and fans, and his genre-related reminiscences are always warmly and respectfully delivered. Also included is the American version of the film's front credits sequence. This unique variant features a humorous animation as well as a title song that sports Lynn Redgrave singing the lyrics in her Mary O'Donnell voice.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Don't Turn the Other Cheek rates:
Movie: Excellent -
Video: Very Good / Excellent --
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: an interview with Eli Wallach, US credits sequence, international credits sequence, US trailer, Italian trailer and an image gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 4, 2009
Text © Copyright 2009 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson
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