Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
When one wanders off the trail of Sergio Leone Spaghetti westerns, the pickings become mighty thin
mighty quick, unless you're already a confirmed addict. I've enjoyed plenty of Spaghettis by
other directors, and liked
The Great Silence and
Compañeros, but more often
than not it's because Ennio Morricone music was involved.
Ace High stars Eli Wallach as a different but similar character to Tuco in
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The real leads of the show are Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, an action team that continued in
a series of their own. The movie itself is better than average but lacks key qualities that make
Leone's movies stand out: Style and wit.
Outlaw rogues Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy (Terence Hill and Bud Spencer) come across
a fortune but lose it to an even bigger rogue, Cacopoulos (Eli Wallach), who immediately starts
spending it and giving it away. Cacopoulos is on a kind of sentimental revenge jag, seeking the three
rich men that abandoned him to a fifteen-year jail sentence. To their own surprise, Cat and Hutch
end up teamed with Cacopoulos (and traveling tightrope performer Thomas (Brock Peters)) against
Cacopoulos' third enemy, the sniveling casino owner Drake (Kevin McCarthy).
There isn't much to be said for this derivative programmer. Coming at the peak of the cycle, it
has some things in its favor, mainly its lively cast. But the story is trite, and with the exception
of Eli's interesting rogue the characters are dull. The blue-eyed Terence Hill looks good in
stills but doesn't move well, coming off as an imitation Franco Nero. Bud Spencer has
little personality and is used as an object of broad
comedy. The good dubbing doesn't extend to Spencer's voice, which seems too light to fit his
Savant's a relative newbie to Spaghettis but even I recognized the Carlo Simi main street from
For a Few Dollars More. At one point our heroes come across a red-headed immigrant family,
several members of which seem to have wandered straight in from Once Upon a Time In the West,
which could conceivably have been filming concurrently. The little kid who gets shot by Henry Fonda
is definitely the same actor.
The plot basically has Eli's Cacopoulos character taking Hill and Spencer's money. They track him
and find out he's been spending it and giving it away to everyone he meets. There are only a few
surprises in the entire tale, one of them being a timely rescue that happens when an entire
town saves Cacopoulos in gratitude for his previous generosity.
The action scenes are basic and like everything else are covered haphazardly. Few shots are dynamic
and everything looks as if it were filmed
in haste rather than with any particular effect in mind. Like or dislike Sergio Leone, there's no
denying that his westerns are put together like a fine watch - every one of his angles has a
reason for being and fits into a larger style statement.
The best of Ace High is a final confrontation in a casino, where Cacopoulos asks that
violin music be played during the gunfight, and the combatants wait for a roulette wheel to stop
spinning before opening fire. For a few seconds a humorous contrast builds between
the music and the various gunslingers adjusting their positions. Then it's back to director-writer
Giuseppe Collizi's random angles again.
Sometimes it's a case of lack of faith in the material. For instance, for the final scene the
surviving heroes ride together in a very attractive angle. Then, for no reason except to vary the
view, we cut to an ugly and meaningless high-angle telephoto that spoils the mood. It's as if the
producer were in the cutting room and said, "I paid for that shot, you better use it."
Brock Peters and Kevin McCarthy guest star, but they must have been chosen at random to fatten the
cast list for Paramount's American release. Neither has much to do, and McCarthy's bad guy isn't
Paramount's DVD of Ace High will be welcomed by the Italo western crowd. The Techniscope
production is given a high gloss and is transferred in an enhanced letterbox format, good news
for fans used to blurry pan-scan VHS cassettes. Carlo Rustichelli's music score is pleasant but
not particularly memorable or dynamic.
No extras are included but there is a French track. The packaging uses a classy graphic combo of
and mentions only Eli Wallach on the cover. The liner notes say the movie was shot in Italy, Spain
and Mexico, but the credits don't mention Mexico. The final casino is supposed to be
in Mississippi, but what we see is the same Almeria desert.
The disc lists a running time of 122 minutes; but some sources mark out the original as ten minutes
longer. I'm not sure the movie could hold audience interest for another reel. If Hollywood wants to
dig into its vaults for more Euro treasures from this period, they should also consider hybrid
crime thrillers like They Came to Rob Las Vegas, Machine Gun McCain and The
Sicilian Clan, all good shows with good fan reputations.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Ace High rates:
Movie: Good -- or Fair ++
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 7, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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