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My Name is Nobody

My Name is Nobody
1973 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 115 min. / Il mio nome è Nessuno / Street Date April 26, 2005 / 19.99
Starring Terence Hill, Henry Fonda, Jean Martin, Mario Brega, Benito Stefanelli, Antoine Saint-John, R.G. Armstrong, Leo Gordon, Steve Kanaly, Geoffrey Lewis
Cinematography Armando Nannuzzi, Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Production Designer Gianni Polidori
Film Editor Nino Baragli
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Fulvio Morsella, Ernesto Gastaldi from an idea by Sergio Leone
Produced by Claudio Mancini, Fulvio Morsella
Directed by Tonino Valerii

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This quirky Spaghetti western extends Sergio Leone's ritualized blocking and visuals into light comedy mode, with old-timer Henry Fonda forming a buddy relationship with Terence Hill's oddball quickdraw artist. It sort of spells the end of Leone's westerns in more ways than one. Total Euro-western fanatics may love it, but its main appeal thirty years later is the genuinely inspired music of Ennio Morricone.


Aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) tracks down his old partner Red (Leo Gordon). He's working his way to Sullivan (Jean Martin), who is supposed to be keeping a share of robbery loot for him. Beauregard is shadowed along the way by an amiable, proverb-spouting fellow called Nobody (Terence Hill) who encourages Beauregard to court immortal fame by singlehandedly taking on The Wild Bunch, a 150-man band of mounted gunmen. Beauregard only wants to collect enough money to leave his reputation behind and sail to obscurity in Europe.

Much like this film's leading character, Sergio Leone was already looking for a way out of the western genre. By the time made Duck You Sucker in 1971, he tried to have someone else direct it, but his stars rebelled. Leone had ambitions to become a glorious superstar director of epics to out-do David Lean, and was wary of sullying his reputation with "minor" assignments. By the time of Once Upon a Time in the West Spaghettis had already branched out into political cartoons and buffoonish self-parody, and Il mio nome è Nessuno was a Leone effort to out-do his own imitators. Henry Fonda is back as a more restrained gunfighter hero, perplexed and amused by Terence Hill's almost pixie-like hanger-on. Hill had already done a parodic series of Trinity films and was an icon in his own right.

Thus Leone consciously quotes from westerns, the same way that Sam Peckinpah did. Nobody catches catfish in a creek, as did Horst Buchholz in The Magnificent Seven. The two gunfighters trade off shooting holes in each others' hats, as in For a Few Dollars More. Collecting the spoils of a long-ago crime is a minor detail instead of the complicated treasure hunt of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Leone borrows American face Leo Gordon (Roger Corman films), Peckinpah regular R.G. Armstrong (whose name is misspelled in the opening titles) and icons from his own work - Mario Brega, Benito Stefanelli, Antoine Saint-John. Future John Milius hands Steve Kanaly and Geoffrey Lewis show up as well. Finally, Fonda's friendly adversary Sullivan is played by Jean Martin, the actor best known as the paratrooper general in Battle of Algiers.

The Leone 'ideas' the film is based on are nothing more than a series of drawn-out encounter set-pieces. Beauregard and Nobody face off in a cemetary (with a gravestone marked "Sam Peckinpah") and on a lonely street, going through the familiar paces and poses. Fonda buttons his coat up to clear his pistol draw, while Nobody quotes little homilies. There's an extended contest in a saloon where Nobody pretends to be drunk while tossing beer mugs over his shoulder and shooting them before they hit the ground. Various rat-like villains pursue Nobody into a sideshow hall of mirrors reminiscent of the same year's The Man with the Golden Gun. An elaborate and slightly wearying running gag has the 150-man Wild Bunch appear at regular intervals. Nobody eventually maneuvers Beauregard into fulfilling his gunslinger fantasy by facing them alone, all at once.

Nothing in the movie resembles normal reality. Explosives, flying beer mugs and spinning billiard balls behave under strict Mack Sennett comedy rules. There is also no love interest, just a few giggling bargirls and parsol-carrying women in the expensive-looking settings - a couple of towns, an entire New Orleans wharfside.

Typical of the film's no-rules attitude is the use of The Ride of the Valkyries on the soundtrack whenever the Wild Bunch rides. Morricone's light, catchy score brings much of the the slow-moving proceedings to life, just as it had been the savior of many essentially static moments in Once Upon a Time in the West and Duck You Sucker; the lilting harmonies and light choral effects bring to life what would probably be a boring film without them. Morricone also does riffs on his earlier 'Harmonica' theme that are little hommages of their own.

There is some crude flatulence & crotch-jabbing humor, but an 'earthy' parable Nobody tells about a baby bird has its own barnyard wisdom. Fonda is lightly amusing and so is Terence Hill's clowning, but in many instances we feel like we're being left out of a private joke. The only real failing is in pace and structure. After the Wild Bunch problem is resolved, the film goes on for two more reels that play as if they should be the first fifteen minutes of a sequel.

Director Tonino Valerii has substantial credits of his own but most reports paint a picture of overseer Leone directing from a remove, either butting in or directing the director. It sounds like the situation that Peter Bogdanovich wanted to avoid on Duck You Sucker - basically being the puppet for another talent. Then again, who knows how much of My Name is Nobody is Valerii's doing? Crediting a director with full authorship because his name is on a movie is a risky gambit even in normal circumstances.

Image and International Media Films' DVD of My Name is Nobody is a bright enhanced transfer of flawless film elements, with a clear soundtrack to enjoy the Morricone music. I've become more wary of 25 fps PAL-speed conversions lately, but this disc clocks at 115 minutes and six seconds, and doesn't look sped up to me. Only a couple of wide shots show tiny flaws of inadequate compression.

As with most Image discs there are no subtitles. This title begs for text essays or extended liner notes, but there are no extras either.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, My Name is Nobody rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 19, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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