Un genio, due compare, un pollo (1975) is a Spaghetti Western as scattershot as its many titles. An ersatz sequel to My Name is Nobody (Il mio nome e Nessuno, 1973), the film is probably best known in English under the title Nobody's the Greatest. However, this DVD's onscreen title is A Genius, Two Partners, and a Dupe (actually onscreen there are no commas, but who's quibbling?), while in interviews director Damiano Damiani and star Terence Hill refer to the picture as The Genius. The Japanese DVD, one of Imagica's "Macaroni Western Bible" series, is sold under the Italian title, but also under its Japanese name, Misutaa Noobodei 2 ("Mr. Nobody 2").
The film's limited fame rests mainly on the fact that the great Sergio Leone conceived and produced the film, though he's not credited onscreen. He directed one full sequence, and apparently hung around the set a lot and was something of an influence. The film is a broad spoof with lots of slapstick humor, in the style that had come to dominate spaghettis by the early 1970s. According to Christopher Frayling's essential Sergio Leone -- Something to Do with Death, the famous director originally based the film on an erotic French farce he had liked, Going Places (Les Valseuses, 1974), and had even cast that film's female lead, Miou-Miou. In the end, the picture he produced evolved into a more conventional faux Nobody sequel, with elements lifted from The Sting (1973).
Un genio, due compare, un pollo's meandering script eventually settles on master gunman Joe Thanks (Terence Hill), half-breed Indian and conman Steam Engine Bill (Canadian singer Robert Charlebois), and ditzy free-spirit girlfriend Lucy (Miou-Miou). The trio plots to rob $300,000 earmarked for the Indian Agency but embezzled by Cavalry officer Major Cabot (Patrick McGoohan).
Before Un genio, due compare, un pollo, director Damiani had made only one other spaghetti, A Bullet for the General (Quien sabe?, 1967), an excellent political fable and possibly the best of the South of the Border spaghettis. But Un genio, due compare, un pollo is so far removed from that film the reportedly humorless Damiani might just have well have had no experience with the genre for all the difference it made.
The film is all over the map, script-wise and geographically. Like Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, the picture shot for several weeks around Monument Valley, as well as in Spain and Italy. While the scenery's nice, the script by Ernesto Gastaldi, Fulvio Morsella, and director Damiani can't decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it goes for the broadly comic with near-fantasy elements, such as Hill's comic duel with gambler Doc Foster (Klaus Kinski), which is like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. At other times, such as the mostly straight Leone-directed opening sequence, it's too busy referencing other movies (in this case, everything from Once Upon a Time in the West to The Searchers) to be anything other than a pastiche. Mostly it's just dopey.
Video & Audio
Imagica's Macaroni Western Bible series is a mixed bag for non-Japanese consumers. Most of the several dozen titles have either English subtitles or an English audio track, though some have neither. Some are 16:9 enhanced, but many are 4:3 letterboxed. This reviewer recently reviewed Il pistolero dellfAve Maria, and was surprised at how good that looked for a non-enhanced transfer.
Un genio, due compare, un pollo, unfortunately, is a comparative mess, though with good reason: prior to release, the original negative was stolen, held for ransom, and was never recovered. For release the film had to be cobbled together using alternate takes and scraps from the original cut that had been copied in the form of positive film. It's hard to imagine this happening to a film of this magnitude, the Herculean efforts involved in salvaging the picture, and how inevitably the film must have suffered. What's on the DVD, and what European audiences apparently saw when the film was brand-new, at times resembles a work print. Some scenes jarringly cut back-and-forth between pristine elements with great color and what looks like floor scraps, the latter looking like they were filtered through an algae-infested aquarium. In some shots the film is badly scratched and the blue sky will suddenly become an ugly green. All in all, the effect is enormously distracting, but perversely fascinating. Further degrading the presentation is the lack of 16:9 enhancement, in what appears to be an older master, possibly dating back to the days of laserdisc. (A reportedly anamorphic and superior DVD was released in the U.K.)
Two audio tracks are included, one in the original Italian, the other English, both in Dolby Digital mono. The Italian track is standard stuff; the English one has unusually bad dubbing, possibly owing to the loss of the original elements. This reviewer stuck mostly to the English track, as the cast was speaking (or mouthing) their lines in English about 90% of the time. Unfortunately, McGoohan's distinctive voice is dubbed by someone else trying, not very well, to imitate it. Optional subtitles are available in Japanese, Italian, and English. The English subtitles are good and seem accurate.
The DVD has a nice selection of extras, including two interviews conducted in English. There's also text on the Cast, Staff, and a Column detailing the film's production; all of this is in Japanese only. A brief Gallery includes a few stills and poster art, which have a handy optional zoom-in feature. There's an international Trailer, also 4:3 letterboxed, with full text and audio, though it's very generic.
For English speakers, the most valuable extras are 4:3 interviews with director Damiano Damiani and star Terence Hill, filmed in 2002. Each interview, subtitled in Japanese, runs about nine minutes. Questions are put in Japanese, but the English-language answers are usually easy to follow. Damiani is a bit more rambling and hard to understand at times. He contrasts this film to his A Bullet for the General, and puts it into context with the Westerns of Ford and Leone. Hill discusses Leone's contribution, and his rise in the genre by way of German Karl May Westerns.
Among those who enjoy Spaghetti Westerns, many can't stand the later Nobody and Trinity style comedies. Some would argue that spaghettis were already spoofs to begin with, and that a send-up of send-ups of American movies about the west is simply one remove too many. Such is definitely the case with Un genio, due compare, un pollo, and the bizarre fate of its original negative only makes the film less appealing than it already is.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. His new book, Cinema Nippon will be published by Taschen in 2005.