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.
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 character.
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 very convincing.
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 stills 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: