Monday, July 28, 2014

NICK HOWARD'S ONE AFTER THE OTHER


Reviewed by Steve Fenton

Lyrics from the theme song “Maybe One, Maybe Nine,” composed by Luis Enríquez Bacalov and sung by Fred Bongusto: “Maybe one / Maybe two / Or Maybe three / Maybe four / Maybe five / Or maybe six / Maybe seven / Maybe nine / He wants to kill a man…”

(Errr, what happened to eight?!) This miscounted if nonetheless effective theme song is used very frugally, heard only partially during and then closing the film.

For this 1967 Italian-Spanish coproduction, which was variously announced in the trades under such Anglo shooting titles as THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and the catchier and more quintessentially “spaghetti”-sounding COFFINS FOR NINE, I’ll begin with a bit of synoptical detail (WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILERS!):- Mr. Jefferson, an aging banker (José Bodalo, best-known within the spagwest genre as lusty revolutionary bandido “General” Hugo in Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO [1966]), cooperates in the robbery of his own bank in Canyon City, treacherously breaking his prior deal with bandit chief José Espartero (José Manuel Martín). A wary bank clerk, Bill Ross, grabs a rifle and tries to thwart the masked “Mexican” bandits, but Jefferson takes the gun and shoots his own employee in the back, whereupon the bandits - really rogue cattlemen in disguise - are forced to eliminate all other witnesses. For welching on his part of the deal, Jefferson is subsequently injured by a knife-throwing bandit, and the supposed Mexicans are revealed to in actuality be gringos in disguise working for Jefferson. Enter lightning-swift gunslinger Stan Ross (Richard Harrison), who arrives in town to avenge his brother Bill and at the same time find out who is to blame for the bank robbery, which has since been pinned on Espartero. Stan and the fiery bandit leader forge a pact to recover the stolen gold. Discovering that Jefferson and his right-hand man are jointly responsible for both brother Bill’s murder and masterminding the robbery, Stan comes for them. Ambush and counter-attack lead to the razing of Espartero’s camp. Stan is made prisoner and beaten, but feigns death and escapes to plot revenge. One after the other, Stan kills off Jefferson’s nine accomplices then at last faces Jefferson with a single bullet and suffers a knife in his back from the head villain’s wounded yesman, Glen. Jefferson takes the gun and is about to kill Stan, who reaches behind him, pulls the knife from his shoulder and hurls it into the evil banker’s heart.        

ONE AFTER THE OTHER ranks as one of director Nick Nostro’s finest western forays (he was credited as “Nick Howard” for the gig, and also directed the first of only two entries in the short-lived Superargo franchise, for which seasoned, super-ripped spaghetti stuntman “Ken Wood”/Giovanni Cianfriglia was briefly elevated to leading man status as the masked and spandex-clad title superhero). Harrison plays a more offbeat role here than he was usually offered, as the well-dressed, smooth-cheeked, bespectacled gunman you better not call “Four-Eyes”. When Sal Borgese lookalike Paolo Gozlino as Bodalo’s fawning flunky is foolish enough to confiscate our hero’s rectangular wire-frame specs, Harrison produces a new pair from a reserve supply stashed inside his coat and proves that an optical handicap don’t detract none from a man’s shootin’. When Gozlino later removes Harrison’s glasses for a second time, he is careful to grind them under his boot (which still doesn’t prevent Harrison from tossing a lighted cigar stump right on the money to ignite a handy barrel of gunpowder). This ‘short-sighted deadeye’ concept is a refreshing change of pace, and might be considered more feasible than a completely sightless shootist (as in Ferdinando Baldi’s BLINDMAN [1971]). This provides food for thought regarding Clint’s famous squint. (Could it be he simply needed a good pair of bifocals...?) And speaking of needing an appointment with the optometrist, following the opening robbery a dozen or more gunmen at close range somehow manage not to even graze - let alone actually kill! - a single fleeing bandit.


Rather than a liability (as in “Anthony Green”/Mario Sabatini’s execrable THE SHERIFF OF ROCKSPRINGS [1971] and “Hal Brady”/Emilio P. Miraglia’s almost-as-bad-but-not-quite SHOOT JOE, AND SHOOT AGAIN [1972]), Harrison’s minimalist acting style here actually complements his Stan Ross character, whose stilted air invests him with an enigmatic quality, as well as giving him a tougher exterior. When shot, he graphically operates on himself, using his Bowie knife as a scalpel, then biting the head off a bullet and cauterizing the wound with gunpowder. A standard ‘macho’ detail of many a western - spaghetti or otherwise - this self-surgery scene, shot largely in scarlet closeup, would almost certainly have been cut from English-language prints if they exist (the print reviewed here was the ’80s Japanese home videotape version; which as I recall [?] came English-dubbed, with native subs). Other moments of violence, including a pleading woman shot dead at point-blank range, might likewise have been censorable. Most lurid scene comes when a trussed-up man is blasted to pieces by dynamite. An old undertaker wearing a crucifix then appears from out of nowhere. Disgruntled at what little of him is left to bury, he picks up and examines the man’s blown-off lower legs (complete with partial pants and boots!), then tosses them aside in disgust! This scene - played for grim humor - once again reiterates how in the Spaghetti Western cosmos, life isn’t just cheap, it’s pretty much worthless other than as a commodity to be exploited for capital gain (by both a movie’s protagonists and its producers!).

As the pulchritudinous Sabine, true to her cheesecake roots Pamela Tudor (née Green, the famous English glamour model sometimes referred to as “The British Betty Page”) does a sudsy bath scene and tantalizes Harrison with her soap-streaked limbs (she also appeared in Riccardo Freda’s just so-so DEATH AT OWELL ROCK [1967], among others). All niggly nitpicking aside, the present film is a very decent, well-made western. The conclusion in the wind-swept town amid airborne strands of hay is reminiscent of that to Romolo Guerrieri née Romolo Girolami’s slick Gianni Garko faux Django vehicle 10,000 DOLLARS BLOOD MONEY, by way of the one-bullet-in-the-gun idea from Alfonso Balcázar’s lesser-known but solid THREE GUN SHOWDOWN (1968), co-starring the formidable triple threat of George Martin, Gilbert Roland and Jack Elam.



Notes:  Quite inexplicably, one quick selection is heard here from Benedetto Ghiglia’s score for “Vance Lewis”/Luigi Vanzi’s A STRANGER IN TOWN (1966), starring Tony Anthony. Although ONE AFTER THE OTHER’s early German shooting title - 9 Sarge für MacGregor / “9 Coffins for the MacGregors” - name-dropped “Frank G. Field”/Franco Giraldi’s SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MacGREGORS (1966), the finished film was actually released in Germany as still another faux “Django” entry. Attesting to the once-worldwide popularity of spaghetti westerns, it was also released in Japan, and even Thailand. A French photo-comics adaptation, entitled “Adiós caballero,” ran in Ciné-Périodiques of Paris’ Star-Ciné Bravoure magazine (circa the early-’70s). 


DVD addendum: In April of 2004, this was released in Japan as a Region 2 DVD courtesy of SPO Entertainment as part as their “Macaroni Western Bible” series dedicated to Italian westerns.  It was in English with removable Japanese subtitles, and although presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer was not enhanced for 16x9 televisions.  It is now out of print.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MARIO MEROLA IS "CARCERATO"


This is yet another film in a long line of sceneggiate, a very specific genre of films that proliferated in Neapolitan cinemas throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  Like the earlier sceneggiate efforts reviewed here, CARCERATO (1981) once again features all the required elements of amore, onore and vendetta as well as the vocal talents of signor Merola.  However, if you’re not Neapolitan and not weaned of this sort of entertainment, this effort in particular is also lacking a single shred of genuine excitement.

Merola stars as Francesco Improta, a law-abiding citizen that runs a mobile vegetable market who, at one point or another, may have had some mob ties (talk about ‘art’ imitating life).  As he and his son stroll through postcard-pretty Napoli, it isn’t long before he begins to sing, which turns out to be one of four songs he performs in the film.  Naturally, some ensuing tragedy must get our story moving and, this time around, his Mama’s (Regina Bianchi) health begins to wane so he tries to get help from the local underworld figurehead Don Giuseppe Ascalone (Aldo Giuffrè).  When the reprehensible Nicola Esposito (the great Biagio Pelligra) murders Ascalone in cold blood, Francesco is accidentally caught at the scene of the crime and wrongfully carcerato.  Like most of these films, some convenient contrivances help propel the story forward, which in this case results in the imprisonment of Nicola in the very same prison leading to the inevitable climax.  Unfortunately, vengeance comes neither piping hot nor even ice cold, but merely as dull as dishwater.

Set inside some rundown Neapolitan prison (an authentic looking location which had evidently been derelict for years, judging by how overgrown with weeds the place is), CARCERATO unfolds with the same lugubrious pace of serving a triple life-sentence without the possibility of parole.  Perhaps there are some compelling subtleties hidden in the original Italian dialogue, but I somehow doubt it.  As mentioned earlier, Merola contributes four songs which are all performed with typically over-the-top theatrics, which to be honest, is what attracted most local viewers to this type of film anyways.  One of the more memorably hokey numbers involves our hero placed in solitary and, lucky for us, he starts to sing about his unfortunate plight.  In an almost embarrassingly tacky moment, his singing is echoed throughout the prison as many prisoners even shed a tear for him.  As if any of these hard-nosed convicts would be that easily swayed by Merola’s mournful lyrics!  After escaping during a mock play staged by the other cons – including some token cross-dressing courtesy of Brescia regular Lucio Montanaro – Francesco manages to make it back home just in time to attend his cutesy daughter’s first communion.  He strolls into the church singing the climactic number as everyone gathers around in astonishment.  As you can probably guess, it all ends happily ever after as Francesco is given an official reprieve and the film freezes over him and his sniveling kids.

Like most of Brescia’s sceneggiate efforts, CARCERATO was produced on a very meager budget (even for Brescia) and was basically a showcase for Merola’s increased popularity, but as evidenced in this film and, later throughout the ‘80s, many of Merola’s subsequent roles such as Stelvio Massi’s threadbare GUAPPARIA (1983) and TORNA (1984) were venturing further and further away from his earlier polizieschi potboilers despite the Neapolitan underworld still serving as backdrop.   Although supported by a decent cast, this is Merola’s show all the way while much of the recognizable Eurotrash veterans have limited screen time, which amounts to nothing more than extended cameos.  The talented Aldo Giuffrè is killed-off almost immediately while Erika Blanc, as his wife Lucia, is given nothing to do except bawl about Francesco’s unfortunate predicament.  Character actor Giorgio Ardisson also shows up at the tail end of the film as the obligatory commissario who has a couple of brief but mindless lines, but it’s Biagio Pelligra (who was so believable in Umberto Lenzi’s FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN [1979], which also starred Merola) as the token scumbag who is easily the most engaging aspect of the entire film.  He definitely adds some much needed life into the proceedings, but his limited screen time can’t save this typically clichéd and impoverished production.

-Dennis Capicik with additional comments from Steve Fenton.
A table of assorted "stuff" (note the framed photo of Merola) at a small flea market on Via Pellegrini outside the Montesanto funicular station in Naples.
At the Castel dell' Ovo in the Gulf of Naples as seen in many a Mario Merola flick.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

COGS, SPOOLS AND ½” TAPE #8 - SCANDAL VHS REVIEW


For this installment of our regular VHS column, let’s take a look at a real rarity, Mogul Video’s SCANDAL (1971) directed by Sergio Bergonzelli.

Beginning as a sort of mondo-type travelogue highlighted by pictures of various fertility Gods and erotic art, it becomes apparent that Massimo (Gregory Gandolfo), the bane of most teachers at an undisclosed Italian college, is “educating” a few shapely female classmates from the comforts of his bed, which includes Cristiana (played by the alluring blue-eyed Malisa Longo).  As his erotic slideshow commences, Massimo informs his guests about Cupid, the “God of Love” who “stoked the flames of love and lust” as Cristiana looks directly into the camera and a cheap video-generated title flashes on the screen.

Along with Massimo, Cristiana seems to be the instigator of protests and other acts of “insubordination” at her college where, to be honest, they don’t spend too much time in the classroom.  Enter Professor David Andrei played by ex-spaghetti western vet Glenn Saxson, who vows to try and understand this “undisciplined generation”.  Of course, he quickly becomes the talk of the school as Cristiana and her friends lounge around topless, smoke pot and discuss “technicolor trips”.  His refined ex-wife Simona (Patricia Reed) also shows up and joins in on the “counter-culture” movement much to David’s dismay, but he is also having a difficult time controlling his “lust” for Cristiana, which begins to get the better of him during a class field trip.  However, it isn’t until Cristiana and Massimo decide to seduce David and Simona in the hopes of causing a “scandal” that the situation escalates, especially when Cristiana begins falling for David.

Originally released in Italy as IO CRISTIANA, STUDENTESSA DEGLI SCANDALI, this actually received a US theatrical release under the more salacious title of The SCHOOL OF EROTIC ENJOYMENT.  Shot back-to-back with Bergonzelli’s other “Cristiana” film, the marginally better IO CRISTIANA, MONACA INDEMONIATA (also released on VHS by Private Screenings as OUR LADY OF LUST [1972]), SCANDAL is, for the most part, fairly light-hearted stuff highlighted by copious amounts of nudity from most of the female cast.  Granted, it’s all quite tame nowadays, but like many similar Italian films, it veers into darker territory when Massimo’s violent leanings begin to manifest themselves.  During one of the many typical parties that take place, Massimo initiates a game of Russian roulette with David’s more than game wife Simona, but when one of the girls at the party decides it’s gone to far, he forces her to play as she cries and whimpers in utter fear of possibly putting a bullet in her cranium.  Of course, it all turns out to be joke, but the sadistic pleasure he gets from her suffering is just a taste of what’s to come.  When Cristiana and David decide to runaway together in typically clichéd fashion (“I’ve never felt so young…” explains David), Massimo and his buddies chase them down on motorcycles and then in an open field, Cristiana is gang-raped.  It’s certainly a grim conclusion to what is initially an easy-going film and, while nowhere near as vicious or provocative like the brutal ending to Fernando Di Leo’s similarly themed TO BE TWENTY (1979), it’s still a rather jarring conclusion to a film which, for the most part, plays out like a typical sexy melodrama. 

Sergio Bergonzelli was another interesting director that lingered in the lower echelons of Italian exploitation.  After directing some early low-budget, but notable, spaghetti westerns including The LAST GUN (1964) with Cameron Mitchell and A STRANGER IN SACRAMENTO (1965) with Mickey Hargitay, Bergonzelli easily adapted to the changing times of the ‘70s, which required a requisite amount of violence and nudity to help sell tickets.  His completely off-the-wall sleaze giallo IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (1970) definitely kick-started his ‘70s phase with a bang, but as the decade progressed, he moved ahead into more erotic films including the above-mentioned CRISTIANA titles as well as La COGNATINA (1975) with Karin Well and the aptly titled PORCO MONDO (1978) to name just a few.  In 1988, he directed BLOOD DELIRIUM with John Philip Law and Gordon Mitchell, a highly enjoyable take on Herschell Gordon Lewis’ COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965), which would make a great DVD or Blu-ray one day.  He died on September 24th, 2002 at the age of 78.

Almost impossible to find, Mogul Video’s release of this scarce film is a decent print with relatively stable colours, which tend to look a little washed-out at times, but this may in fact be a product of Tonino Maccoppi’s photography, which actually captures the breezy, seaside town of Ostia (where the film was shot) just outside of Rome quite perfectly.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

EUROCINÉ 33 CHAMPS ÉLYSÉES - DVD REVIEW


Yes, you guessed it, that’s the Paris street address to Eurociné, a lovably awful, but equally daring French film studio which is usually the scorn of snobbish cineastes that, let’s be honest, probably haven’t seen more than two of their films.  While many of their productions were undoubtedly made on the cheap, Eurociné were responsible for a treasure trove of trashy exploitation films mostly in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, but they even managed to put together a few honest-to-goodness gems like The AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962) directed by the iconoclastic Jess Franco, easily the most respectable name associated with Eurociné.  Subtitled “A French Exploitation Cinema”, Christopher Bier’s (directing under the suitably apt “Christopher M. Beer” in keeping with the pseudonymous nature of most Eurociné films) documentary is a highly entertaining look at this modest studio that, to this very day, still operate out of that very same address.

Mr. Bier serves as our host who proudly proclaims the films of Eurociné “are no less exotic to us than BREATHLESS and CHILDREN OF PARADISE.”  He goes on to provide a fairly thorough background history of Marius Lesoeur, the founder of Eurociné, which is nicely cut together with contemporary interviews featuring a number of directors, actors and writers that all worked for Mr. Lesoeur at one time or another.  Some of the interviews include Monica Swinn (her anecdotes regarding the various Nazi-themed films they churned out in the ‘70s are quite priceless), Roger Darton, Alain Deruelle (also known as Allan W. Steeve – the director behind such cut-and-paste non-classics as CANNIBAL TERROR [1980] and JAILHOUSE WARDRESS [1979]), Patrice Rhomm, Gilbert Roussel, writer and film historian Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and of course, Daniel Lesoeur, the current head honcho of this once prolific production house.
Christopher Bier, our host and director of EUROCINE 33 CHAMPS ELYSEES

Some of the highlights include a visit to their “studio” outside of Paris, which actually turns out to be nothing more than the Lesoeur’s holiday villa turned into a mini production house.  Anyone even remotely familiar with Eurociné’s output will instantly recognize many rooms within this house, which have turned up in the likes of Jean Rollin’s guilty pleasure ZOMBIE LAKE (1980) and Jess Franco’s appropriately dark and nasty EUGENIE DE SADE (1970).  In a surprise revelation and, to the astonishment of our host Mr. Bier, Mr. Lesoeur even unboxes Soledad Miranda’s knee high leather boots from that very same Franco film.


Of course, much of the fun also comes from the various clips utilized throughout the doc and, while there is no shortage of scenes from such Eurociné staples like Alain Payet’s HELLTRAIN (1976), Patrice Rhomm’s FRAULEIN DEVIL (1976), the aforementioned ZOMBIE LAKE (1980) and Jess Franco’s revamped and re-edited OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1981), Mr. Bier has also included many tantalizing scenes from a variety of rarely seen titles such as Jess Franco’s early MARIQUITA, QUEEN OF THE TABARIN CLUB (1960), Gilbert Roussel’s RED HOT ZORRO (1972) and The GIRLS OF THE GOLDEN SALOON (1973), Pierre Chevalier’s The HOUSE OF LOST DOLLS (1973), Alain Payet’s HELGA, The SHE-WOLF OF SPILBERG (1977) and many others. 

This hour long documentary is unfortunately rather low on extras but the fact that it contains English subtitles more than makes up for it.  Although a very welcome extra is a rather extravagant poster gallery highlighting many works by poster artist Belinsky whose trashy “anything goes” artwork suited the Eurociné aesthetic to a tee.  By all means, order your copy here and check this out.  Vive la Eurociné!
Robert Foster (aka Antonio Mayans) in Eurocine's most financially successful and widely-seen film.
Christopher Bier (left) enters through the same door as Pierre Escourrou in ZOMBIE LAKE. 
Daniel Lesoeur (left) and Christopher Bier.