Friday, July 31, 2015

A LOOK BACK AT GIULIANO CARNIMEO'S THE CRAZY BUNCH


Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

Tony Norton: “I am Twinkletoes... and Twinkletoes spells ‘death!’... T as in ‘twinkle,’ W as in ‘winkle,’ I as in ‘inkle,’ N as in ‘ninkle’... and K as in ‘kaput’!”
Goldilocks, a hairless henchman: “You are an indescribably arcane, devious, pusilanimous, fashion-conscious, nefarious, iniquitous, egotistic, narcissistic Western hero!”

These dialogue excerpts sum up the low level of humour at play in this quickie Tricky Dicky sequel (from 1974) to the more consistently enjoyable ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST THERE WAS A MAN CALLED INVINCIBLE (1973); but any western comedy directed by Giuliano Carnimeo and starring George Hilton definitely demands a look-see. The same producers and screenwriter who worked on its predecessor here returned for seconds in the same functions, with DP Federico Zanni and scorer Alessandro Alessandroni assuming the positions originally taken, respectively, by Stelvio Massi and Bruno Nicolai on the originator.

Once again, here’s a token breakdown of the rudimentary plot, which is by no means completely linear and objective in getting from A to B, but here goes nothing: A gang of outlaws awaits passage of a stagecoach to rob, only to encounter clownish adventurer Tricky Dicky (Hilton again) and his less-than-gazelle-like sidekick Bambi (Huerta again). Captain Frutti-Tutti [sic] (Riccardo Garrone) heads into the city of Mad House, Texas, to make a bank ‘withdrawal,’ only to be thwarted by the manager’s in-house security cannon. A political convention is in town. Tricky and Bambi arrive searching for $100,000 that has been stolen from the Yuma Junction mail train. Posing as a schizophrenic who believes he is the Arch-Duke of Austria while Tricky poses as a preacher, Slim is admitted into the Mad House madhouse for electroshock therapy. There, Tricky seeks to coerce the secret of the loot from a patient named Frank “The High-Handed” Fairy (Enzo Maggio). Tricky fakes an outbreak of the plague at the sanitarium. He and Bambi then follow a clue to Cactus River, followed by Frutti-Tutti and his moronic henchmen. There, Drakeman, the amazing One-Man Circus (Memmo Carotenuto), holds the key to unlock the 100-Gs. When he is menaced by Frutti’s bullyboys, Tricky and Bambi thrash them soundly. Proceeding to Striker’s Ranch, Tricky and Bambi defeat the outlaw gang and presumably acquire the missing loot. After his unlucky (for Twink) thirteenth encounter with Twinkletoes the gunslinger, Tricky, accompanied by Bambi and Frank, move on…

During the credits, a waiting bushwhacker is lured away from his post by sight of a fat billfold. When his back is turned, an unseen hand steals his pan of beans as they bubble on the campfire (the gunman ‘seasons’ the cooking grub with a pinch of gunpowder!). Despite the comedic visuals, this intro stands out thanks to Zanni’s screen-filling camerawork, Alessandroni’s charismatic, Neapolitan-laced music, and appealing sunlit, snow-covered background scenery. The latter’s score also incorporates a few familiar notes from “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” the hit pop song made famous by George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969).

George Hilton, Pietro Torrisi and Cris Huerta.

Hilton spends a goodly portion of the action disguised as a quack psychiatrist visiting a frontier funny farm. Expectedly, The CRAZY BUNCH (original Italian title DI TRESETTE CE N’È UNO, TUTTI GLI ALTRI SON NESSUNO / “Three-Seven is the Only One, All the Rest Are Nobodies”) stays true to Ascott’s comic œuvre – that is, Larry, Moe & Curly (and sometimes even Shemp!) by way of Trinity & Bambino. The entire opening sequence is modelled after that to TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME: George Hilton playing George Hilton to the hilt while Cris Huerta (w/ bowler hat) imitates Bud Spencer in look if not temperament. Huerta later dresses up as a Kaiser Wilhelm type, complete with eagle-topped pickelhaube helmet and spacious scarlet boxer shorts. Grinning bandit Goffredo Unger snorts like a horse and makes cuckoo clock noises when Hilton (“That son-of-a-mother in black!”) smacks him in the chops. Inevitable frypan (and chamber pot and drain plunger, etc.) violence occurs. A carpenter swallows a mouthful of coffin nails and later spits them out under duress like a Gatling gun; which would be a pretty handy talent to have if you happen to be a drywaller by trade. A Scottish pirate wears an eye-patch and a grappling-hook hand. One asylum inmate is General Custer (the head headshrinker rightly informs him that “Little Bighorn is a big lie!”; but you don’t wanna hear the dumb gag about “Standing” Bull). Four more loonies believe they are a steam locomotive (“the Colorado Express”). Another thinks he’s a dog and cocks his leg to urinate over a man’s boots. Still another believes he is the Statue of Liberty, holding high a fistful of smouldering cigars. Tricky and Twinkletoes share a homoerotic exchange concerning hu-u-uge stogies: “You put it in yer mouth and suck on it!” – “But, before you smoked cigarillos, not Havana...” – “You’re right, but these fit my mouth better!” Deep-throated Dicky’s foot-long stogie then explodes all over Twink’s face. In the interests of further subtle symbolism, the two pistol pals later reconvene in a cramped closet. Then there’s Frank the Foxy Fairy and Frutti-Tutti [sic], “with his gang of queer boys!” A bad guy refers to Hilton and Huerta as “bumholes.” Befitting this fanciful fairies’ tale, elements of “Cinderella” become evident when our heroes go in search of the man whose feet fit a certain-sized pair of cowboy boots.

Riccardo Garrone (so dead-serious as the black-hearted white slaver in his director brother Sergio Garrone’s fab NO ROOM TO DIE [1969]) here plays it for laughs as a stuttering, effeminate sea skipper with a big hairy wart on his chin. His speech impediment severely hinders his effectiveness as a bank robber, and he somehow gets a cannonball lodged up his rectum (?!). Rather than crowing at dawn, a rooster growls like a dog. Complete with Salvador Dali mustachios, Memmo Carotenuto plays a one-man circus act who pulls a white rabbit named Harvey from a tophat and keeps an invisible pet lion (“Now, there’s a pussy!”). As with Mario Adorf’s in Giulio Petroni’s A SKY FULL OF STARS FOR A ROOF (1968) and Osiride Pevarello’s in Bruno Corbucci’s THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST (1973), Memmo’s fire-eating skills are here put to good use. Even more bizarre is a KKK-robed secret sect of politician-hating anarchists called “The Brothers of the Spool,” who attempt more obscure would-be political satire. Nello Pazzafini has a riot as the jocular outlaw chief, complete with hyperactive Italian hand gesticulations (“...I’ll pull his ears off, bust in his face, give him a nose-job, smash his teeth, break his head, tear his hair, and I’ll nail him to a cross with a bayonet...!”). Three of Nello’s dopey flunkies are known as “Pimplenose,” “Pinkeye” and “Marmalade.” Hilton effortlessly gets his pistol erect on cue (“...look Ma, no hands!”), while Nello’s gang – no matter how hard they try (pun intended) – just can’t get ’em up. A duel with rapiers foreshadows the swashbuckling antics of Hilton’s silly willy in Franco Lo Cascio’s masked hero spoof The MARK OF ZORRO (1975).


Certain onscreen signs herein are printed in Italian; while a notice in the nuthouse intriguingly misreads “VIOLENTLY DEPARTMENT.” Not quite the Queen’s English, although the excess of Limey slang (“blinkin’ heck!” – “bloody ear’oles!” – “buggered-up!”) leads one to suspect the movie was dubbed with the British market in mind. Other dialogue is so out-of-it (e.g., “I don’t give a pollywog about fish!”) that it’s hard to determine precisely what export market the producers had their sights on. The disorienting, pleonastic dubbed script is not as consistently laugh-inducing as the forerunning film. The ’80s-vintage English-dubbed VHS videotape reviewed here came with Greek subtitles (God only knows how the humour translated into Greek!).

Like the first film, Carnimeo piles on the gags thick (real thick) and quick, apparently going by the philosophy that if the last gag didn’t git ya, then the next one will. Unfortunately, like too many of these “crazy” parodies (as well as exhaustive reviews of them), the sheer abundance of “rib-tickling” sight and sound gags soon leave you gasping for breath. Choreography of the comedy stunts is handled with real flair, while for a big man Huerta handles himself with surprising agility. Physical comedy is the star here, helped by smooth editing and some judiciously applied fast-motion (and you could always speed it closer to the finish line with your FF button, if needs be!). The latter half-hour really picks up, with some hilarious split-second slapstick routines.

As Twinkletoes astutely observes, “You’re a funny man, Tricky... though I’m not gonna die laughing!” You may not either, but The CRAZY BUNCH is still a hoot... depending entirely on your state of mind (or lack thereof). And once again, nobody is killed, so it’s no-guilt entertainment. So kick back, fire up a Marlboro Longhorn 100 – or perhaps a foot-long, inch-thick stogie – for the occasion and let the craziness take you!

Notes:  Assistant director was seasoned stunt-hand Goffredo “Fredy” Unger. Upon its 1974 release, the film received no Canadian playdates on the ethnic Italian theatrical circuit. After popping up for a few airings on television in Italy and playing a brief run in German cinemas, it seemed to fade from sight (until eventually reemerging circa the late-’80s / early-’90s via that ninth wonder of the world, pre-DVD Greek videotape).1

1. This Greek videotape was released by Key Video and, although unusual for most Greek tapes of the time, it was letterboxed at approximately 1.66:1.  It was in English with Greek subtitles.  Fortunately, The CRAZY BUNCH has since been released on German DVD courtesy of X-Rated Kult DVD in one of those fancy oversized hardboxes.  Presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, it was unfortunately not enhanced for 16x9, but zooming into the picture helped alleviate this; plus it got rid of that annoying disclaimer at the bottom of the screen “Only for sale in Germany, Austria and Switzerland”, which some DVD and Blu-Ray players could remove. The disc contained German, English and Italian audio tracks, a trailer and a small photo gallery.  As a bonus, this “spezial” 2-disc edition also contained an uncut version of Maurizio Lucidi’s The GREATEST ROBBERY OF THE WEST (1967) on a separate disc, and like The CRAZY BUNCH, it also contained German, English and Italian audio tracks along with the film’s memorable English trailer and a brief photo gallery.  This past May, yet another English friendly DVD of The CRAZY BUNCH surfaced in Germany courtesy of Edel with the added bonus of a 16x9 print. –Dennis Capicik

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A LOOK BACK AT GIULIANO CARNIMEO'S ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST...THERE WAS A MAN CALLED INVINCIBLE


Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

This movie is largely a plotless series of comic vignettes, but I’ll give a general plot synopsis anyway, for those who might want it; so those wishing to avoid spoilers might want to skip down to the next paragraph. In Apple Pie City, Texas, circa the 1870s, a shipment of miners’ gold must be transported from the McPiedish bank to a safe in Dallas. For a $20,000 fee, roving saddletramp Tricky Dicky (George Hilton) is just the man for the job. With the so-called “Bambi” (Cris Huerta), sheriff of Apple Pie, Tricky disguises their wagon like that of a travelling medicine show to fool potential robbers. Along the route they must foil a succession of different bandit groups, including a convent full of fake friars. Upon arrival in Dallas, authorities learn that their supposed load of gold dust is in actuality merely painted lead powder, and Tricky and Bambi are thrown in jail as suspects in the genuine article’s theft. Tricky knows Mr. McPiedish (Umberto D’Orsi) and his accomplice Councillor Apple (Dante Cleri) are responsible for stealing the gold from the former’s own bank and trying to pin the suspicion on them. Thus, Tricky and Bambi escape from jail and pose as guests at the crooked banker’s fancy dress party to find out what became of the real gold. They learn that, with the complicity of local saloonkeeper and comely confectionary owner Miss Marlene (“Evelyn Stewart” a.k.a. Ida Galli), McPiedish has been concealing the shiny yellow stuff inside baked goods and smuggling it to Mexico...

Written by Tito Carpi, produced by Luciano Martino and Mino Loy, photographed by Stelvio Massi and scored by Bruno Nicolai, this zany comedic spaghetti western was originially released in Italy in 1973 as LO CHIAMAVANO TRESETTE... GIOCAVA SEMPRE COL MORTO / “His Name is Three-Seven... He Plays a Dead Man’s Hand,” and later (circa the ’80s) turned up on Venezuelan VHS tape (label long since forgotten!), dubbed into English and with Spanish subtitles.1 For the dubbed version, Hilton’s title character was rather foolishly renamed “Tricky Dicky,” of all things (!). The original Italian name of Hilton’s character is derived from Tressette, which, along with Scopone – which was the surname of the character played by Anthony Steffen in Juan Bosch’s “straight” SW, TEN KILLERS COME FROM AFAR (1972) – is one of Italy’s most popular national card games. The main goal of Tressette, of which there are numerous regional variations, is to acquire “three sevens” (totalling twenty-one). Hence: 21 is the winner and beats all the rest. The fourth player in the game is traditionally referred to as the “Dead Man’s Hand,” hence this the first film in the Tresette duo’s Italo title. In the opening scene of the sequel (see below), Hilton interrupts a card game and asks to sit-in as the fourth player (i.e., the dead man). When Hilton and Nello Pazzafini’s character face off in the same film, they both make jokes about clubs being used as trumpcards. These in-jokes would probably be lost on all non-Tressette enthusiasts.

George Hilton as "Tricky Dicky".

With Hilton as his droll leading man, Giuliano Carnimeo – a.k.a. “Anthony Ascott” – turned out some of the best comedic spaghetti westerns of all (e.g., THEY CALL ME HALLELUJAH [1971], which was released on N. American videotape by Academy Home Entertainment back in the day as GUNS FOR DOLLARS). Including a slapstick barroom brawl behind the opening credits, this present pair-up of the filmmaker and star betrays itself as an outright freeforall right from frame one; indeed, both of Hilton’s & Carnimeo’s “Tricky Dicky” duo – the sequel was tagged The CRAZY BUNCH on certain Anglo export prints – are far zanier than their pair of Hallelujah films, but are nonetheless most entertaining indeed (quite possibly because of the added zaniness rather than merely in spite of it). If kartoon king Tex Avery had ever made a live-action western spoof starring The Three Stooges, chances are it’d probably look something like this!

A set of false teeth are yanked from their owner’s chops while still attached to the man’s forearm they have just bitten hold of. A mousetrap snaps shut on a howling bandit’s fingers. A boxing glove KO’s a man as it boings from a jack-in-a-box. A man is smacked in the face with a frying pan and the impact leaves his features indented in its iron surface. Twin-nostrilled shotgun muzzles fill the screen in distorted fisheye closeups. Tricky Dicky (known as “Tresette” in Italian and French prints) paints the bars of his jail-cell window pale blue so that they’ll blend in with the sky and thus fool the guard into thinking he’s sawed through them and flown the coop. A wilting cactus carries flaccid phallic symbolism apropos to the emasculated plotline. To verify that the gold dust really is of a full 24 carats, Hilton snorts a sample like snuff. Fast-motion sometimes clicks in at unexpected moments. Throwaways include an Italian woman with a mustache desperately in search of hair remover; and Pietro Ceccarelli as the aptly-named “Bald Bill,” a chromedome bandit who is treated with hair-restoring tonic and sprouts a huge afro in under a minute like some giant humanoid Chia Pet (!). Gutter slang and a bona fide f-word – a relative rarity even in the tough-as-nails spaghetti realm – pepper the outrageous dialogue.


Portly Spanish player Cris Huerta plays another in his long line of big’n’bouncy Bud Spencer imitations (e.g., “Steve McCoy”/Ignacio F. Iquino’s The FAMOUS OF TRINITY [1972]), as the gazelle-like “Bambi,” whose ironic name simultaneously also evokes an abbreviation of Spencer’s much more famous Bambino characterization. Spaghetti heavy Sal Borgese steals his one hilarious scene as one Salvatore Pappallardo, a rubber-faced, hot-tempered Sicilian gangster in a bombetta (“bowler hat”) who threatens to insert his sawed-off scattergun into Tricky Dicky where the sun don’t shine (a threat to which Hilton primly responds, “I prefer not having things stuck up my little bottom”). Silly, inoffensive straight / bi / gay jokes abound, with nothing in the way of any genuine mean-spiritedness involved. For instance, Dicky’s rivals for the gold include “The Bent Gang” and “The Closet Cousins.” Then there’s “Tang Orango” (alias “Orangutan”), father of a fraternal trio calling themselves “The Three Speedy Fingers.” And we also get the late, great Nello Pazzafini as “Aureola” Joe, phony abbot to a brotherhood of phony monks (throwbacks to both of Ascott’s Hallelujah films, the first of which also included a phony nun in the form of Agata Flori, too). In keeping with the director’s proven fondness for facetious ‘anticlericalism’ – see also the aforementioned THEY CALL ME HALLELUJAH and its 1972 sequel, DEEP WEST (which the IMDb incorrectly gives as the US title for the first Hallelujah film) – mock-monks play poker using a deck of cards bearing icon-like pictures of religious personages.

Sal Borgese as hot tempered Sicilian gangster, Salvatore Pappallardo.

A recurring gag involves “Twinkle Toes,” a homosexual pistolero dressed all in fetishistic black leather who keeps popping up without notice and challenging Tricky Dicky to gunfights as a test of his manhood. Played by Tony Norton – who frequently essayed such ‘Black Bart’ types (e.g., in “E.B. Clucher”/Enzo Barboni’s TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME [1971]) – Twinkle Toes is clearly based on suave Latin rascal Gilbert Roland (with whom Hilton had co-starred in both Enzo Girolami Castellari’s ANY GUN CAN PLAY [1967] and “George Holloway”/Giorgio Capitani’s The RUTHLESS FOUR [1968]; the latter of which I reviewed in Weng’s Chop #7).

Hilton always seems to be having a whale of a time here. His good-natured performance coupled with those of his colleagues helps one forget that the rudimentary plot is merely an excuse for a non-stop stampede of gags, which thankfully provoke more guffaws – or at least chuckles – than groans from the audience. Beneath a cascade of corn-coloured ringlets, swan-necked Ida Galli is as delicate and delectable as one of the fancy puff pastries baked by her character.

Perhaps the biggest surprise – then again, maybe not, considering the relentlessly good-natured context – is that not one person gets killed throughout the runtime. Call this one the AIRPLANE! of spaghetti westerns, which soars to higher heights of both the sublime and the ridiculous than any ten lesser trivial TRINITY ripoffs. It was followed by another fun one, The CRAZY BUNCH (1974).

Note: Certain erroneous Spanish sources have credited Stelvio Cipriani for the score.

1. In 2006, this was released on DVD courtesy of Southern DVD, a small label based in South Africa, which also released numerous other rare spaghetti westerns.  Now OOP, but still available through some online retailers or Ebay, this DVD has English and Italian audio options and retains Stelvio Massi’s original 2.35:1 scope photography.  The only extra is the film’s lively theatrical trailer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

VINEGAR SYNDROME'S NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER - DVD REVIEW


This is the second release from Vinegar Syndrome in conjunction with the American Genre Film Archive, and despite a slightly weathered print, this is the best this “southern-fried whodunnit” oddity has ever looked; the less said of Paragon’s early-’80s VHS tape, the better!    

Returning from Vasser College in upstate New York to her hometown of Baton Rouge, Denise (Susan McCullough) is greeted at the airport by her brother Vance (played by Monkees member Micky Dolenz), a Vietnam veteran.  Although happy to see her, he becomes apprehensive when she reveals that she is currently dating a black man and pregnant, knowing full-well that Vance’s bigoted but influential brother Dan (Jim Ralston) will be fuming mad.  Demanding an abortion, Susan naturally objects and returns to New York.  Upon her return, her boyfriend is soon killed by a professional hitman (Patrick Wright) via a high-end scope rifle conveniently housed in a guitar case.  Devastated, but fully aware of who was responsible, she too is killed, drowned in a bathtub and made to look like a suicide.  Meanwhile, Father Jesse (Chuck Patterson) is assigned to his former parish and soon becomes embroiled in the family’s soap opera theatrics, which are punctuated by petty jealousies, racism and even more murder.

Misleadingly titled – which immediately brings to mind some low-rent sleazy horror along the lines of Robert Hammer’s DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980) – The NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER is a thriller in the thinnest sense of the word, despite some of the murders that take place: including death by an “Elephant” snake, whose “venom can kill in seconds,” and even an elaborate death scene involving “curare”-dipped arrows.  When Dan’s new wife Carol (Ann Barrett) – Vance’s ex-girlfriend – is mysteriously killed by that poisonous snake, which “struck at her from the bouquet” given to her by Father Jesse, everyone becomes a suspect; the list of suspects also includes Vance, his current girlfriend Ann (Katie Tilley), and even Dan’s recently-fired groundskeeper (Warren J. Kenner).  Detectives Tony De Vivo (Michael Anthony) and Jim Bunch (Harold Sylvester, Jr. – a busy TV actor primarily known for his stint on Married With Children [1987-1997] as Ed O’Neill’s buddy Griff and for a few film roles from the early-’80s, including Taylor Hackford’s An OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN [1982], Ted Kotcheff’s UNCOMMON VALOR [1983] and Harold Becker’s VISION QUEST [1985]) soon have their work cut-out for them trying to brush off “idle threats” and simply getting frustrated at the convoluted goings-on within this family (“You honkies are crazy, man!”).  Further complications arise when Dan won’t honour his contract with the New York outfit that helped get rid of his sister and her boyfriend, which eventually leads to the rather surprising, if equally far-fetched, finale.
Micky Dolenz (left) and Jim Ralston react to Susan's revelation.

Notwithstanding his few directorial efforts – including NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969), WOMEN AND BLOODY TERROR (1970), and his Sasquatch/Bigfoot ‘creature’ feature The CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) – Joy N. Houck Jr. was predominantly associated with Howco (later Howco International), a film distribution company originally founded by his father Joy N. Houck Sr., fellow Louisiana filmmaker and director of The MONSTER AND THE STRIPPER (1968), Ron Ormond and J. Francis White, which helped provide films for their vast chain of theatres in the American South. 

Like their earlier AGFA release SUPERSOUL BROTHER (1978), Vinegar Syndrome has also released this as a bare-bones affair, and although the print is a little on the rough side with drab colours – the reds tend to look a little pinkish – it’s by far the best option available and worth picking up, especially for the very affordable price tag.  Order it at Vinegar Syndrome here. 
Patrick Wright as the hitman takes aim.