Monday, June 07, 2004

Vultures...Aren't We All?
It's time to dish up some spaghetti...

Now you're watching a spaghetti western.

The first five minutes have gone by, and although there has been a fistfight, no one has been shot.

The lead character's name, you find out, is Kitosch. (Have you ever heard of a cowboy, gunslinger, or outlaw with a name anything like this? It's not even vaguely Italian. I wondered for a moment if it was one of those Turkish westerns.)

Kitosch, you recognize, is a spaghetti regular, grinning George Hilton. (I've only had lukewarm to bad luck with this guy so far.)

Most disturbing though is the sight of....(music sting here)...COWS! COWS in a spaghetti western! I guess it gives the movie something different and unusual, but virtually every "cowboy" in any spaghetti looks like a cow would be as foreign to him as an aardvark.

So that's where I was...stuck in horror...less than ten minutes into The Last of the Badmen (1967, d. Nando Cicero). I was rapidly beginning to believe that someone had lied to me. Everything I had read on this movie talked about how mean and nasty it was, and I'm looking at cows and a ranch. Something was rotten and unholy in Almeria, Spain.

It turned out that for the most part I had nothing to fear, but whoa did it seem grim.

The story starts off with amorous cowboy Kitosch (who I've got to refer to as Hilton for the rest of this lest I go mad typing that goofy d@mn name) tending to get his @$$ beaten for sleeping with the foreman's wife. Then he gets flogged for the same. Not one to learn his lesson, he gets branded (as in with a cattle got COWS!, you've gotta have brands) for trying to sleep with the ranch owner's wife. (His name is Don Jaimie [pronounced High-may] by the way, the next weird name in this thing.) So genius Hilton decides to walk away from the ranch, but the don's men grab him and bring him back. He gets another @$$ beating. (Actually I may have this out of order, this man gets his @$$ beat so many times in the first 15-20 minutes, it's hard to keep it straight). The next time around, he outsmarts the men, and acutally makes it to town.

When guess what happens? There's no horses. And the sheriff arrests him. And puts him in the slammer. And he's gonna hand Hilton back over to the Don.

Here's where the story became something I could recognize.

A funeral cart comes rolling into town, with a grim and black-coated stranger at the helm. The sheriff's men recognize him as Black Tracy! Ok so it's a little Popeye or something, but it's finally a name I can get behind. Nevertheless, I'm still a little nervous at this point. Black Tracy, according to my research, perpetrates the really bad stuff in this movie. Ok, fine, but Black Tracy is being played by Frank Wolff. Frank Wolff was a friendly faced actor who played the pioneer Brett McBain in Once Upon a Time in the West, and the likeable sheriff in The Great Silence. And now he's going quietly into the sheriff's station.

In the split second it takes Black Tracy to mow down the ten guys in the sheriff's station with one small hidden six-shooter, I knew I was back on safe ground.

Tracy frees Hilton...and of course...they're gonna do some crimes.

Ok, ok, so I'm glossing over some buddy-buddy stuff that provides the glue to make Hilton and Tracy friends. Mainly, this is because, while it plays on film fairly well, describing that sort of thing is oh so lame.

During all this we find out from Black Tracy that he escaped from prison, and is now on a hot path to revenge on his ex-wife and her lover. Here's where the movie gets mean. They find Tracy's ex-wife easy enough. Of course, they've somehow neglected to mention that she has an acute sensitivity to light (think Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Game of Death, only worse), so she sports a blindfold. Tracy starts plugging her for information, and it's rapidly making Hilton uneasy. Soon Tracy gets violent, and Hilton manages to get Tracy out of the room.

Ok, pause. Here I figured A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die would be my first and last encounter with gunslinger violence related epilepsy, but no, Tracy's on the ground in mid-seizure within moments. Well, to be frank he looks more like a pissed off and rabid dog than an epileptic...we'll come back to this later.

Anyhow, she coughs up the whereabouts of her lover and Tracy's former friend Big John after Hilton calms her and Tracy promises to leave her be. Well, if leaving a woman blinded by light in the middle of a blazing fire is leaving her well enough alone, then Tracy keeps his word. To a 'T'.

I should mention that 'Big John' is also a name I can handle in a Western.

They find Big John in the middle of a scheme to rob a transport of gold. If there is one thing you can count on in a spaghetti, people are always willing to transport gold across the middle of nowhere on a stagecoach, well-guarded or otherwise. Now, in the end, Tracy wants the gold too, but he and Hilton start attacking Big John and the gang of banditos he's teamed up with while they attack the coach. Of interest, these are the meanest for no particular reason Mexican bandits I have ever seen. The weirdest part of the attack is that Tracy uses this shotgun/grenade launcher thing, not to mention the black leather smock he's sporting.

Anyhow, Tracy and Hilton kill the bandits, get the gold and capture Big John. Here of course is where we get mean again, but let me digress. I'm not sure if we're supposed to be feeling sorry for Hilton through all this. Though understandable, it's not admirable that our hero, Hilton, gets his @$$ beaten every five seconds. As a villain, it's tough to be admirable anyway, but it's also tough to respect Hilton when he weenies out every time Tracy gets his revenge on. In this case, Tracy literally stars screwing (with real metal screws) Big John to a front door. Hilton starts to feel bad for the guy, and shoots him to put him out of his misery. This sends Tracey into another one of his fits.

Hilton runs off with the gold, and Tracy tracks him down to a lively cantina. Hilton says they can split the gold and go their separate ways. Well, Tracy, being a psycho, can't loosen up. So one hooker face down in a bowl of soup and a bunch of dead guys later, a whole mess of federales are after our heroes (Oh, at some point we ended up in Mexico...I guess.). They abandon the gold and escape.

Now Hilton decides that the only way to make up his loss, get rid of Tracy, and go his own way is to rob his former boss Don Jaimie. The Don should be loaded in money after just having completed his cattle drive (COWS!!). Well, this ends in kidnapping the Don's wife because he doesn't have the money on him, and they run off to a little country parrish to wait for the money.

At some point during this parrish bit, the priest offers something about Tracy's fits being the work of the devil. Now, Hilton gives a spiel on its being the fault of epilepsy which is neither evil nor supernatural. To be honest with you...I'd prefer it if Tracy was possessed, or just plain nuts. He's proven himself to be absolutely evil...well, we'll come back to this in a second.

So the Don's men show up and the shootout begins. Then the Don's men go away. Then Hilton and Tracy go downstairs, and the Don himself has shown up. He's got the money, he wants his wife back, and he's willing to deal. Of course, Tracy decides to liberate all the money for himself. And the showdown with Hilton commences...

Now the epilepsy thing again. Hilton starts egging Tracy on, getting him riled up. Tracy starts to lose it, he's shaking, and he fires. Hilton fires back, using the little conceable six-shooter that Tracy used at the begining which Hilton lifted from him at some point. Tracy dies. Now, if it had been possession or rage or psychosis, I would've been ok with this. Get they guy into a fit, and blow him away. But this epilepsy's weird...and it just doesn't fit. It's not satisfactory somehow, not to mention offensive to people with the disease.

So Hilton goes to leave...Now the Don, who's been a pretty nasty guy so far, inexplicably offers to just give Hilton the money, even though the threat is all gone. Fine, change of heart I guess...umm, weak...but, whatever. As Hilton rides off, the Don sees that he's bleeding. Tracy got him after all. It's weird poetic justice as Hilton was being bad after all. But you're supposed to feel sorry for him...I guess. You don't or at least I didn't, but I think you were supposed to.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what to make of this movie.

Wolff was a lot of fun as Tracy, despite the primary thing I didn't quite like about him.

Hilton was pretty solid, and a lot more of a bad@$$ then the grinning, sillier characters he usually plays. His turn as Sartana in the last of that series....well, it wasn't Terrence Hill silly...but Lord it wasn't good.

And as no COWS showed up past the opening scene...I guess they were ok too.

It was still mean enough to keep my interest. So many of these things get sadistic in the weirdest way. I find it psychologically fascinating. And it wasn't as sappy as some of the earlier spaghettis that tried their durndest to be Hollywood westerns. Yick. And it wasn't as empty and formulaic as many of the ones I've seen...but it didn't shoot to the loftier heights of some of the greats.

I'd watch it again. It's got that going for it.

Anyhow, I don't wanna talk about it anymore.


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