Once Upon a Time in the Wild, Wild West (1973)
Co-written, produced and directed by Francesco Degli Espinosa
Well, I’ve seen it, the kind of film many have heard of (not favourably, that’s for sure) but few have actually viewed. The filmography of its director seems to boil down to this number and to that Holy Grail among giallo watchers, Giochi erotici di una famiglia per bene. Anyway, let’s get down to Once Upon a Time in the Wild, Wild West. Many take this emphatically vulgar and ill-assorted comedy to be the worst of all Spaghetti Westerns – I’m not out to challenge this view but what about the work of Juan Xiol? Well, let’s say that good it ain’t, although it’s quite characteristic among Italian westerns of its time: imitating the Trinity films, shot outside Rome, using Gordon Mitchell’s Cave Studios, using Mitchell himself and employing Fidani regulars in the cast.
The “story” (more on that later) is this: slobbish Joe (Benito Pacifico) and creepy Rico (one “Vincent Scott”, who looks like Robert Englund eating a lemon) are brothers who live together in a ramshackle hut with their crude, dirty parents – trailer types without a trailer. The brothers themselves are not too clean either and, furthermore, not given to much work, whiling away much of their time with brutal fisticuffs (staged Hong Kong-style). Their shrewish mother, tired of seeing this, yells them away to Stranger Town, where they are to join their successful saloon-owner brother(Gordon Mitchell) in the hope that they make good. And then…well, not much happens really. Sometimes the movie stops for fantasy sequences, musical numbers, free-for-all punch-ups, messy eating set pieces, some comedy at the expense of physical or mental disability, comic sex scenes; but no actual plot as such emerges, it’s really just things that happen. Some semi-plots do turn up and one expects them to develop, but they don’t. Two pretty saloon girls unaccountably fall for the central pair; there’s some short-lived business about one saloon girl’s black stepsister…We’re expecting the premise to be firmly established but after Gordon Mitchell loses all of his money in a game of cards, we suddenly realise that this was meant to be the climax, as what follows is clearly the last scene: the brothers have returned to square one and are once again fighting it out. The scene is exactly the same as that of the first fight, but the ending is slightly different.
The verbatim replay of an early scene obviously underscores the “back to the beginning” point, but this registers as simply a cheap and lazy excuse for saving on shooting time. A treatment and a script are credited, but, while a treatment may indeed have been written, the script has all the marks of being concocted on set and during the dubbing stage. It all feels as if the makers were simply making a story as they went along until they could barely reach the feature length mark: that is, 78 minutes. Equally patchy is the photography, generally competent, even good, but lapsing into graininess here and there, as if those scenes were the last to undergo lab work as the deadline approached. Also, although Degli Espinosa’s film is 100% Italian, I was irresistibly reminded of two Spanish models: the Calatrava Brothers comedies on the one hand, and the low-grade Ancient Rome sex farces of Jaime J. Puig (“Jacob Most”) on the other. Like Puig, Degli Espinosa will resort to intercutting scenes (the card game, Rico smooching with the black girl) on realizing that they’re too boring on their own. Pressed to look for virtues, I’ll confess my weakness for the look and locations of the Roman western and for Mitchell’s western town; and I did like the colour-coding of the characters. For the rest, this is best viewed the way you view the elephant man, not the David Lynch movie but the man. At least you can tell your friends: “I have seen this movie!”