My exploration of the early or pre Leone spaghettis continues and the latest one to be viewed was this one.
I'm finding the process fascinating as I notice more and more elements which not only highlight the impact Leone had with FOD but also the hints already present of a sub genre about to blossom. In some, I believe I've also recognised clear national traits which overshadow the american setting and origins of the western genre. (In particular in the predominantly spanish film The Implacable Three.)
Jim il Primo however, despite being one of the first solely italian productions of this type, appears to be predominantly an attempt to make an american style western in the 1950s vein. The music is a million miles from what Morricone would introduce in the very same year and the moral ambiguity which became a hallmark of spaghettis is nowhere to be seen. Cameron Mitchell's character (Bill) is a white hat of Lone Ranger proportions for the most part while Livio Lorenzon's Jess is rotten to the core from start to finish. We also get the familiar scenario of cowardly townsfolk not helping the honorable sheriff and some syrupy kids to boot. (If only we could) So far, so predictable.
But there is an element which stands out as almost anachronistic in a western of this style and period. The brutality towards women (discussed recently in another thread here) is quite stark and sustained. It is an element which runs throughout the film, not just in an isloated occasion and the overall sense it gives is of impending menace to women throughout. In fact, Jess' gang of thugs who terrorise the town seem more intent on rape than gold and the first Stagecoach hold up results not in robbery but abduction of the sheriff's pretty wife and young daughter for lustful intent. Likewise, when the gang first enter town they descend on the saloon and immediately yell "Get the women down here!" In addition, we see, again as discussed elsewhere, the clear suggestion that the women, to a certain extent, are not averse to such overt abuse. The saloon keeper's daughter succumbs to one of the gang's less than subtle approaches in no time flat despite putting up a seemingly firey defense to begin with. But even though it is clearly the bad guys who exhibit the most unpleasant and menacing behaviour in this way they are patently not alone in their violent tendencies towards the opposite gender.
The town drunk, a figure of fun essentially, is told by the sheriff in kindly tones to let his wife do the beating in future when the man's young son comes to get him out of jail. The son then defends his old man, saying "Don't you beat your daughter sheriff, when she is naughty?" And even Bill, seemingly mild mannered and pacifist shop keeper that he is meant to be, raises his hand to his sweetheart when she critisizes his lack of action against the bandits. He doesn't actually hit her, instead he holds his hand as if to slap her and then kisses her passionately instead. Which apparently is hunky dorey for all concerned.
This level of abuse towards women raises it's head on more than one occasion in spaghettis over the coming years but it struck me as a real anomaly in a film which sets its stall out as trying to mimic the squeaky clean 50s style western in most other ways. Was Bergonzelli testing boundaries here or was it merely a manifestation of a southern european macho culture poking its head through the facade? I'm not sure, but I suspect the latter.
On the whole, the film was not one I would recommend to most. It is interesting in an historical context of the genre kind of way but by no means a must see movie. It isn't helped by the less than inspiring english dub it must be said. (I watched the Dorado Region 1 DVD) None of the actors seem to match their characters that well, except the evil cackling of Livio Lorenzon, but I found it particularly off putting to have the familiar voice of Cameron Mitchell replaced with some very stiff tones lifted straight from central casting.
All in all, I'm glad I watched it but its probably best described as one for the completists.