Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In short: Hate Thy Neighbour (1968)

Bandit leader Gary Stevens (George Eastman) and his gang kill a guy named Bill Dakota and his wife, accidentally leaving the couple's little son Pat (Claudio Castellani) alive.

When Bill's brother Ken (Spiros Focas) hears of the affair, he is rather displeased. After a bit of fisticuffs to punish the local sheriff for not helping his brother against Stevens (the film's forgetting this plot element after the brawl, so there's no need for me to get into it any further), Ken grabs the comic relief funeral home owner and hobby musician Duke (Roberto Risso) and rides off to Mexico, where Stevens is supposed to hide out.

It turns out that Stevens killed Bill to acquire a map leading to a hidden goldmine, and that the bandit has a partner - Malone (Horst Frank in his usual sadistic rich guy in a white suit role), a big shot in Mexico. Not that Ken does anything with that information once he has it…

Stevens and Malone soon don't see eye to eye anymore, and so Malone puts his old buddy into a death trap (elements: rope, snake pit, rope-gnawing rats). In an intensely un-Spaghetti Western scene, Ken frees Stevens and drags him in front of a judge who does in fact sentence the bad guy to death by hanging.

Of course, that's not the end of it all. Malone frees Stevens, Stevens kidnaps Pat and Ken finally has to get off his arse to do something more lethal.

Abstractly, Ferdinando Baldi's Hate Thy Neighbour is a well-made film. It's beautifully photographed (nice locations, some clever framing) by Enzo Serafin (in the business since 1941), well edited, in short just plain nice to look at and technically excellent.

Unfortunately, its visual slickness can't hide the film's lack of substance or excitement. The script just seems to go through the motions, working through Spaghetti Western tropes without truly making use of them. The film drops each and every interesting idea it has after about five minutes, never to mention it again, reminding me of the main character in Memento, but without the tattoos.

The characters are neither developed nor used as archetypes. It's a little as if they all were just standing around in front of the cameras because they had nothing better to do. Even dependable character actors like Horst Frank and George Eastman aren't projecting much of their usual charisma here.

Worse, Spiros Focas might be the most boring Spaghetti Western hero I have ever seen. I'm now terribly sorry for ever having made fun of Dean Reed. I couldn't mention even a single character trait, or a gimmick, or anything memorable about Hate Thy Neighbour's supposed central character. Even his clothes are boring.

You'd think that Ken's insistence on bringing Stevens to court instead of killing the man himself would give him at least a little bit of depth, but the film and Focas present this moment in so flat a way that there is just not the slightest bit of resonance to the scene. Like everything else in the film, it seems only to be there to fill out the running time with something, anything, as long as it just wastes another five minutes of the viewer's life.

Somehow, I don't think that's what a genre movie should do.


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