Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In short: They Call Me Hallelujah (1971)

aka Heads I Kill You, Tails You're Dead!

aka Deep West

Mexican revolutionary general Ramirez (Roberto Camardiel) hires the mercenary gunman Hallelujah (George Hilton) to retrieve a bag full of jewels "Emperor" Maximilian has sent to the US to buy machineguns with.

It's a more difficult job than anybody could have suspected. At first, Hallelujah manages quite easily to get the jewels from the bandits (who just love to dress up as monks) of a certain Fortune (Paolo Gozlino), only to realize that these particular jewels are fakes and therefore quite useless. Hallelujah's next step is to have a look if Mr. Krantz (Andrea Bosic), the man selling the machineguns, has already gotten his pay. That's a dead end, too, and certainly not the last one the gunman will enter.

And of course Hallelujah, Fortune's men, Ramirez and Krantz aren't the only ones looking for the jewels, there are also the soldiers of Maximilian, a nun with peculiar talents (Agata Flori) and later on a Cossack with a shooting balalaika (Charles Southwood). Fortunately, Hallelujah is not only the owner of a shit-kicking grin, but also likes to stuff things in people's mouths before he hits them. Well, and owns a sewing machine which moonlights as a machine gun and a grenade launcher (or the other way round). Whatever could go wrong for him?

As you might imagine, They Call Me Hallelujah is firmly on the absurdist comedy side of the Spaghetti Western divide. That fits the talent of its director Giuliano Carnimeo - as I might have mentioned once or thrice by now never one to let depth get in the way of his fun - quite nicely, of course.

This time, Carnimeo actually makes a handful of jokes that could be read as political, as we have untrustworthy revolutionaries, dubious priests and corrupt people in power getting ridiculed, but apart from a vague sympathy for the revolutionaries, Carnimeo's again not committing to anything. It's understandable, too, because the director has way too much on his hands already with presenting his increasingly silly cast of characters with increasingly silly plot twists that not always tend to make sense, and working quite hard at putting a smile on my face.

There's no idea too obvious or too silly for Carnimeo, yet I find myself unwilling to criticize this theoretical problem in a film that is so enthusiastic about presenting everything from black humour about the problems with hanging doctors to jokes about diarrhoea to absurd characters like the "Cossack" Alexei with the delighted gestures of someone having the time of his life.

The actors are also having their fun it seems, with Hilton, Southwood and Camardiel carrying the main load of the absurdities and the fun with verve and a wink.

By now, I'm quite convinced that Carnimeo was the king of the light Spaghetti Western, only slightly less insane yet much more in control of the pacing, the actors and the craftsmanship of his films than most of the other of the less ambitious filmmakers of the genre. Often, making films that only want to entertain is a tired excuse for filmmakers to not put any of their heart and soul into their films. Carnimeo on the other hand seems to have put all his heart and soul into making his films entertaining.


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