Saturday, August 28, 2010

In short: Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die (1968)

Bill Kiowa (Brett Halsey) has spent years in jail for a robbery he didn't commit. He has used his time leveling up his fast-drawing skills, and is now bound for revenge on James Elfego (Tatsuya Nakadai, oh yeah) who framed him and killed his Indian wife.

Kiowa soon learns that his enemy's gang has grown in the intervening years, and decides he'll need help in his vengeance project. So he puts together a team of four excellent gunmen (among them Bud Spencer and William Berger) to assist him.

Elfego for his part does not like to be hunted and tries to change his role from that of the hunted into that of the hunter.

Tonino Cervi's film would probably fall under the large umbrella of solid and entertaining examples of the Spaghetti Western genre I can not find a single word to say about, if not for the excellent stuntcasting of the great Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai as its big bad. Hooray for the Italian/Japanese friendship!

Unfortunately, the script doesn't give Nakadai as much to do as one would hope for (I suspect the language barrier made it difficult to let him do more dialogue-heavy scenes than strictly necessary for the plot), but Nakadai still does some excellent Kinski-style scenery-chewing, making bug eyes like Amrish Puri and looking dangerously mad quite like himself.

Cervi (or co-writer Dario Argento?) also puts in two fight scenes styled after chambara fights in which Nakadai wields a machete as if it were a katana, while the soundtrack pretends to belong to a Japanese movie. It's of course as ridiculous as it is awesome.

It's a bit of a shame the good guys aren't as interesting. While Spencer and Berger at least seem to have fun playing some of their stock characters, Halsey's "Franco Nero as Django" performance put comes over as a bit bland and unexciting instead of the mysterious and dangerous he is probably going for. The other two characters, as well as the bad henchpeople, are so underwritten as to be non-existent.

Today We Kill also starts off much slower than necessary. Once the film hits has hit its stride, though, it's getting exciting - though not original - enough. I'd call the film's finale of cat and mouse games in an atmospheric (and very European looking) forest even very good. Suddenly, Cervi's direction, perhaps inspired by the autumn forest, becomes moody and creative, at times even intense.

Intense enough that I'd recommend the film to non-Spaghetti-completists even without Nakadai's participation.


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