Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Man Called Noon (1973)

aka Un hombre llamado Noon

A man (Richard Crenna) is nearly assassinated while making what looks like preparations for a classic western showdown. He barely manages to escape with his life and – after a somewhat nightmarish chase – finds himself sharing a hobo-style train ride with the surprisingly friendly outlaw Rimes (Stephen Boyd). The man does need all the help he can get, it seems, for a grazing shot to the head has left him without memory; he only remembers that his name is Jonas, and that someone named Janish was involved in the attack on him, but apart from that he has no idea what’s going on with him whatsoever.

Rimes takes Jonas with him to the ranch of Fan Davidge (Rosanna Schiaffino), which just happens to be a place a certain Janish has turned into a safe house for his bandit gang - without Fan’s consent. Janish isn’t on the ranch right now, but various dangerous developments suggest that Jonas is actually a gunman called Noon. At the very least, he has very practical experience with meting out brutal violence, and is certainly a ruthless man.

Both traits will come in handy once various people start trying to kill Noon while he’s trying to solve the mystery of his own identity; a gold treasure is involved too.

Peter Collinson’s British-Italian-Spanish co-production (of course shot in Spain) The Man Called Noon is quite an interesting film. An adaptation of a Louis L’Amour novel, the film stands with one foot in the realm of the psychological western as made in the United States during the 50s, with the other – particular when it comes to its depiction of violence - in the world of the Spaghetti western. Collinson made quite a few fine genre films that often seem to straddle eras and sub-genres the way Noon does, never quite reaching the heights that give one posthumous cult status as a director, but generally turning out films at least worth watching.

Noon certainly is, despite being marred by a slightly overcooked finale that contains more melodramatic posturing than the rest of the film together. Outside of the finale, the film is tight, yet often growing unreal and dream-like. Particular some of the scenes of violence are filmed with stylistic methods you can often see connected with dream sequences, suggesting its action taking place in Noon’s (to leave it at that name) mind as much as in the outside world.

Even outside the action scenes, Collins tends to position his camera at peculiar angles, shooting very traditional western scenes in uncommon ways that turn the often seen into something a bit stranger. I suspect it’s an attempt to let the audience share some of Noon’s confusion, the befuddlement of someone who still knows the rituals of his job and genre by instinct, but doesn’t know what they’re actually meant for. From time to time, Collinson overdoes this a bit and things threaten to feel a bit silly, but the largest part of the film expresses a peculiar mood of alienation very much its own, with Noon stumbling through a fun house mirror world quite like a noir protagonist who isn’t at all sure anymore if he’ll want to find the truth about himself. Although, it has to be said, Noon lets its main character off quite lightly in the end.

Richard Crenna does a good job on the acting side, believably embodying Noon’s state of confusion and basic decency as well as the coldness and ruthlessness he only still remembers as reflexes. Crenna’s performance even suggests another dimension the script doesn’t really seem to be interested in: that forgetting parts of what he was is exactly what enables Noon to change and possibly find a future, his loss of memory helping him regain some buried part of his humanity (while killing a lot of people, of course).

As a fan of European genre cinema of the era, I’m also happy with the rest of the film’s cast, the well-known faces of Farley Granger, Rosanna Schiaffino, Aldo Sambrell and last but not least Patty Shepard, who gives a pretty unhinged performance as capital-e evil Peg Cullane. Why, Shepard’s so evil, she even owns an adorable black cowboy outfit she wears when she’s out doing evil!

And if that doesn’t sound like a recommendation, I don’t know what does.

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