Sunday, June 22, 2014

They Call Me Trinity (1970)

aka My Name is Trinity

Original title: Lo chiamavano Trinità...

Hygienically challenged professional drifter (with a horse), and probably fastest gun alive, Trinity (Terence Hill), by chance comes upon the town where his half brother Bambino (Bud Spencer) is working as a sheriff. Or rather, where Bambino has gone under cover as sheriff, for in truth he’s only a mildly successful horse thief with a grumpy disposition, and has taken the place of the town’s actual new sheriff whom he - half accidentally - shot.

Mostly, Bambino is trying to lay low, and the town’s nice and quiet enough for that, or it was before a group of pacifist Mormons (yeah, I know) lead by Tobias (Dan Sturkie) arrived, settling as farmers in a place horse magnate and practical owner of the town, Major Harriman (Farley Granger), wants for his horses. Up until now, the Major’s men haven’t done much beyond punching out a Mormon now and then, but the situation won’t stay this way forever.

Particularly not once Trinity takes a look at two pretty Mormonesses and decides he really should be helping their people out against the Major and his men, dragging the unwilling Bambino in with him.

It’s always dangerous visiting childhood favourites, particularly when you’ve already made the experience that Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movies don’t hold up when you’re not a kid anymore, even when you’re as childish a grown-up as I am doing my best to be at all times, so realizing Enzo Barboni’s They Call Me Trinity was actually a rather nice Spaghetti Western comedy turned out to be a very pleasant surprise for me. Which might have a lot to do with the fact this was actually the first comedic outing by Hill and Spencer after the success of the comedy dub of a much more serious earlier film – Boot Hill - featuring the two in Germany and elsewhere in Europe proved surprisingly successful, and this was the film that set the basics of the formula of the pair’s films instead of just repeating it ad nauseam.

What makes the film work beyond the often quite funny interplay between Hill and Spencer, with Spencer as always giving the grumpy straight man to Hill’s trickster, is its clear-eyed view of the elements that make up the Spaghetti Western. Unlike Tonino Valerii would later do with Hill in My Name is Nobody, Trinity doesn’t use that knowledge so much for a deconstruction of the genre as for the kind of mild comedy that clearly loves its genre too much to become a true parody yet can’t help but use the more ridiculous elements of it as the base for jokes. Quite a few of these jokes are really just slight exaggerations of the generally exaggerated things happening in Spaghetti Westerns (particularly those having to survive on actors making snake eyes at each other and one or two gimmicks), often used surprisingly subtly and with only the very mildest wink in the direction of the audience.

Despite what one is used to from later Hill and Spencer movies, there really isn’t all that much slapstick going on here, with most of the physical humour working more as a sub-set of sight gags; just with more punching on heads and shot down trousers, as if the film’s high concepts was to take the Spaghetti Western and replace most shoot-outs with light and fun brawls. An approach that certainly, given the general wiliness of Italian genre producers, doesn’t just by chance open up the genre to family audiences.

Consequently, and despite some cynical jokes, the resulting film is a rather good-natured concoction where the big bad is sent off to Nebraska after a big climactic brawl, where shot sheriffs walk around on crutches quite sprightly, and where tricksters can happily escape the threat of grown-up responsibilities while still helping out those in need if they put their mind to it. If this is supposed to be a conscious argument against the Spaghetti Western’s generally more cynical and bitter bent I’m not at all sure, though it’s certainly not impossible.

In any case, They Call Me Trinity proves how a capable director can take some very pessimistic (sometimes even cruel) genre conventions, and give them a believable twist in the direction of the good-natured, the fun, and the (dare I say it?) life-affirming, without having to turn to sappiness – at least in the realm of comedy.

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