Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

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First Samurai, Then Cowboys…. Now Guerilla Mercenaries

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Oggi a Me….Domani a Te! (Today it’s Me…Tomorrow it’s You! / Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!) (1968) PG-13 **** 1/2

Brett Halsey: Bill Kiowa (as Montgomery Ford)

Tatsuya Nakadai: James El Fego

Bud Spencer: Walrus O’Bannion

Wayde Preston: Ex-Sheriff Jeff Milton

William Berger: Francis “Colt” Moran

Franco Borelli: Bunny Fox (as Stanley Gordon)

Jeff Cameron: Moreno, El Fego’s Lieutenant

Dana Ghia: Marina Kiowa (as Diana Madigan)

Teodoro Corra: The Gun Seller (as Doro Corra)

Victoriano Gazzarra: The Gambler (as Vic Gazzarra)

Michele Borelli: The Prison Director

Written by: Dario Argento & Tonino Cervi

Directed by: Tonino Cervi

Synopsis: Bill Kiowa, after serving a prison term for a crime he didn’t commit, is determined to have his revenge on the man who framed him. The man is El Fego, a former friend of Kiowa’s who went mad, framed Kiowa for a robbery he committed, and then raped and murdered Kiowa’s Native American wife right in from of him. A friend of Kiowa’s points him to four men who can help him get El Fego and wipe out his gang of Comancheros: a burly brawler, a bored sheriff, a playboy, and a wanted gunman.

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Tonino Cervi, a little known but still very talented filmmaker, took the Italian Western back to its roots in Japanese Samurai films, particularly Kurosawa’s Shichinin no Samurai (The Seven Samurai), with Oggi a Me…., taking the tale of a group of expert marksmen going against a group of ruthless thieves and their sadistic leader and making it grittier and slightly ruthless. Instead of going with the usual seven, Cervi decided to make the odds a little tougher for the heroes and only went with five, but these five are just as tough and cunning, each with his own expertise and style. Playing towards the classic character traits started by Clint Eastwood, the five gunmen don’t say much, but their gazes and body language convey everything the audience needs to know about them. There’s no heroics initially among the motley crew of Anti-Heroes, and they’re all initially in it for the money the lead character is offering for their aid, but learning of their leader’s reasons for going after the bad guy and his cronies, the task of ridding the territory of scum is more alluring, though they still like the idea of being paid. The film offers one of the few cases of an Italian Western being filmed entirely in Italy, exteriors and interiors, as most filmmakers tended to prefer the deserts and plains of Almeria Spain for exterior footage, and shows the mountains and plains of the Italian countryside work just as well.

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For those with a keen interest to history, the Comancheros were a real-life loose federation of outlaws from every form of criminal life. These men were usually the most dangerous of outlaws and often had committed every crime in the book more than once. Since they were the lowest of the low and usually seen as the scum of the earth as they killed anyone and everyone without prejudice, the government of the Old West and those officials in charge of local territories actually considered the killing of a Comanchero an act of justice and usually rewarded those who got rid of them.

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Brett Halsey, credited under the pseudonym Montgomery Ford, an American actor who enjoyed an extended popular tenure in Italy gives Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Nero a run for their money as the brooding Bill Kiowa. An orphan raised by Native Americans, Kiowa straddles two worlds, and while surviving well in both, still contends with some bigotry. Halsey plays Kiowa as an otherwise decent man who, after being unjustly convicted and betrayed, becomes hardened and cynical, but still humane enough to not let revenge blind him to the lives of the four men who’ve agreed to help him. That there are those who believed he was framed and unjustly imprisoned give him reason to still believe in justice and humanity. Halsey’s acting talents and use of facial expressions are on full display here as he gives both memorable and meaningful dialogue and matches the iconic cold stares of his Italian Western contemporaries with equal intensity. His scene in the gun shop as two of El Fego’s henchmen try to get the drop on him is in the classic style of his contemporaries and even includes a little humorous wit as he trades glances with the shop owner to what he plans to do.

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Tatsuya Nakadai, a Japanese actor of immense talent and popularity in both his native country and abroad, is a scene and show stealing amazement in the role of El Fego. A Mexican bandit with a flare for the sadistic, leads his gang on rampages that leave no survivors, but this also proves to be his downfall as it’s a distinct calling card that puts Kiowa and his men right on the outlaw’s trail. What makes his villainy even more prominent and powerful is that he was once Kiowa’s friend and ally who all of a sudden turned on him, planted evidence to get him convicted of something he did, and then savagely assaulted and killed the man’s wife. Nakadai puts his trademark intense eye movements and equally intense, almost bordering on complete madness facial movements along with an equally twisted smile to great use that convey Fego’s mental imbalance perfectly. Director Cervi even pays homage to Nakadai’s iconic Samurai roles by having Fego’s weapon of choice be a machete, which the actor wields very much like a sword. The role in many ways harkens back to his star making turn in Kurosawa’s Yojinbo (Yojimbo), where Nakadai plays an equally vicious slime ball thug and to an equal, though slightly less, later role in Dai-Bosatsu Toge (The Sword of Doom), where he played a Samurai bordering on complete sociopathic madness. Nakadai actually combines both characters to make up El Fego and all the traits come into perfect harmony.

(Here’s a link to Brett Halsey’s interview on the SWDb website https://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Brett_Halsey_Interview He talks some about the film in the interview and has some really good praise for Nakadai and his performance)

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The four actors that make up the motely crew for Kiowa are good in their own respective rights. Bud Spencer (born Carlo Pedersoli), a former Olympic athlete turned actor, uses the hulk he amassed from swimming and water polo to great effect as the burly Irishman O’Bannion. As good with his fists as he is with a gun, O’Bannion is the first to be recruited by Kiowa for his revenge plot, and O’Bannion shows that even though he’s a big man, he’s as stealthy as a cat. While Spencer would become most well-known for his comic roles and his Laurel & Hardy like partnership with Terence Hill, he proved her he was just as good with straight dramatic parts. (Note: Spencer’s famous facial hair is actually a wig as he had to shave his iconic whiskers for the Lee Van Cleef Western Al di la della Legge [Beyond the Law]) William Berger, an Austrian-Naturalized American actor turns in his usually fine smiling deceptiveness in the role of Francis “Colt” Moran. A gambling gunman who begins the film in jail for shooting somebody over a card game, Moran joins up with Kiowa partly because Kiowa paid for his release from jail and partly when Kiowa and the others save him from being killed by a tricky gambler’s trigger-happy henchmen. The allure of the hunt and to get paid for it is what draws him the most to the hunt. Berger plays up Moran and silent and keeping to himself, but as he follows Kiowa into the badlands, he has become more curious as to how Kiowa will want the revenge played out.

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Wayde Preston, an American TV actor who joined fellow US actors in the Italian Western following CBS’ revenge on actors wanting better pay, turns in a decent performance as Jeff Milton. A sheriff completely dissatisfied with his job when the town he protects goes orderly, Milton joins up with Kiowa for excitement and a chance to help the territory get rid of the vicious Comancheros El Fego is leading. Franco Borelli, an Italian actor credited under the pseudonym Stanley Gordon, gives a pretty solid debut performance as Bunny Fox. A playboy, Fox’s preference for easy money has him say goodbye to a lady friend a join up with Kiowa and his boys. Being that this is Borelli’s debut film, he doesn’t get to improvise as much as his senior cast mates, but he’s shown as quick with a knife and athletic, making him a good candidate for sniper work.

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An interesting bit of camera work and storyline comes in a flashback when Kiowa and El Fego see each other for the first time since El Fego betrayed the man he once called a friend. The flashbacks are done in black and white and offer a nice contrast to the film’s general use of color, and also acts as a unique way of presenting what has occurred in the past and giving depth to the hatred these two men have for each other. The use of black and white adds to the intensity of the scene and gives a matter of fact view of the events and concentrates solely on the performances of Halsey, Nakadai, and the other actors in the scene.

The only real flaw with the film is what looks like the use of rapid, sudden, and quick cuts in certain scenes. At times it’s difficult to tell if this was intentional on the part of the director and editor, or if the age of the negative they restored had some flaws that couldn’t be fixed, but they are there. This doesn’t hinder the film in any way, but does make one wonder what exactly they are. Also are some audio pops in the first five minutes and last five minutes of the film, but again are in no way a hinderance as they don’t occur when the actors are talking or action is taking place.

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With a cold weather landscape, heroes with no allusions of glory or fame, and villains who let absolutely nothing stand in their way, Tonino Cervi take the concept that was first The Magnificent Seven and turns it completely on its head. The cast, especially Tatsuya Nakadai, give stellar performances and the story, while basic at heart, is made better by the director, the scriptwriters, and the cast. It might not rank as one of the top dogs within the Italian Western greats, but can certainly be seen as a minor classic that deserves rediscovery and re appreciation.

(I highly recommend this one for a fine story, good acting, and amazing locale shooting. It’s not artistically amazing, but still highly entertaining and offers up one of the most interestingly portrayed villains in the history of the Italian Western. The Blu Ray offers a fine transfer and audio choice. While not English friendly audio or subtitle wise, the Italian is still a good audio choice and has enough similarities to English to be understandable. The only downside to the Blu for myself was the forced German subtitles when selecting the Italian audio. It’s a complete hindrance, though it’s clear the subtitles are actually that of the German audio as sometimes subtitles pop up when their’s no dialogue. Other than that, the Blu Ray is quite good and worth checking out.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

Wikipedia/Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

The Spaghetti Western Database/Oggi a Me….Domani a Te!

Buying options

https://www.amazon.de/Dicke-ist-nicht-bremsen-Blu-ray/dp/B013QCIYVA/ref=sr_1_6?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1551285341&sr=1-6&keywords=tatsuya+nakadai

https://www.amazon.de/Dicke-ist-nicht-bremsen-Amazon/dp/B010VEMO7G/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1551285341&sr=1-6

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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