So the Randomatic 3000 just went and stirred up all kinds of shit. First it gives me two Bruce Willis movies in a row, then the movie turns out to be a remake of a classic Japanese movie AND a classic Spaghetti Western. Well what’s a Boy to do but just up and review all of them?
Last Man Standing
Bruce Willis – John Smith
Bruce Dern – Sherrif Ed Galt
William Sanderson – Joe Monday
Christopher Walken – Hickey
David Patrick Kelly – Doyle
Karina Lombard – Felina
Ned Eisenberg – Fredo Strozzi
USA 20 September 1996
When Bruce Willis first came on the scene in 1985 with the TV show Moonlighting he was a revelation. With his smart ass smirk, asides to the audience, and Glenn Gordon Caron’s funny, well crafted scripts he made a big impact. We all knew he would become a big movie star. Or at least have a chance at it. Would he crash and burn like David Caruso or Pernell Roberts before him, or would he make it big in the movies?
Well, in 1988 a little film called Die Hard pretty much answered that question. Willis played John McClane, a New York Cop on vacation in LA just in time to foil a terrorist plot. In DH Willis was able to pull off a tough guy in the Schwarzenegger mode but yet still exercise his comedy chops, and yipee ki-yay a movie star was born. The bad news is that, aside from a few exceptions like Death Becomes Her and 12 Monkeys, Willis has been stuck in action/angry cop mode and has hardly ever been able to display his gifts again, including in four Die Hard sequels that just get drearier as they go.
Last Man Standing is, unfortunately, not one of those exceptions. Willis gets to wear a 1930s era suit and fedora and shoot guns. Lots of guns. As in the previous versions of this story, he plays a man with no name. Technically he calls himself “John Smith” but nobody believes that. Smith is running from somebody and driving through Texas on his way to hide out in Mexico. He pulls into Jericho, “a jerkwater town maybe 50 miles from the border,” in his first five minutes there he looks the wrong way at the wrong girl and that leads to a shootout. Smith kills a bunch of people while barely getting his (thinning) hair messed up. Yep. This is one of those movies where the hero kills everybody he aims at and the bad guys shoot worse than Star Wars Stormtroopers.
This is Prohibition era Texas and Smith finds out that the farm teams from the Irish and Italian mobs are at battle in Jericho over liquor shipments from Mexico. Even though he got off to a bad start with the Irish, he quickly sets himself up as a double agent getting paid by both mobs.
In spite of a great cast it just doesn’t gel. Some of the cast is even wasted, they have the always great Walken but he takes forever to show up and then they take away his Walken vocal ticks and give him a weird gravelly voice because his neck got carved up in a previous fight or some shit.
Now to the original…
AKA: Yojimbo The Bodyguard
Toshirô Mifune – Sanjuro – The Samurai
Seizaburô Kawazu – Seibei – Gang Leader/Brothel Operator
Kyû Sazanka – Ushitora – Rival Gang Leader
Eijirô Tôno – Gonji – Tavern Keeper
Takashi Shimura – Tokuemon – Sake Brewer
Tatsuya Nakadai – Unosuke – Gunfighter
Yôko Tsukasa – Nui – The Kidnapped Woman
Japan 25 April 1961
Academy Awards USA 1962
|Best Costume Design, Black-and-White
Blue Ribbon Awards Japan 1962
Blue Ribbon Award
For Ánimas Trujano (El hombre importante)
Kinema Junpo Awards Japan 1962
Kinema Junpo Award
For Ôsaka-jô monogatari
Venice Film Festival Italy 1961
New Cinema Award
The original version of this story (although some claim it goes back to Dashiell Hammett) is basically an “Eastern.” A lone gunslinger (swordsman) rides (walks) into a dusty town to find that it is held hostage to a feud between two rival gangs. Those who should be the law are, either through cowardice or corruption, powerless to stop these gangs from destroying their town. As in the other versions, the lone figure initially seeks to use the situation for his own benefit, but is eventually led by his inner code to bring justice.
In this version the hero is a rōnin, a former samurai without a Master. We are told that it is 1860, and the Dynasty that employed samurais like this is over. Again, he is a man with no name. When asked his name he looks out at the landscape and calls himself after what he sees: Kuwabatake Sanjuro (Mulberry Field Thirty Year Old). Oh well, it’s a better name than George Glass.
This version is WAY better than Last Man Standing. Skip that one and see this one. To Western eyes like mine it might be hard to follow who’s who and what’s happening. My advice is, watch it once to let it wash over you, then read this synopsis from IMDb and watch it again with a new understanding.
Kurosawa was a film samurai himself and Toshirô Mifune and this character have been influential from Kurosawa’s work to today’s anime, and even John Belushi. Having said that, the movie is great but wasn’t quite as satisfying as some of Kurosawa’s other work I’ve seen like Seven Samurai. Still well worth seeing.
I would probably get more out of it if I had been exposed to the Samurai genre growing up as much as I was exposed to the Western. And about that…
A Fistful of Dollars
AKA: Per un pugno di dollari
For a Fistful of Dollars
The Man with No Name 1: A Fistful of Dollars
Clint Eastwood – Joe/Man with No Name
Marianne Koch – Marisol
José Calvo – Silvanito
Gian Maria Volonté – Ramón Rojo
Wolfgang Lukschy – John Baxter
Sieghardt Rupp – Esteban Rojo
Margarita Lozano – Consuelo Baxter
Language: English (Dubbed)
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists 1965
|Best Score (Migliore Musica)
|Best Supporting Actor (Migliore Attore Non Protagonista)
Gian Maria Volonté
One of the oddest film genres is the Spaghetti Western. It’s also one of my favorites. By the 1950s, the Golden Age of Westerns was coming to an end and Hollywood was beginning to lose interest in the Western. Meanwhile in Europe, filmmakers who had been fascinated by the work of Western directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford started to take the genre and put their own spin on it. Most American Westerns up to that point had been clean, bloodless, and had clear good and bad guys, but the Italian Westerns were dirty, sweaty, violent, and often the heroes were conflicted. In the best of them, such as Once Upon a Time in the West, you weren’t even sure who to root for.
If you will forgive the mix of metaphors or film genres, the Godfather of the Spaghetti Western was Sergio Leone; he may not have been the first Italian to make a Western, but his movies defined the genre. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of Spaghetti Westerns, Leone would be on it with Clint Eastwood and composer Ennio Morricone.
It’s hard to imagine anybody but Squint Eastwood in the part of The Man with No Name, the Stranger, the Rider on a Pale Horse (well, in this case a burro), but Eastwood was actually way down on a list that included Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. All of them would have done a fine job, as they did in other spaghetti-ish Westerns, but Eastwood made the anti-hero an indelible character of the late 60s and 70s with his squint, cigar, and his almost whisper of lines like “It ain’t very nice, you laughin’.” and “Get three coffins ready.”
A Fistful of Dollars follows the action beats of Yojimbo (so closely that Leone had to settle out of court with Kurosawa) and Last Man Standing. A lone figure rides into a Mexican town that is being held hostage to a war between two factions, this time it’s the Rojo family who smuggle liquor into the US, and Sheriff Baxter and his gang who run guns. By the time the movie came to the US a year and a half after its Italian release, United Artists made a big deal about Eastwood being “The Man with No Name” but the coffin maker calls him “Joe.” Whether this is his real name or it’s a version of “Mulberry Thirty-Years-Old” or “John Smith” we’ll never know. The character proved so popular that Leone made two more movies in what has come to be known as The Dollars Trilogy or The Man with No Name Trilogy and Eastwood kept playing versions of the same character for years.
Eventually the MWNN’s sense of moral outrage kicks in and he forgoes the chance to benefit financially in favor of helping these gangsters send each other to their graves. Although he doesn’t say it in AFOD, as in the other versions he sees that this town is full of men who are better off dead.
If like me, you enjoy your Westerns with lots of tomato sauce and garlic. Be sure to check out Leone’s follow ups to AFOD:
The real high point of the genre, along with 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West, has got to be The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (I’m sorry but I insist on the oxford comma). Set against the waning days of the US Civil War, it pits Eastwood against Van Cleef (playing a different character than in FAFDA), and Eli Wallach. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll leave it to you to find out who’s good, bad, or ugly. Some might think it’s a bit ugly for Wallach to be playing a Mexican, but I’m willing to give him a mulligan on it. After all, he was a Polish Jew who was raised in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn and he was able to pull off a Mexican bandit, a Rabbi, and a Mafia Don. And it worked, unlike Charlton Heston as a Mexican in Touch of Evil. This I do not forgive.
I give TGTBatU a Joel and highly recommend that you see it immediately.
Closing Love Theme
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN