Monthly Archives: September 2012

NO SENSE OF YUMA

This week it’s a case of Who goes where? I haven’t watched BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ TV series since the departure of the Doctor’s ninth incarnation Christopher Ecclestone in 2005, but this week’s episode was of interest. It was a western-set story that according to the promo feature in TV magazine ‘Radio Times’ was filmed at Fort Bravo in Almeria, where many spaghetti westerns have been made.

The episode, ‘A Town Called Mercy’ by Toby Whitehouse, was passable B-movie sci-fi. The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his two compañeros Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are en route to the ‘Day of the Death’ festival in Mexico, when they are waylaid in the desert town of Mercy. The settlement is under siege from a cyborg, The Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke), which is aiming to kill its creator, Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough). I fell asleep in the middle, so can’t elaborate on the plot, but the finale had the Doctor facing The Gunslinger in the main street for a showdown at high noon. Arthur Darvill was given little to do as Rory, while Gillan for the most part looked like she wished she was somewhere else, which fitted the role and her character’s predicament perfectly. Byrd Wilkins was good as the town Preacher and Scarborough was too, as the cyborg’s ‘father’. The cyborg itself was a memorable creation – a B-movie mash-up of the Man With No Name, Django and the Terminator, in a poncho, bandoliers and with a laser cannon for an arm, as though Django’s machine gun has morphed into him. One of its eyes was Terminator-style robotics and given that its creator is called Jex perhaps that makes his creation One-Eyed Jex.

Western sci-fi is notoriously difficult to pull off. When it’s done successfully – as in the third ‘Back to the Future’ film, or ‘Westworld’ – it can work really well. For the reverse, see the hilarity that ensued when singing cowboy Gene Autry encountered the ancient subterranean civilisation of Murania in ‘The Phantom Empire’ (aka ‘Radio Ranch’). Doctor Who has been west before, in the 1966 four-part ‘The Gunfighters’ story. This was back when William Hartnell was the Doctor and his companions were Jackie Lane and Peter Purves. On TV, ‘The Prisoner’ had Number Six ending up as a sheriff in the episode ‘Living in Harmony’ and ‘Star Trek’ had the Enterprise’s crew at the Gunfight at O.K Corral in ‘Spectre of the Gun’. There have also been western-themed episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (including the famous ‘The Seventh is Made up of Phantoms’), ‘The Time Tunnel’ and many others. The most recent sci-fi/western ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ (2011) starred two great action heroes: Indiana Jones himself Harrison Ford and James Bond incumbent Daniel Craig. In the entertaining US TV movie ‘Time Stalkers’ (1987), professor of history and wild west expert Dr Scott McKenzie (William Devane) buys a job-lot of wild west ephemera at auction and finds a tintype photograph from 1886 of three dead outlaws on display in their coffins. The time-traveling mystery begins when he spots Klaus Kinski in the background of the photograph holding a .357 Magnum of 1980 vintage.

Despite its great western settings in Almeria, ‘A Town Called Mercy’ didn’t really capture the period and felt nothing less than a bunch of actors in costume on a western set in Spain. Disbelief was not suspended. The episode was shot at both Fort Bravo and Mini Hollywood. Fort Bravo is better known as Texas Hollywood and was built by Alberto Grimaldi for the Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western ‘Death Rides a Horse’ in 1967. According to the ‘Radio Times’ account of the ‘Doctor Who’ filming: ‘As Adrian Scarborough takes a break from filming his guest role to put on some sun cream, the arch he’s standing under is the one where Henry Fonda hangs Charles Bronson’s brother in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’.’ This seems highly unlikely, as Sergio Leone filmed this scene in the USA, near Monument Valley, and the arch collapsed years ago. Texas Hollywood has appeared in many shot-in-Spain westerns, including Blindman and several Charles Bronson movies.

Mini Hollywood is the better-known set and was used for more prestigious productions. Originally known as Yucca City, it was built in 1965 for Leone’s ‘For a Few Dollars More’. It was used as Santa Fe and Santa Ana in ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and also appeared in such films as ‘Navajo Joe’, ‘For the Taste of Killing’ and ‘Hannie Caulder’. It’s now known as ‘Oasys (Mini Hollywood)’ and thanks to the Spanish tourist industry, it looks like it will live forever. In 1968 Leone built another set in Almeria to make his fourth western, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, beside the railroad at La Calahorra. It was also used as the main set in ‘The Price of Power’ and ‘My Name is Nobody’, but in contrast to its predecessors, it has since fallen into ruinous disrepair and near dereliction.

Both Texas Hollywood and Mini Hollywood are tourist attractions that are still open today to day trippers. The Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood website is www.fortbravo.es. Many of the Almerian western locations are featured on this excellent Japanese spaghetti western locations website: http://y-yasuda.net/

Read more about the westerns made at Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood and La Calahorra in my books ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: the Filmgoer’s Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ and ‘Stagecoach to Tombstone: the Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns’, both published by I.B. Tauris.

BIG SCREEN, BIG ACTION, BIG GUNDOWN

At last the uncut version of Sergio Sollima’s spaghetti western ‘The Big Gundown’ is to be screened in the UK. Sony’s restoration of this 1967 classic is to appear as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival on 21 October 2012. See here for more details
https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=B5D6674B-1C6B-4614-BF95-DE3B3A58F38D&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id=DA5E0E55-8FBE-4753-962E-7A1AB95922E5

Director Sollima made two politically-flavoured westerns detailing the adventures of Manuel ‘Cuchillo’ Sanchez, a persecuted peon – the manhunt western ‘The Big Gundown’ (1967) and its treasure hunt sequel, ‘Run Man Run’ (1968). In ‘The Big Gundown’, Cuchillo is accused of raping and stabbing to death a 12-year-old girl. Wealthy Texan tycoon Brokston (Walter Barnes), a railroader in more ways than one, employs ex-lawman Jonathan ‘Colorado’ Corbett to track the Mexican down. But Cuchillo isn’t the varmint responsible and Brokston is protecting a land deal that will enable him to construct a lucrative railway line and aims to install Corbett in the Senate as his puppet.

Cuchillo can’t outdistance the law. ‘You can’t run fast enough or far enough’, Corbett tells him in the course of their lengthy chase, as Cuchillo tries to do just that. Corbett is played by Lee Van Cleef, in his best starring role outside his two Sergio Leone westerns (‘For a Few Dollars More’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’), while Cuban actor Tomas Milian is excellent in a star-making performance as ragged, crafty knife thrower ‘Sanchez the Knife’, who once believed in the ideals of Juarez, but who feels betrayed by the revolution and those who rose to power in its wake. Most of the film is a manhunt through the desert (filmed in Almeria and around Madrid), a deadly game of cat and rat, as sidewinder Cuchillo repeatedly outwits his pursuer. Gerard Herter is memorable as Brokston’s Austrian bodyguard Baron Von Schulemberg and Antonio Casas is an ex-gunfighter, now a monk christened ‘Brother Smith and Wesson’. Nieves Navarro played sadistic cattle rancher, the Widow, with her gang of toughs memorably portrayed by spaghetti stuntmen Frank Braña, Benito Stefanelli, Luis Barboo, Antonio Molino Rojo and Van Cleef’s stunt double Romano Puppo. The finale is a triple duel, with Cuchillo versus Brokston’s son-in-law Shep, then Corbett against the Baron and finally Corbett against Brokston. The score by Ennio Morricone includes the rousing title song ‘Run Man Run’, sung by Christy, and features the percussion-driven stampede ‘La caccia’ (‘The Chase’), for a breathless manhunt though cane fields, as Brokston and his hunting party deploy beaters and dogs to flush Cuchillo into the open. In fact, as with so many Italian and Spanish films, for a long time the soundtrack, one of Morricone’s finest and most popular, was much more freely available than the film itself. ‘The Big Gundown’ was a great success in the US, taking $2 million when it was released in 1968 by Columbia Pictures, but the uncut version of the lesser-known ‘Run Man Run’ has been available on DVD for many years

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Run-Man-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B0001KUE78/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1347460907&sr=1

www.amazon.com/Run-Man-Tomas-Milian/dp/B0001KUE78/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1347461317&sr=1-1&keywords=run+man+run  

There have been various different TV showings and DVD releases of ‘The Big Gundown’, at several lengths, ranging from 84 minutes and 95 minutes to its full length of 105 minutes. This new restoration is the complete version with all the scenes previously missing from shorter versions intact, which means we should get the complete opening scene, where bounty hunter Corbett waits patiently in woodland to ambush three escaping bank robbers.

The full story behind the film, its influences, casting, shooting locations and making of, is covered in detail in the chapter ‘The Dogs of Juarez’ in my book ‘Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns’ (IB Tauris, 2004), which is available in hardback, paperback and on Kindle.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Once-Upon-Time-Italian-West/dp/185043896X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347460976&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-Italian-West/dp/185043896X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347461208&sr=1-1&keywords=once+upon+a+time+in+the+italian+west