Monthly Archives: February 2013


Hill_Ace High [1968]So far in my Top 20 list of essential Italian cult movies I’ve looked at ‘The Trojan War’, ‘Maciste in Hell’, ‘Sons of Thunder’, ‘Blood and Black Lace’, ‘The Castle of the Living Dead’, ‘The Last Man on Earth’, ‘The Wild Wild Planet’, ‘Django’, ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ and ‘Django Kill!’. Here are 5 more classics that illustrate Cinema Italiano’s diversity and imagination.

‘Fellini Satyricon’ (Federico Fellini, 1969)
In complete contrast to Italy’s ‘sword and sandal’ epics and mythological costume adventures, Fellini’s ode to ancient Rome and Roman society is one of the most realistic, abeit heavily stylised, depictions of the historical era. It certainly captures the time’s debauchery and violence, and like Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St Matthew’, it has a ring of truth in its settings and characters. Fellini’s narrative is episodic, shambolic and almost nonexistent, as only fragments of Petronius’ source text remain. Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller), and their lover Gitone (Max Born), drift through a strange Roman landscape. Their encounters with various members of Roman society are startling, vivid and memorable. When it was shot in 1968-69, financed by producer Alberto Grimaldi, it was the biggest production to be filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome since ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), with 89 interior and exterior sets. ‘Fellini Satyricon’ was released internationally promoted by the tagline: ‘Rome. Before Christ. After Fellini’.

There’s a good 2.35:1 widescreen print of this available – in Italian with English subtitles – from MGM.


‘They Call me Trinity’ (Enzo Barboni, 1970)
Terence Hill and Bud Spencer (pictured at the top of this post) made three popular westerns with Giuseppe Colizzi – ‘God Forgives…I Don’t’ (1967 – aka ‘Blood River’), ‘Ace High’ (1968 – aka ‘Revenge at El Paso’) and ‘Boot Hill’ (1969) – before their first comedy western hit, ‘They Call Me Trinity’ (1970). It was concocted by writer-director Enzo Barboni as ‘E.B. Clucher’, the former cinematographer of spaghettis like ‘Django’ and ‘Django, Prepare a Coffin’. Hill played bean-eating drifter Trinity, a fast-drawing layabout who ass-drags around on a travois and Spencer was his half-brother Bambino, an ursine outlaw who is quick-on-the-draw but slow-on-the-uptake. This parody of ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ had the duo helping a community of pacifist Mormons, led by Brother Tobias (Dan Sturkie), against land-grabber Major Harrison (Farley Granger), who covets their pasture for his horses. Franco Micalizzi’s laid-back theme song, crooned by David King, has shown up recently in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’. An even more successful sequel followed in 1971, fittingly called ‘Trinity is Still My Name’.

The ‘Trinities’ have been released several times on videotape and DVD. The Nouveaux Pictures double bill is as good as any, but it’s currently out of print

Note, most prints of ‘Trinity is Still My Name’ are cut. In the fullscreen print that played on British TV in the 1980s on BBC1, several scenes play longer than in the DVD editions.

Hill_Trinity Is Still My Name2 [1971]

‘Milan Calibre 9’ (Fernando Di Leo, 1972)
Fernando Di Leo’s crime classic sees Ugo Piazza, aka ‘Potatohead’ (Gastone Moschin) released from prison after a three-year stretch. Money-laundering Godfather ‘The Mikado’ (Lionel Stander) wants to know where Ugo’s hidden the $300,000 he has stole from the mob, but despite beatings and torture Ugo remains silent. The hoods on his trail include Mario Adorf as greasy, sadistic blabbermouth Rocco Musco. Based on the novel by Giorgio Scerbanenco, Milan Calibre 9 was photographed by Franco Villa and boasts a powerful score by Luis Enrique Bacalov and prog-rock band Osanna.

Milan Calibre9

‘Milan Calibre 9’ is available in the Region One ‘Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection’ boxed set, with his other movies: ‘Manhunt’ (with Woody Strode and Henry Silva as hitmen), ‘The Boss’ (with Silva again) and ‘Rulers of the City’ (starring Jack Palance, this is the uncut version of ‘Mister Scarface’). All of these are well worth seeing, though they fall short of ‘Milan Calibre 9’ for sheer class.


‘Deep Red’ (Dario Argento, 1975)
A favourite among Argento’s fans, ‘Deep Red’ – in its uncut Italian edition – is the longest, most convoluted and most brutally violent Italian giallo. Jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses the murder of mind reader Helga Ulmann (Macha Meril). In contrast to the tenuous links and scant, implausible explanations of most gialli, Deep Red is very well constructed. Marc teams up with reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, Argento’s partner), to solve the mystery and the film’s now-legendary twist ending is perhaps the finest in cinema. There are some incredibly violent murders in this movie, involving elevators, meat cleavers, crashing glass, a scalding bathtub, a hook, a mantelpiece and a head-squashing. These are convincingly staged special effects by Germano Natali and Carlo Rambaldi, while the killer’s gloved hands are actually Argento himself. The thumping score is by Goblin and the film was released as ‘Suspiria 2’ in Japan.

The original Italian version is called ‘Profondo rosso’ and runs 126 minutes. The abridged US cut, titled ‘Deep Red’, ran a tighter 98 minutes. Both are available on this DVD:

get mean

‘Get Mean’ (Ferdinando Baldi, 1976)
This is the fourth film where Tony Anthony played The Stranger, a wandering chancer inspired by Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’. The first film was ‘A Stranger in Town’ (1966), also known as ‘For a Dollars in the Teeth’, which is a remake of ‘A Fistful of Dollars’. The sequel ‘The Stranger Returns’, owed much to ‘For a Few Dollars More’, while ‘The Silent Stranger’ (1969) packed the Stranger off to Japan. Ferdinando Baldi’s ‘Get Mean’ is by far the most outlandish of the quartet, with the gunslinger travelling from the USA to Spain, to escort Princess Elizabeth Maria De Burgos (Diana Lorys) to safety. The film was shot amid the beautiful castles in Granada and the deserts of Almeria, including the fortress built for the Lee Van Cleef western ‘El Condor’. In this imaginative pseudo-western, the Stranger is caught between turbaned Moors and Barbarian invaders (who resemble Vikings), led by chieftain Diego (Raf Baldassarre) and hunchbacked Sombra (Lloyd Battista, who co-scripted the movie).

Unfortunately, this hugely enjoyable adventure, which anticipates Anthony’s even crazier ‘Treasure of the Four Crowns’ and the 3D mayhem of ‘Comin’ at Ya!’, remains elusive for an official DVD release. It was issued in the UK on videotape in the 1980s by VCL VIDEO. Rene Hogguer at CineCity has a widescreen print on DVD-R

You can read more about all these films in my book ‘Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’, which is out now from I.B. Tauris.




Following Christmas, January’s always a quiet month. I’ve yet to see Tarantino’s spaghetti-style western DJANGO UNCHAINED, currently on release in UK cinemas, which the Daily Mail’s film critic Chris Tookey has described as ‘a loose remake of a little-seen 1966 film’. I’m still not wholly convinced that simply putting existing Morricone western music on a ‘new’ film will be entirely successful. It didn’t work for DRUMMER OF VENGEANCE (1971).


Djanuary has been a good month for Django DVDs though, with several companies capitalising on the release of Tarantino’s film. In the UK, Arrow Films have released Ferdinando Baldi’s DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN (1968), starring Terence Hill as Django, in their Arrowdrome cult movies strand. It’s a great print, with the English language track, and an Italian track with English subtitles, plus a full-colour collector’s booklet which I’ve written exclusively for the release.

Studio Canal has re-issued DJANGO SHOOT FIRST (1966), which was previously out in 2005, now with different, Tarantino-esque packaging. The print’s in great shape, in 2.35:1 Techniscope. I haven’t see this new issue, but if it’s the same as the 2005 release, there’s no English language track, only burned-on English subs to the Italian language version of the film. It’s still worth getting for the quality of the print, though Glenn Saxon hardly takes the role seriously.

DJANGO comes to Blu in the UK, with Argent’s release of Sergio Corbucci’s original classic. And in Germany Koch Media have unleashed the WESTERN UNCHAINED brand, again with Tarantino-inspired livery, with welcome DVD releases of LAST OF THE BADMEN, THE MERCENARY (A PROFESSIONAL GUN), NAVAJO JOE (also on Bluray), TEPEPA (also Bluray), DEATH AT OWELL ROCK, YANKEE, SUGAR COLT, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO, and SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD. All are English-language friendly, either via audio tracks or subtitles. For further details, visit the Spaghetti Western Database, which has a round-up of the collection and its specs.

In the US, Timeless Media Group have released two Django double-bills, which are good value for money. The first pairs George Eastman in DJANGO KILLS SILENTLY (1967) with Jeff Cameron as the hero in the excellently-titled DJANGO’S CUT PRICE CORPSES (1971). If the first film is a pleasant surprise, with a young Eastman effective as a hero originally dubbed ‘Bill il taciturno’, then the latter is hilariously inept – there are more (inadvertent) shots of cars in this movie than WACKY RACES. The second disk features Anthony Steffen in A MAN CALLED DJANGO (1971 – aka VIVA DJANGO, which was also an alternative title for PREPARE A COFFIN) and Demofilo Fidani’s DJANGO AND SARTANA’S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST (1970), which was included in the SARTANA: THE COMPLETE SAGA DVD set a few years ago. This newer print is far superior to the earlier one, and MAN CALLED DJANGO is presented in 2.25:1 widescreen. All four prints are excellent, have English language tracks, and are worth picking up for the rarity of the films.

Away from spaghetti westerns, Arrow Films has also released on Region 2 DVD Antonio Margheriti’s 1980s ‘Commando’ trilogy – CODENAME WILDGEESE, COMMANDO LEOPARD and THE COMMANDER. All three star Lewis Collins, who makes a convincing action hero, but it’s in the supporting casts where they really score, with back-up provided by Ernest Borgnine, Klaus Kinski, Lee Van Cleef, Brett Halsey, John Steiner and Donald Pleasence.


CODENAME WILDGEESE is a German print, in 2.35:1, with English language dialogue. It’s the shortest version of the film I’ve seen, at 84 minutes, compared to the UK videotape version which runs 89 minutes, but it has scenes in this short version that were new to me, which makes this edition pacier than earlier releases. The mercenaries are on their mission quicker here. Apparently the fully uncut version of the film runs 100 minutes. COMMANDO LEOPARD is the best of the trio. This time Collins plays a freedom fighting rebel in South America. This is the uncut version of the film, at 99 mins, in 2.35:1 with English dialogue, and comes with a collector’s booklet written by me, which discusses Margheriti’s career as director and special effects technician. COMMANDO LEOPARD has a great score, which includes uncredited excerpts from Morricone’s BATTLE OF ALGIERS (ok, so reusing Morricone’s music works sometimes). The third film, THE COMMANDER, plays like a send-up of the first two films, with John Steiner’s ‘ALLO ‘ALLO French accent one of the funniest you’ll ever hear. It’s worth viewing to see Lee Van Cleef back in action, shortly before his death in 1989, and his stunt double from spaghetti western days, Romano Puppo, also features. In an in-joke, two characters in THE COMMANDER are named after roles Van Cleef played in the 1950s: Jack Colby and Corporal Stone.




Arrow has also released THE NIGHT CHILD (1975), which stars Nicoletta Elmi (from BAY OF BLOOD and DEEP RED) in a tale of demonic possession and a cursed medallion (THE CURSED MEDALLION is the film’s alternative title). As with all of ex-cinematographer Massimo Dallamano’s films, it looks great, particularly when lensing the Umbrian scenery around Spoleto. Like Arrow’s other Dallamano release, SUPER BITCH, this one’s partly set in London. Richard Johnson, in one of his many Euro-movies, plays a director for the BBC making a documentary in Italy. Arrow’s DVD includes both the English language dub and the Italian version, with translated English subtitles. There’s also an informative career overview of Dallamano in the accompanying collector’s booklet by Calum Waddell. I found this made an entertaining double-bill watched back-to-back with Antonio De Martino’s 1977 OMEN rip-off, RAIN OF FIRE. Also known as HOLOCAUST 2000 and THE CHOSEN, it stars Kirk Douglas as an industrialist who’s convinced that his son Angel Caine (Simon Ward) is the Antichrist, when he tries to build a nuclear power plant in the Holy Land. These Italian copies of Hollywood movies are often superior to the movies they imitate, at least in terms of imagination and entertainment value.




To read more about Italian popular cinema, check out my books CINEMA ITALIANO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE ITALIAN WEST and SPAGHETTI WESTERNS.