Friday 25 May 2012

Movie Review: A Genius, Two Partners And A Dupe (1975)

Arriving right at the end of the spaghetti western era, A Genius, Two Partners And A Dupe contains elements from both the best and the worst of the genre. The last western that Sergio Leone was involved on, he hated the final product and pulled his name from the movie. A Genius, Two Partners And A Dupe is not all that bad, but it could have been so much better.

Joe Thanks (Terence Hill), a creative quick-draw, teams up with the half-breed bandit Steam Engine Bill (Robert Charlebois) and Steam Engine's girlfriend Lucy (Miou-Miou) to steal $300,000 from the evil and racist Major Cabot (Patrick McGoohan). Not much goes according to plan, forcing Joe to constantly update his strategy to outwit the Major.

Leone directed the opening scene, a brilliantly sly echo of the magical pre-credit sequence in Once Upon A Time In The West, and also co-produced the movie. Otherwise he entrusted Damiano Damiani to deliver what should have been another epic of greed, betrayal, and larger-than-life drama.

Unfortunately, A Genius, Two Partners And A Dupe frequently loses its identity in the quest for laughs to suit the Terence Hill persona. Joe Thanks veers too far towards comedy and audience winks, undermining the serious business of trying to construct a memorably weighty western. The result is a disjointed experience, some epic moments paralyzed by awfully misdirected attempts at slapstick.

Two examples summarize the film shooting itself in the foot: a gun-fight between Joe Thanks and Doc Foster (Klaus Kinski, in a brief role to satisfy the German financial backers of the film) is provided with a long, clever, and intense build-up, only for the scene to be destroyed by a climax not even worthy of the local amateur circus act. Later in the movie, Thanks is captured by Major Cabot and held prisoner at a remote fort, oozing with possibilities. However, the escape scene deserves to be in a Benny Hill skit rather than a serious motion picture.

Some of the Monument Valley scenery captured by director Damiano Damiani is breathtaking, and the score by Ennio Morricone is a definite plus, reaching a breathtaking climax on the superlative Cavalcata. Morricone magically melds Beethoven's Fur Elise with his traditional spaghetti western themes in an act of musical wizardry, as Steam Engine takes control of a team of horses on a runaway wagon and Joe Thanks gives chase.

Leone intended the film to be a recreation of the magical quirkiness of the 1974 French movie Les Valseuse, which featured Miou-Miou with two competing outlaw lovers. But ultimately, A Genius, Two Partners And A Dupe in more of an attempt to bolt the grandness of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with the coarse comedy of the Trinity movies.  It doesn't quite work, but there is some fun to be had in the trying.

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