Tuesday 27 August 2019

Movie Review: My Name Is Nobody (1973)

A comedy spaghetti western, My Name Is Nobody explores the passing of the old west through the story of an old gunslinger being helped into a legendary retirement by a mysterious admirer.

Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) is the undisputed fastest gun in the west, but tired of all the killing and seeking to sail to Europe and a quiet retirement. After fending off killers from the Wild Bunch gang, he meets a stranger calling himself Nobody (Terence Hill) who claims to idolize Jack and wants him to confront and kill all 150 Wild Bunch members in an epic showdown as a career exclamation point.

Beauregard is not interested, but Nobody persists, shadowing the older man's every move and demonstrating knowledge of Jack's gunfight history. Meanwhile, the Wild Bunch are the enforcement arm for a criminal money laundering operation centred on a fake golf mine managed by Sullivan (Jean Martin), who used to be partners with Jack's now-dead brother Nevada. Fearing revenge, Sullivan wants to either kill or buy-off Jack.

Among the final batch of decent spaghetti westerns, My Name Is Nobody bolts together the sub-genre's late-cycle penchant for slapstick-level comedy with more serious epoch-defining themes. The results are decidedly mixed. The quest for a definitive showdown to draw the line under the era of hard men taming the land and each other is admirable. But between defining the goal and achieving it the film spends an inordinate amount of time in childish prank territory, and some of the jokey scenes are interminable.

The concept was devised by Sergio Leone, who also directed a few scenes, although the bulk of the film was helmed by his former assistant Tonino Valerii. My Name Is Nobody often looks gorgeous, and Valerii achieves some astounding shots of the 150 Wild Bunch riders galloping across the terrain, in wide angle and towards the camera. With Ennio Morricone providing a playful music score featuring the rousing theme from Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, these scenes are spine tingling in their beauty, but also repeated often in an admission of the minimal narrative content besetting the film.

The money laundering fake gold mine scheme is supposed to underpin the plot, but is mysteriously under changed. Between bouts of sometimes admittedly funny comedy (Nobody having fun with a town fair rotating statue is an on-point literal re-interpretation of slapstick), Fonda and Hill debate the destiny of the old men of the west and gradually converge to a time and place where legends are confirmed then confined to history. Both actors are fully invested in their roles, and the film works best in the scenes when Fonda and Hill as the past and future share the screen with no distractions.

Both in the name of the outlaw riders and in a reference to a graveyard headstone, My Name Is Nobody tips its hat to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, one of cinema's ultimate references to the west's transition. Once the legends ride (or sail) away, only the nobodys are left to succeed them.

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