Love It Or Hate It, MY NAME IS NOBODY Remains A Singular Vision Of The West
Oct 31, 2013
I’m the atypical male in that I generally abhor slapstick. Not all slapstick (that’s why I said ‘generally’) but most of it. Three Stooges-type stuff? I just never found it funny or all that inventing as a storytelling much less comic device. Still, true slapstick has a very loud following – much of it men – and, despite the passage of time, like an old gunfighter it just refuses to die. How fitting is it then that this comic form would somehow find its way into a classic Western? One conceived and produced by no less a legend than Sergio Leone? And even one starring acting legend Henry Fonda?
Argh! MY NAME IS NOBODY is a West too wild to tame!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Jack Beauregard (played with accomplished grace by the late Henry Fonda) is one of the West’s most accomplished and notorious gunfighters; still, all he’d like to do now is escape the clutches of history and live out his days in a peaceful retirement. Finally, he’s intent on doing just that, but the impetuous young gun who calls himself Nobody (Terence Hill in a starry-eyed performance) thinks Jack should meet his end different, being embraced by the history he’s made but running so hard to get away from. If he has anything to say about it, Nobody will make that dream of his come true … even at the cost of Jack’s life!
I don’t want to browbeat anyone over the issue of comedy (i.e. the aforementioned slapstick). On the humor front, I’ll simply say this: it works about fifty percent of the time it’s used in MY NAME IS NOBODY. I don’t like the camera trickery, though – speeding up frames in order to make someone look like a faster draw than they truly are – because it’s obvious and, when it’s used, it ends up pulling me out of the narrative instead of pulling me in. That’s the downside to special effects like that whenever they’re employed, and I suspect director Tonino Valerii knew it was a calculated gamble.
But if NOBODY had been done without its shticky humor, I happen to think that the film probably wouldn’t be as wildly revered as it is by those who revere it.
See, the dirty little secret is that the American Western has been dubbed the only truly unique American story. It embraced a specific vision – one with wide vistas and rugged people with flinty stares aimed down the barrel of their guns – and it utilized specific themes – individualism, the pursuits of justice, the taming of lawlessness, etc. While those are all present in NOBODY, the story as conceived by Sergio Leone is clearly meant to poke fun at all of it not as a disservice or disrespect to the history of the Western but rather to thumb its nose and say, “Enough already with the seriousness.”
That’s why the comedy works the way it does here. True, humor is a difficult concept; as many people laugh as they do smirk or as they do moan, but it’s very clear where the jokes are in NOBODY. It’s almost as if Fonda and Hill were winking at the camera though they never did. They ‘got’ it. They never cared whether the audience ‘got’ it. And that was probably half of the fun.
Beyond the laughs, NOBODY remains a legitimate contender alongside any of Leone’s other films. (There, I said it!) It has the same scope, feel, texture, grit, and passion of anything else he contributed to, and I’ve no doubt the two leads enjoyed chewing scenery together. Separately, they have their moments; yet in those scenes that they’re together the chemistry is palpable. It isn’t often that you get two acting geniuses doing what they do best; since this was Fonda’s last Western, that may be why. But Hill’s take on the film is that it remained one of his favorites.
Though others may disagree, I can certainly understand why.
MY NAME IS NOBODY: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (1973) is produced by Rafran Cinematografica, Les Filmes Jacques Leitienne, Imp.Ex.Ci, Alcinter, Rialto Film Preben-Philipsen. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds astonishingly solid, but, unless I miss my guess, this appears to be simply a Blu-ray issue of a 2002 remaster; still, I’m no expert in that regard. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the film on its original release won the 1974 Golden Screen Award (Germany) designed to recognize films that receive a high percentage of movie-ticket sales for its release window; that’s nothing to sneeze at. Lastly – as is sadly the case when some of these older films find contemporary release – there are no special features to speak of; I would’ve liked something given the fact that these film is 40 years old (no retrospective?), but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. MY NAME IS NOBODY is a divisive film. Those who love it tend to do so for very specific reasons – the humor, Sergio Leone’s participation, Terence Hill or Henry Fonda fans – while those who hate it usually cite the exact same detriments – the humor, Sergio Leone’s participation, or they’re not fans of Terence Hill or Henry Fonda. Whatever your tastes, if you like Westerns, then NOBODY should be on your must-see list for that reason alone: Leone’s vision – while it may be flawed – is still one of the most impressive scopes ever applied to that singular American story (the Western), and it boasts some of the best (and debatably the most ill-conceived) cinematography of its kind.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of MY NAME IS NOBODY: 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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