My Name is Nobody (1973)

For those familiar with the tales of Odysseus, My Name is Nobody earns its name from the witty trick the Greek hero uses to escape the Cyclops. However, the movie should draw more comparisons to the works of Sergio Leone than Homer.

It’s difficult not to immediately calibrate the film’s first scene against something like the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West; it’s as much about the stretching and manipulation of time as it is the near-wordless actions. There’s even a clock ticking in the background.

We have a callback to Fonda getting a shave at the Tonsorial Parlor in My Darling Clementine (feet even propped up) however, here the scene is done up with this new sense of impending dread, and we can’t quite fathom why. We just feel it.

Again, getting a shave, milking a cow, brushing a horse, are mundane activities undertaken by three strangers, and yet the scene imbues them with this uneasy energy. They could be Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and Al Mulock biding their time at the creaking train depot for Charles Bronson.

Although Leone’s not the director; he conceived the original idea, and Tonino Valerii, who was Leone’s assistant director on some of his most prominent films, knows what it means to milk the moment through images and sound.

It’s not even the heart and soul of the movie, but like the earlier picture, it gives us the essence of the style and certainly Jack Beauregard. Because after giving the public a shock by turning Henry Fonda into a bad man, Leone’s done the western icon one last favor by canonizing his legacy for a final time.

Before any of this gets perilously high-winded and overly contemplative, it should be mentioned forthright that My Name is Nobody remains an unadulterated comedy on multiple accounts. Given what I’ve said already, I’m not sure if this comes as a shock or not. But what’s even more imperative is how it’s intended to be this way.

The dialogue is pure pap. It feels generally tone-deaf and totally out of sink with some of the best images of the movie, but this is all very much in the tradition of the Spaghetti western no matter the language, locale, or subject matter. It’s telling the only actor who actually dubbed himself was in fact, Henry Fonda. Again, he’s given the ultimate deference and his audience probably expects nothing less.

I’m also no music man, but there are elements of Ennio Morricone’s compositions here — the man who wrote the book on the Spaghetti soundtrack — seeming to gleefully parody himself. The interludes during the title credits are merry and gay literally popping with an almost sickening buoyancy. Later, it devolves into a melding of Wagner and chanting chorale arrangements that can only hearken back to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Here we get our first look at Terence Hill. He’s a vagabond who catches fish with his bare hands. This too builds off the same persona he had in They Call Me Trinity. He’s the anti-Eastwood if we can call him that — bearing a convivial manner — though equally adept when it comes to gunslinging.

Since there is no Bud Spencer, he gets Henry Fonda as his main partner in crime. Nothing against his most prolific friend and countrymen, but you’re definitely getting a different kind of picture with this change in personnel.

True, it’s hardly Fonda’s best work, but he feels strangely at peace with his surroundings and coolly confident since he’s done this so many times before. He’s not capable of going into parody in the same manner as Morricone’s score. Or if he does, it only aids in burnishing his already established legend.

Because he has a pedigree with forging the West you never had in a movie like They Call Me Trinity, though it shared some tonal similarity thanks in part to Terence Hill’s quick drawing ne’er do well. Fonda manages some amount of grandeur in a movie that otherwise is happily preoccupied with slapstick and scatological humor. There’s Sam Peckinpah’s name listed on a tombstone for goodness sake! And yet Henry Fonda, that is Jack Beauregard, provides a certain level of enduring gravitas to the proceedings.

It functions relatively effectively because Nobody (the name of Hill’s character) idolizes the older gunslinger so much. He makes us believe in him even as many of us bring our own history with Fonda to the movie already. The younger gun can best be described as a historian of Jack Beauregard and better yet a fanboy. He knows all about his exploits and has followed him from his earliest days.

He’s a peculiar sort of figure. At once, seeming to jostle for the spotlight and dog the renowned fighter, and at the other end, trying to grow his acclaim. He wants people to remember Beauregard as the larger-than-life figure he was in real life on countless occasions. But he also wants the man to go out by living up to his expectations. He can only do this by facing off with The Wild Bunch, a pack out of outlaw roughriders at least 100-strong.

The fun and games of the movie happen at a bustling carnival. Nobody takes the time to shoot a stilt walker down to size and pie a fat-headed vendor. He’s equally game for some gunplay in the saloon showcasing both his tolerance for alcohol and his uncanny sharpshooting.

All of this feels like an audition for a bout with Beauregard. Because the whole movie they toy with their adversaries, whether it’s in a funhouse, over bombs, or dynamite. Nobody ably turns some of his playthings into bobo dolls and runs off with a train filled with gold after staring down the engineer in a urinal. Yes, this really happens.

But of course, the movie is never about rivalry and this is how it sidesteps the usual trope others will remember from The Gunfighter or I Shot Jesse James, et al. In the final stand we have The Wild Bunch kicking up a dust storm in a face-off against a solitary, bespectacled Henry Fonda at the ready with his shotgun. He’s kept his part of his bargain, for the sake of his legacy and his ever-present shadow has provided him a fitting piece of assistance.

Although I have little call to cast aspersions on the picture, it feels like My Name is Nobody strives to be both comedy and elegy. It can never fully succeeds at either, but there are distinct elements to be appreciated. One of these is Fonda, and he goes out as a “national monument” rightfully so.

It’s not his greatest western by a long shot, but his last round in the saddle puts a fitting denouement on Fonda’s career adding its own addendum to the kind of Liberty Valance mythos or the cyclical lineage of toxic gunfighters. The pronouncement “Nobody shot Jeff Bearegaurd” maintains its double meaning. Sometimes myths aren’t bald-faced lies. They can also be acts of willful preservation and frankly, peace of mind.

In My Name is Nobody, there’s a warm jocularity to it all, down to the very last shot. It’s an accommodating movie, and although this keeps it from being totally profound, that’s okay.

3.5/5 Stars

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

58390-cinemaparadisoTo the casual viewer, Cinema Paradiso can seem like a plodding film, but this pacing is almost necessary since it reflects the passing of the years for one individual. It has been 30 years since Toto left his hometown as a young man never to return. Now he gets a call from the mother he never talks to, with the message that Alfredo has passed away.

The memories become coming back from when he was a young boy in the post-war years. He had a knack for getting into trouble, falling asleep as an altar boy, and getting scolded by his mother. She was especially displeased with his obsession with the movies played at the local theater called Cinema Paradiso. It is there where Toto has his first encounters with the great legends of film, but also perhaps more importantly, the projectionist Alfredo. Initially, the middle-aged man finds the boy a nuisance but slowly a close bond forms between the two. Alfredo teaches little Toto the tricks of the trade and the movie hall flourishes with packed houses all the time. You see, it was the age when movies were a family affair, and the whole town showed up to be entertained. They were the perfect escape from disillusioned post-war years. However, there still is a local priest who censors all kissing in film because after all, that’s highly objectionable. Very racy indeed.

One such night a near fatal accident occurs when the projector overheats then burns the film setting the whole projection room ablaze. Toto barely pulls out Alfredo alive and he is permanently left without sight. From that day on his young prodigy takes over the job but never forgets his mentor and friend. The boy is soon turning into a man and it means young love and a stint in the army, and still Alfredo is around for him. He is always ready to give a bit of homespun wisdom from a movie or do a simple favor. However, finally on the advice of his old friend Toto left town and never returned in order to make something of his life. 

Now he finally returns to pay his respects and the old has passed away. Some familiar faces still inhabit the town but the Cinema Paradiso is about to be demolished and the end of an era has arrived. The days of cinema halls are waning as videos and the like grow bigger. As a gift to his friend Alfredo left Toto (now Salvatore Di Vita) one last reel of film containing a montage of big screen kisses. It is less a lesson in Italian and American classics and more of a lesson in life. Our relationships matter. More on that later. 

 Cinema Paradiso made me crave watching films with a big audience because that is something modern moviegoers often do not experience. Movies were initially meant for the masses (ie. Sullivan’s Travels) and they were meant to be enjoyed in community with one another. That’s part of their magic I suppose. 

This is also a highly sentimental, highly nostalgic look at film, but as I alluded to before, it is less about film and more about the people. I tried to recognize actors and films while I saw bits and pieces of old black and white footage, but then I realized it was arbitrary because the audience members are what really mattered. As Alfredo points out in one of his last chats with Toto, “Life isn’t like in the movies. Life…is much harder.” However, the reward of living life is great despite the risk involved, and so it is necessary to leave the movie theater, television, or your laptop behind at times. Life and the relationships that fill it are the most paramount of all and although nostalgia is wonderful there is something to be said for living in the present. That is some of what Cinema Paradiso teaches us and it is a message to take to heart.

4.5/5 Stars