There was a day, a long time ago, when the Winter Marathon was new, and it was invented specifically because we wanted to watch Sergio Leone‘s Spaghetti Western “Man with no name” series.  That series starts with our first film: A Fistful of Dollars.  Like all of the backfill write-ups, I’m hitting these movies as they come onto my DVR.  Let’s go!

A Fistful of Dollars is essentially a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (shown at Cinema 1544 but not yet reviewed) – apparently because it was not done officially, Kurosawa sued (successfully).  Whoops, Sergio!

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What’s that Lassio?  Little Timoteo fell down the well?

The film opens with a very young future Mayor of Malibu riding his horse up to a well in a small town full of overdubbed people, where he witnesses a confusing scene wherein a full-grown adult gets so angry at a neighbor’s child that he shoots about 15 shots into the ground to make the kid run away.  As if this isn’t enough to pique the Mayor’s interest, there’s a hottie looking out a window watching the whole thing.  I mean, not only is this the first woman he’s seen in twelve years, she’s a total babe!  He can’t possibly leave.

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Just what I need – another man trying to steal me!

Shortly thereafter the Mayor is greeted by the same sort of Gaiacide by some folks who turn out to be with the Baxter gang.  At the saloon, the barkeep feeds him and informs him that there is “too much killing” in this town.  Apparently sometimes somebody is actually hitting something, but so far the aim we’ve seen hasn’t been very good. Still, there are two warring families – the booze-running Rojos and the gun-running Baxters.  There’s also a coffinmaker, stolen 100% completely from Yojimbo.  I mean, Sergio didn’t even TRY to disguise this.

I paid that fat barkeep!

I paid that fat barkeep!

The Mayor immediately hatches a devious plan to play the two families off of each other.  He starts by ingratiating himself to the Rojos by going and demanding an apology from the down-aiming Baxters. “You see, my mule don’t like people laughing,” he says, and when they refuse to apologize the Mayor guns all four down. The coffinmaker grins accordingly.

Chico just pawn in game of Candyland

Chico just pawn in game of Candyland

The Rojos sign him up, all the while plotting to kill him…eventually.  They don’t trust him, but they don’t believe they’ve got the intestinal fortitude to kill him.  Also, they’re really dumb in that they discuss their plans to kill him while he’s snuck around the corner listening.  Note: Ramon Rojo is in love with the hottie, Marisol.  The barkeep tells the Mayor this, too. He does appear to be the only trustworthy and sympathetic character in this town.

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I don’t always shoot a man in the chest, but when I do, I use dos balas.

In the meantime the Cavalry passes through guarding a stagecoach full of gold.  The next day, the Rojos ambush the Cavalry at the Rio Bravo (with a Gatling gun!), hijacking the stagecoach and making it look like two different companies fought amongst themselves.

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Wagons Oeste!

While the Rojos are feigning a peace with the Baxters in hopes that suspicion will not be turned on them for the massacre, the Mayor sets up a couple of dead Cavalrymen in the cemetery and tells the Baxters what is up.  Then he tells the Rojos that the Baxters are about to capture two escaped cavalrymen hiding out in the cemetery.  (He collects money for this information from both sides, of course.  At $500 a pop, he’s already got quite a bit more than a fistful, but he keeps going.)  This leads to a Baxter/Rojo shootout at the cemetery (the best place for a shootout, right?  Convenient clean up!)  Crazily, the Rojos and the Baxters are fighting over the possession (Baxters) or death (Rojos) of two guys propped up on a gravestone that don’t move an inch in the midst of a gunfight.  Sound sleepers, those guys.  One of the Rojos sneaks up behind the dead guys and shoots them in the back, so the Rojos think their secret is safe.

The next morning, there’s a prisoner swap – some Baxter for Marisol, whom the Mayor knocked out and stole during the battle.  The Mayor pulls up a chair to witness the spectacle.  I’m not sure how the Mayor knew there was going to be a spectacle, but the little kid (Jesus) from the opening scene (and his dad, Julio) show up – apparently this is Marisol’s legitimate husband and son.  Still, the Rojos take Marisol back.  Julio is protecting his own life, and that of Jesus, by surrendering his hottie wife.

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It’s not a dress, it’s a serape!  How many times do I have to tell you?

But the Mayor goes and busts Marisol out of the “small house” where she is kept, restoring her to Julio and Jesus and sending them off with a few fingersful of dollars.  Weirdly enough, the Rojos hear the shots being fired at the small house from like five miles away and find all the guards there dead.  Somehow they assume that the Baxters did it when it’s totally obvious that things only started going wrong when the Mayor showed up.  Duh.  But finally one of the Mayor’s plans goes awry when he’s caught sneaking back into the Rojo compound after shooting up the small house, and he gets beat up but good.  Still, he’s strong enough to roll a big ol’ barrel down a ramp of the armory where he is imprisoned to crush his jailers and crawl away after setting the place ablaze.

The Rojos figure he’s hiding with the barkeep, and they beat him up, but when he’s not there they finger the Baxters.  So in a demonstration of just how easy it would have been to end this feud a long time ago, they burn down the Baxters’ place and shoot them all as they come out fleeing the fire.  Easy pickings!  They totally should have done that years ago.  They even shoot the women, may they die spitting blood.

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Wait!  If you kill everybody, who will pay for the coffins?!?

In all the confusion, the Mayor escapes in a coffin assisted by the coffinmaker, who hides him in a mine while he recuperates and manufactures a bulletproof vest out of a piece of thick metal.  Of course, the barkeep has been in on it too, and the Rojos capture him and begin to torture him to figure out where the Mayor is.  Fortunately, the Mayor is just then recuperated, so he heads back to town to rescue his buddy the barkeep and take out the Rojos once and for all.  Ramon naturally tries to kill him but eight shots to the heart seems to do no good.  In an astonishing bit of bravery, the Mayor shows off the armor plate and then drops it – a perfect opportunity for the Rojos to now easily kill him, you would think.  But they take no advantage, and he shoots them all down, well, except for Ramon.  He simply shoots Ramon’s gun away and then tosses his own aside in some sort of chivalric who-can-grab-and-load-fastest move.  I’ll give you a hint – it’s not Ramon.

And now with the idle barkeep out of paying customers and the coffinmaker soon to be in the same predicament (at least he’s got work, for now!) the Mayor bails out before the Federales come by to reclaim their gold.

Eh…so the camera shot from the boot’s eye view before the final showdown is neat, but all in all it’s really not that great of a movie. So…much…day for night…  So…much…overdubbing…  And, to be honest, the Baxters are about the least unsympathetic bad guys ever put to film.  Outside of the whole shooting at the ground thing, they didn’t actually do anything worthy of being the co-bad guys in the movie.

And I’ve got two more of these to review somewhere down the road.  Yay.

For a Few Dollars More

It’s Sunday afternoon, I’ve got five hours to go before the Dodger game comes on ESPN, it’s 2007 miles to Chicago, and I’m recovering from a cold.  Live review time!

I'll teach you to cut that switchback!

I’ll teach you to cut that switchback!

The film opens in full “I Hung My Head” style, with a lone rider out on the plain getting hisself shot.  He’s only about 15 pixels on the screen, though, so I can’t tell who he is.  I’m pretty sure it’s not the Mayor.  Maybe it’s the guy who designed the diagonal credits that are running over his corpse.  That would be fitting.

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The Magnificent Seven…Yuccas!

Once the credits end, we meet Lee Van Cleef, a Colonel who has the magical powers of making the train that doesn’t stop at Tucumcari stop at Tucumcari.  Oddly enough, everybody is flat scared witless of Lee Van Cleef, bounty hunter and walking piano pause button.  Colonel Lee is on the trail of Guy Callaway, whose reward is either $1,000 (government version) or $1,00000 (edited Guy Callaway version).  He immediately finds Callaway in a house of ill repute and kills him in the street.  After collecting the $1K, he starts looking for the bigger cash.  For instance, there’s a Cavanagh guy out there worth $2,000, though there’s another bounty hunter out there called Manco he hears is also searching for Cavanagh.

My middle name is "Neverhazza"

My middle name is “Neverhazza”

Well, Manco turns out to be none other than our esteemed Mayor, which kind of puts the lie to the whole “Man With No Name” business.  (OK, apparently “Manco” in Spanish means “one-handed”, and if you pay enough attention Eastwood does basically everything in this film with his left had, leaving his right free for the draw.  I didn’t pay enough attention, apparently, because I didn’t catch that.)  ManCow quickly dispatches Cavanagh, and it looks like we’ve got ourselves a little bounty hunter grudge match going on!

Finally, we meet the man who must be the main antagonist – El Indio (though he is decidedly NOT an Indian of either definition).  El Indio’s bounty is a whole $10,000, which at this point in U.S. history would be enough to buy Miami.  Lee sees the wanted poster.  Mayor ManCow sees the wanted poster.  And the hunt is on.

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Remember me?  I was the bad guy in A Fistful of Dollars!

Indio turns out to be a pretty bad guy, though we probably oughtn’t be surprised at that.  He breaks out of prison, he’s got a pocketwatch that acts as a Poltergeisty music box (explain that one) and he slaughters the entire family of the man who most recently put him in the lockbox.  He also appears to have some well-concealed anxiety issues that turn out to stem from prior misdeeds.

Colonel Lee and Mayor ManCow independently head to El Paso (which oddly enough, is a small, dusty town which does not appear to be anywhere near a major river), home of the most secure bank in the West and therefore the one place they can be sure to find Indio – who is at this very minute making planns with his posse to pinch the bank.  In prison, Indio learned from the carpenter prisoner who built the subterfuge that the bank’s money isn’t in the real safe, but in an auxiliary safe disguised as a liquor cabinet.

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I shot a hat in Reno just to watch it fly

Things start moving real slowly as Indio’s gang stake out the bank and Mayor ManCow and Colonel Lee stake out the robbers and each other. In the midst of that comes the famous hatricide scene, where Lee’s hat falls off and he keeps trying to pick it up, but Mayor ManCow keeps shooting it away from him every time he bends over to do so.  Oddly, the hat doesn’t seem to develop any holes.  In revenge, Colonel Lee shoots ManCow’s hat right off of his head and hits it another 5 times in the air.  Ah, mutual respect.  The Colonel and the Mayor team up.

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Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of them pri-son bars!

Their plan involves ManCow joining up with Indio’s gang to be the inside man.  So to prove his bona fides Mayor ManCow busts one of Indio’s buddies out of prison and returns him.  ManCow’s brilliant plan is to tell Indio that he busted the guy out of prison so that he could tag along on their next robbery and turn them in for the reward money.  This works.  ManCow gets sent off with three other guys to go rob a bank in Santa Cruz (not the UC/Big Dipper Santa Cruz) as a diversion.  Instead, he kills the other three and gets the telegram operator to send out a fake telegram indicating that the robbery has occurred, which really is just as good as far as the diversion goes.  Plus, he gets to eventually claim that the other three were killed by the law enforcement response (helped out by a flesh wound from Colonel Lee).

But because they didn’t know about the cabinet-safe, Colonel Lee and Mayor ManCow fail to thwart the Indio gang’s theft as they expected a different front of attack.  They didn’t think Indio would be stealing a liquor cabinet.  So ManCow hooks back up with Indio’s crew and Colonel Lee interposes as a hired safecracker.  (This, of course, is a plot hole because Lee originally said he couldn’t be the inside man because the gang would recognize him.)  Lee cracks the safe, and now Indio insists that everybody wait around in the one-horse town of Agua Caliente for a month before anybody gets any money – to throw off the scent of the law enforcement.

And there’s still like 40 minutes left of this movie.  Come on, guys!  The bank is robbed, the safe is opened, the gang is infiltrated by two bounty hunters…let’s get with it already!  OK, well immediately after this the infiltrators are discovered trying to steal the money that was cracked out of the safe, so things don’t look very good.  But Indio declines to kill them right away.  Instead, he starts going rogue on his own men, getting two of his gang killed and allowing Lee and ManCow to escape, sending his crew after them.  Apparently his plan is for the entire gang to get killed so he can take all the money without sharing.  This really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but where the screenplay goes, the director must follow.  Though given that Sergio Leone wrote the screenplay too, I guess there’s nobody else to blame.

When the music stops, pick a chair!

When the music stops, pick a chair!

The bounty hunters kill the remainder of the crew, Indio is killed in a final shootout by Colonel Lee, and Mayor ManCow gets all the reward, which is like $25000 all told.  Why in the world does he even show up for the third movie?

Anyway, there is some confusing backstory to the whole thing – Indio got his precious pocketwatch music box by killing a young man who was giving it to a young woman, who subsequently shot herself while Indio was raping her.  Sure, she was disgraced.  But it probably would have been better had she at least shot Indio first.  Turns out the girl was apparently Colonel Lee’s sister, though the ages don’t seem to add up.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the whole film is just how nonchalantly bored Mayor ManCow is about the whole thing.  “Oh, people are shooting at me again, how terribly droll!”  And he can take all the time he wants no matter how many guns are pointed at him, ’cause the screenplay says he don’t get shot.

For all that, it’s actually an entertaining, if not believable, film.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The final film in the Mayor Mancow With No Name trilogy is also known as “that movie with the oo-ee-oo-ee-ooo theme song.”

It’s also known as “that movie that is three hours long and has been using up precious space on my DVR for far too long”.  So a lazy Sunday evening means it’s time for the live review!

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I know what you’re thinking…did I shoot seven bullets, or just six?

If a film is titled “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly”, it had better deliver all three.  I’m going to guess that Mayor ManCow is the Good.

See?  Ruggedly handsome!

But my mother DOES dress me funny

In the opening scene we learn that Eli Wallach (playing Tuco) has been cast as the Ugly. For being the Ugly, he’s really rather ruggedly movie-star handsome.

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Rock beats bullet; bullet beats mouth cancer

And due to his insistence on wearing a black hat, we can surmise that Lee Van Cleef (playing “Angel Eyes”) has jumped from “Chaotic Neutral” to “Bad”.  Also, he shoots a man and his son over a nice bowl of stew for $500, turning down a $1000 bribe from the victim.  Clearly this is not “The Good, The Bad, And The Greedy”.  But of course, he then goes back and shoots his boss under the excuse that the $1000 bribe was for his boss’s head (and he always finishes the job!)  He’s also not a bit ashamed of beating up a woman to get info on where some mysterious Bill Carson associated with a mysterious cash box is.  You’d think there’d be plenty of cash boxes in the old west, but Angel Eyes seems pretty interested in this particular one.

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You call that “stew”?

And yep, it turns out Mayor ManCow is the good, though he does enter the movie by shooting three bounty hunters just because he is in cahoots with their bounty – Tuco Tuesdays.  He turns Tuco in to the Sheriff – and I’d like to note that the Sheriff cleverly uses the Guy Callaway Wanted Poster from For A Few Dollars More.  The whole plan is that Mayor ManCow shoots the rope as Tuco Tuesdays is being strung up, allowing him to escape on the gallows horse, and then they split the bounty.  It’s a racket they perform at least twice, and it results in massive hatricide (just like in For A Few Dollars More) and yet another wide shot of a horse coming across the VERY PLAIN from the opening of For A Few Dollars More.  (For a few dollars more, you can make TWO MOVIES instead of one!!!) But finally, Mayor ManCow, now going by the name of Blondie, breaks their fellowship and leaves Tuco Tuesdays to follow after Merry and Pippin in the plains of Rohan.

But sir, if you wear a size 15 noose you'll get dizzy spells and headaches!

But sir, if you wear a size 14 noose you’ll get dizzy spells and headaches!

So Tuco Tuesdays goes to a gun shop, where he robs the owner with the gun he’s allegedly going to purchase.  You’d kind of think that in the lawless days of the old west, the gun store owners would be onto that one.  He leaves the store owner his whiskey, though.  Hmm.  Whiskey.  Time to pour some scotch!  Then Tuco Tuesdays hooks up with three blackhatted former compañeros to go in search of Blondie MayorCow.  That goes somewhat poorly, as Blondie MayorCow kills the three as they come to his door.  He just didn’t expect Tuco Tuesdays to get the drop on him at the window.  And now the noose is on the other neck!  But Blondie MayorCow is saved from hanging by a Cannonball Ex Machina, which destroys the building.  Apparently the Civil War is being fought out here as well – you all remember the decisive Battle of Santo Poco and the somewhat thrilling Skirmish of the Oaxaca Parish Convent of the Immaculate Hearts Sisters Ladies Mountains of Guadalupe from your schoolbooks.

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By the way, Eliza Doolittle says hello!

Blondie MayorCow gets up to his old tricks with a new neck named Shorty, but Tuco Tuesdays catches up to him on a job and Shorty gets the eponymous end of the stick.  Tuco Tuesdays then commences on his devious plan of forcing Blondie MayorCow to walk through 100 miles of desert sands with no water in an effort to make him die slowly.  There might be an ulterior motive to the trip, but mostly it’s just Tuco Tuesdays laughing maniacally while holding a pink parasol.  It only takes thirty miles for Blondie MayorCow’s face to look like Freddy Krueger’s.  For the love of all that is holy, there are still two hours left in this movie.

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Why didn’t you tell me there’s no well in Wells Fargo?!?

Just as Tuco Tuesdays is about to finally shoot Blondie MayorCow out of his misery, a stagecoach full of dead CSA soldiers comes roaring through the impassable desert.  In the coach, not quite dead, is the mysterious Bill Carson, who has hidden $200,000 in a cash box (well, that’s why Angel Eyes is after it!) and he wants water in exchange for the location of the treasure. When Tuco Tuesdays goes to get water for Carson, Blondie MayorCow sneaks up to the coach and learns the location of the treasure just as Carson dies – so now the canteen is on the other lips!  Also, this movie is dangerously close to turning into “The Good And The Ugly”, as Angel Eyes has been out of it for about an hour.

Of the million images I've tried to find on the internet, this one was inexplicably actually there.

Of the millions of images I’ve tried to find on the internet, this one was inexplicably actually there. Go figure.

There’s a touching scene (well, supremely solidly contacting scene) where Tuco Tuesdays punches his brother the priest at the Mission where he has taken Blondie MayorCow to recuperate.  That Tuco, he’s a real nice guy, and he gets what’s coming to him when disguised as a CSA officer, he mistakes a cavalry unit’s dust-covered blue uniforms for gray and finds both himself and Blondie MayorCow as prisoners of war.  Even worse, he assumes the name of Bill Carson just as he comes into the camp where Angel Eyes is posing as a Union officer.  Except, it turns out he knows that “Carson” is his old friend Tuco Tuesdays so I guess that really wasn’t that unlucky after all, y’know, outside of the fact that $200,000 in gold is thicker than water.  One good beating and Tuco Tuesdays talks, and Angel Eyes heads off with Blondie MayorCow and six thugs to seek the gold.  Blondie shoots one of them, but he says that’s OK because there are still six bullets in his gun.  Dirty Harry wonders where the seven-shooter came from.  Meanwhile Tuco Tuesdays escapes the prison train he’s been put on and there’s STILL an hour left in the movie.

I DO feel pretty!

I DO feel pretty!

The next DVD chapter is called “Tuco Takes A Bubble Bath – And Shoots A Dude”.  For some reason, Blondie MayorCow and Angel Eyes and the gang are in the same town, and the Mayor recognizes the sound of Tuco Tuesdays’ gun.  Because, like, they’re all real distinctive and stuff.

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Odds this ends up on Web Soup?  100%

So they team up and kill all of Angel Eyes’ men (Angel Eyes of course has hightailed it by the time they get to his place), and then Tuco Tuesdays, trying to find the cemetery where the treasure is buried, leads them right into a big ol’ Union camp preparing for an attack on a CSA regiment, both fighting over a bridge.  The battles are in the way of their trip to the treasure, so Tuco and Blondie blow the bridge up to end the fighting.  Seems as good a plan as any.

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Where’s Private Ryan?

When they finally get to the treasure cemetery…it is huge.  We’re talking somewhere between legion and myriad graves.  It’s one hell of a set.  But does Tuco Tuesdays find the grave marked with the right name?  He certainly does.  And guess who is there?  Angel Eyes!  Whooooooo Kneeeeeeeew?  Not surprisingly, this grave has a corpse in it – it turns out Blondie MayorCow lied about the correct grave marker.

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Fusillade a trois

He writes the correct name on the bottom of a rock (in case he dies, I guess) and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly have a three-way shootout.  Come on, you KNOW that’s not a fair fight.  Blondie MayorCow kills Angel Eyes (and shoots his hat for good measure) while Tuco Tuesdays finds his gun unloaded (done in the night, by the Mayor himself, who apparently has good predictive skillz).  Thus, Tuco Tuesdays gets to live and there’s no danger that he shoots Blondie.

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You have GOT to be choking me

And Blondie MayorCow magnanimously leaves Tuco Tuesdays with half the gold AND one last shoot-the-noose trick for old times.  The End.  Thank goodness.  That’s like eight hours of westerns successfully downed.

The funny thing about this movie is that the labels are relatively arbitrary.  Is Tuco Tuesdays ugly?  Not really, though he does enter the “bad” realm for most of the film while he’s on his revenge kick. Is Blondie good?  I mean, he’s a fake bounty hunter who effectively steals bounty money by turning a guy in and then breaking him loose, only to do it again and again.  He just doesn’t kill anybody he doesn’t have to, which I guess makes him the best of the three.  And Angel Eyes?  Well, he’s greedy, but outside of the opening sequences where he needlessly kills a few guys, he’s mostly a perfect – though greedy – gentleman for the rest of the film.

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One Response to “Winter Marathon #1”

  1. John Says:

    One of the best for all time.

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