HCF REWIND NO. 247: MY NAME IS NOBODY AKA IL MIO NOME E’ NESSUNO [Italy, France, Germany 1973]
AVAILABLE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 116 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Three men attempt to ambush gunslinger Jack Beauregard in a barbershop but are easily dispatched. The action is watched by the barber’s son, who grows up into Nobody, a formidable gunman in his own right. He idolises Jack, but by now Jack feels he is ‘past it’ and wants to retire and leave the country for Europe. Nobody, though, wants the name of Jack Beauregard to become a true legend, written down in the history books, and wishes that he will face off against the Wild Bunch, a gang of 150 bandits who use a fake goldmine to launder their loot…
Steven Spielberg once said that My Name Is Nobody was his favourite Sergio Leone film, and it’s often considered a work by the brilliant director of The Good The Bad And The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In America, but the majority of it actually wasn’t directed by him at all but Tonino Valerii, though Leone produced and his influence is obvious even if it does feel different to his other westerns. It’s an odd, awkward film which alternates goofy comedy with ‘farewell to the mythical Old West’ stuff. Some of its humorous scenes [which are generally far broader than Leone would have had] seem somewhat out of place in what is in some ways a critique of the whole genre and in particular the place of those upstarts the Spaghetti Westerns in it, especially the comedic ones, the film pitting the irreverent new-style Western hero, played by Italian comedy star Terence Hill, against the dignified old-school one, played by the Hollywood legend Henry Fonda. Both rushed in places and overlong in others, it’s a seriously flawed work, but remains good fun for much of its length and I like it a lot.
If you’ve read Homer’s Odyssey you’ll recognise the film’s title as what Odysseus tells the Cyclops after he’s blinded him, and indeed the original treatment by Sergio Donati and Fulvio Morsella was to film that book as a Western, but when Leone came on board as producer the project changed. Slapsticky and kid-friendly Spaghetti Westerns were becoming the rage, and They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is Still My Name, had made more money than his in Italy, so Leone wanted to channel his thoughts about all this into a film and thereby changed the direction of the project, though he didn’t want to actually direct. Ernesto Gastaldi and Fulvio Morsella wrote the final script, though it’s said by some that Leone added some of the silliest scenes so the film’s quality would be diminished and not be confused with being one of his own films[well that failed]. He also directed a few scenes, chiefly the lengthy comical sequence in the middle where Nobody wonders through a town, though he said he directed the opening, ending and climactic battle, claims which offers have denied. Cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi tried to have too much influence in the film’s direction and was replaced by Giuseppe Ruzzolini. Shot in both the US and Spain [including Leone’s favourite Western location Almeria], My Name Is Nobody was a major hit in some European countries, but, as with Leone’s two previous films, flopped in the US and the UK. Reports often claim that the film was cut by 10 minutes outside Italy, but I’ve seen several versions including what is supposedly the uncut one on Blu-ray, and they’re all the same except one cut deleted the word “f***”.
One reason why My Name Is Nobody doesn’t quite work as well as it should do is that it tries to do too much. It opens with a variation of the beginning of Once Upon A Time In The West as three gunmen ride into a town and for several minutes pass the time by doing things like milking a cow and brushing a horse as they wait for their quarry. This and two duel sequences, the first one pretend, are probably the most Leone-like scenes in the whole film though they’re more parodic than anything else, and while we get bits and pieces pinched from Leone films like the old man rabbiting on and the hat being shot off from For A Few Dollars More, the film casts its net wider to reference many American Westerns, such as the opening and closing barbershop scenes from Rancho Notorious and the aging gunslinger with fading eye sight from Ride The High Country. The comic antics of Terence Hill seem to exist in something completely different though and, combined with the melancholy of Henry Fonda, who brings a career’s worth of Western film roles to his character and performance [he even calls himself a “national monument”], it’s all almost too much. The film casts its net too wide and is too short for everything it tries to do, yet its story is both almost non-existent and hard to actually make out in places. The film certainly didn’t need a complex plot, but they seem to have thought up this one once they’d decided on all the films they wanted to reference. You can also sometimes tell which portions of the film were shot in America and which ones were shot in Spain, they just have a different feel, though Leone’s attention to detail is carried through to this film for the most part.
Lacking much of Leone’s style and ability to create incredible tension, My Name Is Nobody doesn’t work too well for its first third, content to wonder about almost aimlessly like its characters, but then we get a lengthy section where Nobody shows off his skills time and time again in a carnivalesque town. There are some good gags here, like shooting the fake long legs of a man in stilts to reveal a dwarf, and we even get a shoot-out in a room of magic mirrors, something which is always fun, though the whole sequence ends up going on for too long and there’s too much lazy reliance on things like speeded up action. The high point, or low point of the film’s comedy depending on your taste, is when a man is trying to take a leak and Nobody stand rights across him and stares at him for a good three minutes, not saying anything, then starts to whistle a note several times. After what seems like an eternity, Nobody leaves and the other man finally pees for a very long time. The film seems to set up a major action scene when Jack goes off to get the dastardly fake mine owner Mr. Sullivan, and it then doesn’t follow through, though the resulting confrontation pulls a decent surprise and even prefigures Once Upon A Time In America in the way it pans out. Then we get the face-off against the Wild Bunch which is superbly handled, with a very suspenseful build-up, some great shots like all the members of the Wild Bunch lined up like shadows on the horizon, and us literally getting to see the action turned into pages from a book, though you may wonder how on earth Nobody can really tell how many are being killed.
Hill’s Nobody is a boastful show-off [“I like folks to see me”] who is actually a little annoying for much of the time, but he plays nicely off Fonda’s Jack Beauregard. Jack has a musical theme which is a wistful Ennio Morricone variation on My Way, and what emotional weight the film has derives mostly from him, at times virtually becoming a lament for the end of the West, a west that is more legendary than fact. Jack is a legend, a legend that Nobody worships, but certainly doesn’t think of himself as one. Nobody wants Jack to go out in a blaze of glory, but Jack’s tired of killing though and would rather peacefully retire. The film’s wordy coda, as we hear the contents of a letter, is very well written and rather poignant as it talks about the supposed ‘good old days’ and the old having to make way for the new. You can almost hear Leone saying how his films have been trying to keep the Western tradition alive even if they’re not to the older generation’s taste [it’s useful to remember that, while generally well regarded now, his films were often badly reviewed when they first came out], and hoping that his heroes like classic Western director John Ford appreciate, even if it’s just a little, what he’s been doing.
One of My Name Is Nobody’s best features is Ennio Morricone’s hugely entertaining score, which often has fun gently mocking his Leone work. The Wild Bunch ride to a theme which alternates a variant of the A Fistful Of Dollars theme with Wagner’s The Ride Of The Valkyries played on car horns, while face-offs are set to a parody of the showdown music from both For A Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time In The West. Nobody’s theme is an infectiously silly piece of euro-pop and then of course there’s that gorgeously sad Jack Beauregard theme. My Name Is Nobody has a lot of good ingredients but just doesn’t quite hit the mark overall. It does though have a fair amount of post-modern resonance and is very interesting thematically while also being a fun Western for all the family, being mostly devoid of the blood, graphic violence and cynicism associated with those of Leone and indeed the Spaghetti Western!