There’s a good movie in here somewhere… er… I think. One good thing about the DVD revolution is that a whole bunch of titles once relegated to the long lost vault of B-Movie history have made their way back into stores and rental shelves. One bad thing about the DVD revolution is that some of these titles are purchased, transferred, and released with such astounding haphazard treatment that the film on the platter is actually better off lost.
Consider Boot Hill, Guissepe Colizzi’s Spaghetti Western pairing Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer. I am not sure how SBR Inc managed to release a DVD that is literally unwatchable, but they have. Their treatment of They Call Me Trinity and Trinity is Still My Name is crappy; muddied picture, mono sound (when the box lists Dolby), full screen (when the box lists widescreen), and washed out color, but their treatment of Boot Hill is criminal.
Not only is Boot Hill in full screen, but they didn’t even bother to try and pan/scan the presentation so 90% of the movie takes place OFF SCREEN, but they didn’t color correct, didn’t zoom out, and didn’t focus the damn thing so the other 10% of film resembles several blobs of mud wriggling around on the screen. The experience is not unlike watching this movie on a GameBoy screen through a pair of high-powered binoculars.
I am assuming that at one point Boot Hill was longer than 67 minutes, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is some TV edit, trimmed down to fit the midnight UHF TV schedule of the middle 1970’s, so aside from an impossible to decipher picture, the story is completely baffling. For the purposes of this review I will tag the places where I think scenes were clipped with: (SCENE MISSING).
Here’s what I was able to determine from the 67 minutes on the DVD. There are some men chasing the main character, Unnamed (Terrence Hill). I say unnamed although both the IMDB and the box list his character name as Cat Stevens, however nowhere in the film is his name uttered. Anyway… three gunmen are chasing him.
Meanwhile, a wild traveling circus is in mid performance.
Unnamed is shot in the arm but gives his pursuers the slip (SCENE MISSING).
The circus takes off and we meet the owner Mami (Lionel Stander) and his right-hand-man/half of the trapeze team Thomas (Woody Strode). Unnamed is discovered wounded and passed out in one of the circus caravan wagons.
The three gunmen appear and search the caravan. Someone shoots one of them, we can’t tell who shoots who because all we see are the pores on the actors cheeks. Thomas shoots two others.
The caravan continues on.
Mami fixes up Unnamed who begs for a horse to make his escape. (SCENE MISSING)
The next town offers more of the circus madness, and while Thomas and his partner are doing a blindfold trapeze trick, friends of the dead gunmen appear and shoot the trapeze rope. Thomas’ partner dies after hitting the floor from 30 feet up.
Cut to Unnamed making coffee within the ruins of some… er… something out in the desert. He sees something on the horizon (we can’t tell what it is, though it might be a man on a horse) and backs into a crevice with his gun drawn.
Thomas leaps down from above.
Okay, just what in the hell is going on here? How did Thomas know where Unnamed was… we get one POV shot and there isn’t any visible smoke. Worse, how did he get off his horse some 300 yards away, climb atop the wall, locate Unnamed, AND manage to drop precisely in the place where he wouldn’t be seen, or shot for that matter?
Now, don’t get the wrong idea; don’t say, “But Big, you’re shitting on a Spaghetti Western man, that’s like shooting fish in barrel. You asshole!”
I love Spaghetti Westerns; virtually ANY Italian western is better than the vast majority of its American counterparts. Shit, I’ll take Gian Maria Volonte and Lee Van Cleef over John Wayne and Tex Ritter any day of the week.
But sometimes they just suck. This is one of those sucky times.
Anyway… Unnamed tells Thomas that he has to get away and get help, Thomas tells Unnamed that he wants revenge for the death of his partner and that Unnamed will be the bait.
Pay no attention to this at all because it isn’t ever brought up again. It does, however, reinforce the revenge motive that ANY viewer will get as soon as they see Thomas drop down from the open roof.
Thomas and Unnamed head off to a cabin by a lake. It appears empty, and when they enter the door swings shut and locks. Unnamed tells Thomas that they can’t escape so they better just sit tight and wait.
The cabin belongs to Arch (Bud Spencer) and his Deaf-Mute er…. Boyfriend I guess. It could be his son but the dialogue is so confusing it’s suggested that Arch is into making the beast with two backs with other large men. I suppose I got the idea because the Deaf-Mute’s name is Baby Doll.
Unnamed asks if Arch remembers “Fisher”, Arch says no. Unnamed reminds Arch that he put Finch in prison five years ago. Arch suggests that Fisher has so many life sentences that he’d have to be reborn to get out of prison.
Unnamed tells Arch that Fisher circumvents the whole reincarnation thing by escaping from prison.
Arch shrugs. He does a lot of shrugging. Baby Doll smiles like a giant idiot. He does a lot of smiling.
Unnamed reveals that their friend Finch has a gold claim in a distant town and that he’s signed Unnamed and Arch as benefactors (or something) and that the claim has to be renewed in the next few days. This claim is the reason that the three gunmen were shooting at Unnamed, they wanted the claim, and they work for Fisher.
Arch grunts and shrugs.
The four head off to find the claim and figure out what the hell is going on. (SCENE MISSING)
They arrive in town to find the circus wagons in disarray and only Mami remaining. Everyone else has left the circus for jobs in town, but they’ve promised to save their money and come back so the circus can start up again. (SCENE MISSING)
Uh… okay… whatever. How long was Thomas gone? (SCENE MISSING)
Okay, cut to… er… a guy in a store with his sons. He needs medicine for his daughter and the clerk refuses because “The Company” has told him not to give anymore credit. The guy beats the shit out of the clerk and takes all the supplies he needs.
This is so jarring and confusing that I had to watch it twice because I thought someone had spliced the wrong reel into the DVD. The clerk tells the guy he’s going to pay.
The guy tells the clerk that he’s onto The Company plan and knows because it’s claim renewal time that the credit is a leverage point for Fisher to steal claims from the miners.
Aha! So now it makes some sense.
Okay, this reel belongs here. I still don’t understand what the hell is going on, but at this point I’d given up trying to piece what I think the original movie was together from whatever was left on the DVD.
We cut back to town where one of the acrobats is waiting tables in the saloon. Thomas shows up and says the circus is on again (We’re putting the band back together…). We get a montage of Thomas and his increasingly voluminous band collecting the rest of the circus workers. What I want to know is where did the four midget clowns get jobs? I mean I can see one acrobat being a waiter, another being a hotel clerk, all the dancing girls being whores (they were in a brothel)… But who hires midgets, and for what jobs? Perhaps there is a (SCENE MISSING) that explains it.
Okay, it’s time to meet the villain, Fisher, played by character actor bad guy Victor Buono (King Tutt from TV’s Batman) and he is the owner of “The Company” which we learn is a mining company concerned solely with buying out every claim in town, even stooping to such dirty tricks as we saw in the store, and hiring gunmen to shoot everyone.
We finally get to meet Fitch who gives the lowdown on Fisher’s scheme and an estimated body count to Unnamed, Arch, Thomas, and Mami. This scene lasts about 30 seconds.
Boone, The guy handling the government end of the claim renewals (Eduardo Cianelli) comes to town with his assistant Pip.
Boone brushes off Fisher’s offer of accommodation and opts to stay with his partner in the hotel. That night they hear a shot, and against type, Boone, who is an old man, brushes past a couple of Fisher’s toughs to see what’s going on. He has a great line too. One of the toughs says, “Old man, you better get back to bed before you catch cold.”
He answers with “You are not authorized to care about my well being.”
What a great line! In fact it’s one of the best lines I’ve ever heard in a Spaghetti Western. So what in the hell is it doing here?
We cut to the house of the guy who was in the store stealing medicine. His place is under siege. One of Fisher’s toughs says they will wait until morning when the guy and his sons try to get to the claim hearing.
Boone has two days to deal with all the claims renewals and we actually get a decent scene showing the process. He reads the claim, the name of the guy owning the claim, and asks if the guy wants to renew. Nearly ever answer he gets is “deceased”. Within a few minutes he knows exactly what’s going on, especially when Fisher takes each deceased claim because the dead claimant owed him money. Therefore his mining company empire keeps growing. However, since Boone can’t really do anything but get increasingly agitated by the whole exercise; more so when one of the live claimants renounces his claim but won’t give a reason other than “I’d rather work for the mining company”.
In the middle of the proceedings we cut back to the homestead under siege. One of the toughs climbs to the cliff above the house and drops a bundle of dynamite onto the roof. The place goes up, everyone is dead.
We cut back to town where Boone hears the explosion and stops the proceedings. He gives Fisher the evil eye before adjourning.
The Circus parade passes by as the claim proceedings come to an end. Boone says he loves the circus and insists that Fisher accompany he and Pip to the evening show. Fisher agrees and invites all of the miners he’s wronged to attend.
Uh oh… what do you think THAT will lead to?
Anyway, Unnamed, Thomas, and Arch are hiding out behind the scenes at the circus.
The show goes on with the girls seating all of Fisher’s men on one side of the tent and all of the miners on the other. The show begins and things seem normal, except that all the acts are designed to inflame the miners’ anger. The acrobats do a skit where a miner is beaten up by two guys who look like Fisher and his henchman.
Then the girls come out and start a number telling everyone to look under their seats. The miners all get guns
from beneath their benches, Fisher and his cronies get noisemakers.
The miners hide their newfound guns.
The next act features the two acrobats hanging from the trapezes while and reenacting the claims hearing at which none of the principle hero characters were present. It doesn’t matter though as the scene is pretty effective. Each time one of them screams, “Deceased!” the miners get more and more angry.
Finally, Thomas steps into the center-ring and shoots the guy who killed his partner. Unnamed and Arch shoot the other henchmen who try to draw their guns. Now Fisher is unprotected. He and his two remaining goons, his scrawny business partner and the guy who runs the store, are tied to the post holding up the tent.
Unnamed, Arch, Thomas, and Finch appeal to the newly armed miners to join them in fighting off Fisher’s men coming into town after the siege. The acrobats, Baby Doll, and the midgets join up for the fight but the miners stay behind.
Out in the street all hell breaks loose, and since we can’t see any of it I can’t describe what happens as guys off screen shoot other guys offscreen and guys plummet into from from above (why) and land somewhere below frame (where again).
We cut back to the tent where Fisher orders the miners to drop their guns. He then promises them protection if they cut him loose. At that moment, Charlie, his lead tough walks into the tent. Fisher turns on the minors and hisses for Charlie to cut him loose.
Charlie topples over, dead.
Like we didn’t see that coming.
This energizes the miners who join the fracas which has amazingly become a bar brawl. What the hell? Things don’t get any less confusing as Baby Doll somehow gains the ability to both hear and speak, and Arch starts using his Bambino-like bonks to the head to knock opponents out.
It’s almost as if they re-shot part of this after the Trinity movies were made two years later to capitalize on the characters. In fact, this is sometimes listed as an actual Trinity movie though 99.9% of it is a standard horse shit and gunpowder drama.
Anyway, the fight apparently ends.
Fisher’s storekeeper gets free and shoots unties Fisher who then shoots Mari in the back… er… I think… This was in ultra close up so I am guessing it was Victor Buono’s skin cells that did the killing.
Mari collapses but doesn’t die.
Unnamed, Arch, and Fitch return to the tent and confront Fisher, who when threatened, drops his gun.
Cut to Arch and Unnamed riding out of town and away from the Circus caravan.
It’s a goddamn shame that this film is treated in such shitty fashion. The use of the circus was very cool and innovative and I like the way the script tried really hard to deemphasize the revenge aspect that this could have EASILY fallen into. I also liked the characters (when I could see more than their hat brims).
But to release the film in this condition is not only a disservice to Spaghetti Westerns, but to DVD consumers as a whole. I’ve already had a terrible experience with a set of atrocious Bruce Lee flicks that looked like they were rendered on a Nintendo Entertainment System, and this just adds to the crap titles polluting the market.
Look at some of the other budget titles out there, MGM’s Midnight Movies are great, even Death Machines (ensconced in the Hall of Shame for all eternity) had a crisp widescreen transfer preserving every awful and stupid frame in vivid clarity. But Boot Hill is just so much worse because at its heart it’s a good movie completely destroyed by an illiterate edit and atrocious transfer.
Bah… Someone, somewhere will release this, and the Trinity films, the way they deserve to be seen, widescreen, clear, and in stereo. Until then, Boot Hill lives here, section three, plot two, of the Hall of Shame.