The last state of a film movement or sub-genre is self parody. In the middle 1970s the end of the so called Spaghetti Western hit the Italian film industry like a tag team of Lucianno Pavoratti and Paul Prudhome at an all you can eat lasagna buffet. Once the Trinity movies starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill hit the screen, the overtly funny spaghetti western was born, and once Sergio Leoni paired him with Henry Fonda in 1974's My Name is Nobody, the death knell of the subgenre was ringing.
By the time Sergio Corbucci got his directing mits into Samurai, or the more aptly named Il Bianco, il Giallo, il Nero (The White, The Black, and The Yellow) he was already seven years and a dozen films away from the masterpiece, il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence). Sad that he'd go from the stunning awesome bleakness of The Great Silence and end up here with Eli Wallach and Tonas Milian mugging like Max Sennet bit players in Keystone Kops movies.
Samurai, as we'll call this film in this review as that's what it's called on the DVD box, doesn't suffer because of anything that Corbuci manages to do behind the camera, on no, it suffers from possibly the stupidest script ever filmed as a spaghetti western (and it's a spoof of Red Sun, which was very good and starred Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson), and , adding insult to injury, Samurai features possibly the second worst Asian stereotype character ever filmed —The worst being Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's. This time it's Thomas Milian donning the buck teeth and bushy eyebrows of the fake Japanese character Sakura. When he speaks his voice, dubbed, is little more than pidgin and/or grunts, dropped R's, added L's, and vice versa fill his lines with enough fodder to start a support group for people offended by his portrayal of an Asian man. Watching him is like having someone grind shards of light bulb glass into your eye sockets.
Finally, this release from our friends at Saturn Productions is very obviously in the public domain. I received this dog of a film for my birthday. The lovely and frugal Mrs. McLargehuge paid almost three whole dollars for it at the local drug store and it looks like she spent even less! VHS scan lines? Oh yeah baby. Saturn DVD didn't even bother to clean ANY of the content, or the head of the VCR they used to spool it into digital, so you get all the ambiance of VHS without the flashing12 on the clock. Like most of the public domain flicks I've found in the $.50 bin (and lower) the releasing company makes no effort to pan, or scan, or frame the movie so that you can tell what he hell is going on for most of it.
Italian directors, especially when working in the western genre, used the whole widescreen to great effect. Almost all of that is lost in these crappy cropped for TV aspect ratio releases. I am sure that, like Boot Hill (also in the Hall of Shame) had this been released with some sort of care it might make it out of the Hall of Shame.
But it isn't, and it didn’t.
As with many of these Hall of Shame reviews, I'm getting ahead of myself. Samurai manages to drag in one B-list star, this time it's Eli Wallach as Sheriff Edward Blackjack Gideon. For what it's worth, Eli Wallach can't give a bad performance irrespective of the idiocy going on around him. Though he manages to be not much better than anyone who isn't Tomas Milian here. Wallach had more than a few westerns under his belt by the time he got to this film, and had he managed to work something resembling his more well known characters into this I'd have liked him more. As it stands here, like George Kennedy in The Guns of the Magnificent Seven, he's just sort of here. Anyone could have played Blackjack Gideon about the same, though Wallach was probably cast to capitalize on his earlier success as Tuco Ramirez in The Good the Bad and The Ugly.
We open with Sheriff Gideon being harangued by what appears to be his extended family. See, his good work for the law doesn't put enough cash in the family coffers and keeps him away from his kids and wife for long weeks. So, rather than argue with them he leaves. He's got to bring his deputies their salaries.
On the trail he encounters Blanc de Blanc (Guillianno Gemma) a card sharp and wanted outlaw. But, being the cagey guy he is, has built a Rube Goldbergian trap to steal the lawman's horse and all of his money. This involves pretending he has a gang by poking several small pipes that look like rifle barrels from behind rocks. It only takes a couple of quick comments to talk Gideon out of shooting Blanc de Blanc dead where he stands for fear of being gunned down himself. How Blanc manages to know that Gideon, the most feared lawman in the west, will pass by these specific rocks, with a folder of money, is anyone's guess, but somehow Blanc knows. Hmmm, this smells sort of like the setup for a parallel joke later in the movie, doesn't it?
Duped, Gideon hands over all of the cash, and his horse. Blanc leaves him in the desert like an idiot.
Blanc de Blanc abandons Gideon's horse and boards an eastbound train and sneaks into the room occupied by "His Excellency" a pony that is somehow tied to the Japanese government and is being delivered to Washington DC. The pony's caretaker is Sakura (Tomas Milian), the samurai who guards the animal is Yamoto.
Things would have gone very easily for Blanc de Blanc but a moment of carelessness allows His Excellency to eat all of the stolen money. Now he has to wait around for the pony to shit so he can get it back. Meanwhile, the local constabulary want to place armed guards around His Excellency as the trains is passing through bandit country.
Yamoto allows the cavalry to place soldiers in the corridor. Then, realizing that His Excellency might be nervous from the train trip, Yamato dispatches Sakura with a place of opium brownies for the pony. Then, Yamoto draws a bottle of whiskey that he's hidden in a vase and guzzles half the bottle.
Later that night, we know it's night because the screen is incomprehensible black and gray blobs, Sakura asks the pony to grant him his one wish to receive a samurai sword so he can ascend from the peasant class to the samurai.
Sakura returns to Yamoto's room and notices that the samurai is in a drunken sleep. He takes the katana and begins waving it around. Meanwhile, Blanc de Blanc eats the opium brownies and falls asleep.
Got all that? Good… Let's add some more crap.
The Apache attack the train and steal His Excellency. They also kill Yamoto who awakens without his sword and is run through with several arrows. Sakura runs out after the Apache while Blanc de Blanc is left for dead.
Cut to Marshal Gideon walking through the scrub brush and rocks (of the Spanish desert standing in for Arizona). As he walks, Sakura runs towards, then past him. Gideon lassos Sakura and learns the very basic plot so far about His Excellency, Yamoto, and Sakura.
Now, I know you're thinking "Big, this sounds like it could even be, gasp – swoon, funny." But I haven't even worked up the nerve to describe what it's like to suffer through this movie whenever Sakura is on screen.
I've had less painful open-heart surgery.
Gideon brings Sakura back to the train where more Japanese diplomats, as well as the local posse of cavalry. The diplomat restates the plot and states for us (what we already know) that Sakura is a cretin.
The Apaches want a million bucks to return His Excellency alive, and they want the money delivered to Eagle Pass in 5 days. Sakura insists that he bring the money because if he successfully completes the mission he will become a samurai.
Gideon, his reputation for honor preceding him, is chosen to bring the money to the apaches. He is promised a reward by the Japanese, but will gladly accept the job being well done as reward in itself. Gideon is sort of a patsy…
One of the bodies pulled out of the train is Blanc de Blanc, still asleep from the opium brownies. But he awakens in time to hear of the million dollars. Gideon has him and Sakura thrown in the pokey so they don’t cause trouble.
Once in the slammer, Blanc de Blanc and Sakura realize they can probably work together to get out of jail, that will allow Sakura to get His Excellency back and Blanc de Blanc to get his hands on the million bucks that Gideon is set to deliver. He's already gotten the best of Gideon once, so duping him again shouldn't be hard.
The Japanese prepare a special box for the million dollars financed by a local banker, Mr. Butler. The strongbox has three keyholes on it, one of them unlocks the case, the other two keyholes are connected to a dynamite charge built into the box. Gideon announces that he won't forget which keyhole to use as he has a memory like an elephant, he then asks where they were supposed to bring the money, again.
Cue annoying musical refrain.
Ho ho, ha ha, that's the level of humor that Samurai offers. In fact, every single joke, hell, every single setup for a joke, pays off in silence or mournful groaning.
Back in the film, and in the jail, Sakura and Blanc de Blanc, cook up a scheme to win their freedom. Blanc de Blanc will knock Sakura out, claim he's sick, and when the guard opens the cell…
Right, it's like every other jail escape in every other western ever made, ever, anywhere, by anyone. It's not even funny here, and this is rumored to be a comedy, but they play this scene straight.
Blanc de Blanc uses the end table to knock Sakura senseless (moreso than usual) and escape. He leaves Sakura in jail.
Outside, in the town square, a man is demonstrating a newfangled motorcycle with sidecar. Blanc de Blanc steals it and rides out of town.
Black Jack Gideon and his two guides (why he has these men with his is anyone's guess as it wasn't covered in the actual film) arrive at a small gorge spanned by a rope bridge. The bridge isn't strong enough to carry all three men and their horses at once, so one of the guides goes over first with his horse in tow. Gideon doesn't want to take his horse, and the big and heavy strong box at the same time as it's probably more weight than the bridge can handle. So, he leaves his horse with the other guy and starts lugging the box over on foot.
This scene takes freaking forever to go anywhere, and if you can't see the outcome of it a mile away you need to have an eye exam, or electroshock therapy, possibly both. When Gideon reaches the middle of the bridge both his escorts shoot the bridge out from beneath his feet. They want him dead accident style so they can steal the strongbox.
However, Gideon doesn't plummet to the rocky road about 15 feel below. No. He lands in the sidecar of the motorcycle that Blanc de Blanc stole.
Cue annoying musical refrain.
After some brief dialogue during which Eli Wallach looks like he's searching for the best way to say "get me the fuck out of this nightmare of a movie" Blanc de Blanc takes the strongbox and disconnects the sidecar.
Cue annoying musical refrain.
As Blanc speeds off he catches the glint of something in the trees. Aha, waiting in one tree, is Sakura. How he managed to get ahead of the other characters, and into the very tree he was sure that Blanc would ride under on a motorcycle (that he didn’t' see as he was unconscious in jail when it was stolen), is anyone's guess. He slices the branch on which he stands and tumbles down knocking Blanc off the bike.
Hooray. Slapstick. Oh, by the way, it's awful. Thomas Milian is a gifted physical actor and comedian, but even his few scenes of slapstick hijinks can't save this mess. Blanc and Sakura fight, heads get bonked, swords cut Styrofoam rock and stick in trees, and eventually the strongbox gets dropped on Sakura's foot.
As Blanc runs off with the strongbox Sakura hits him with a rock. Now both of them are weary from the fight. Gideon arrives and takes back the strongbox and captures both Blanc and Sakura.
Cut to the office of Mr. Butler. He's interviewing a mercenary outlaw, Captain Crazy (seriously, that's his name), a teatotaler who was drummed out of the army for massacring an Apache village. Butler wants the money that Gideon is carrying. Captain Crazy offers, as a means of payment, to split the take of whatever he recovers. Butler balks and says that there is no pay, but if he completes the mission successfully he'll be reinstated into the Army with full honors and at his previous rank.
Cut back to Gideon being pulled up a hill in a rickshaw by Blanc while Sakura follows.
Meanwhile, Crazy and his gang hunt Gideon and the money.
I am pretty sure too that, because this film had a budget somewhat lower than what it would cost to order the two pizza and hot wings special at Dominos (with a coupon) that all of the middle part of the film takes place around the same copse of birch trees.
Cut to Sakura eating leaves like an animal.
Seriously, this could only get more offensive if the black stereotype guy from Maximum Overdrive walked through the scene with a Member's Only jacket stuffed with ill gotten vending machine booty, while eating fried chicken and watermelon, while a welfare check stub dangled out of his back pocket.
The portrayal of Japanese was more subtle in the old WW2 propaganda cartoons.
While Sakura is off grazing — ugh — Blanc and Gideon get to spend some quiet time. Blanc asks what Gideon earns as a sheriff, the answer is $30 a month. Not much cash, even for turn of the century wherever the hell this is supposed to be. Blanc suggests that they split the money three ways and screw this mission. Hell, they'll be able to buy the Japanese Diplomat a solid gold pony.
Gideon, because he's a pigheaded super-honest idiot, says no. He reminds Blanc that the dynamite is packed with a whole shitload of TNT. Besides, Gideon says he won't tank a mission for any amount of money.
Blanc calls Gideon a horse's ass.
Gideon says it's better to be a horse's ass for a day than to spend 100 years in jail.
And on that, Gideon and I agree.
Sakura leaps into the conversation and says that honor is worth more than any amount of money. He's collecting herbs and leaves that will fight off hunger and sleepiness. And, fill disclosed here, after watching this scene 10 times, that's right, 10 FREAKIN' TIMES, I have no idea why Gideon starts to scream about his teeth.
Sakura silences him with a karate chop.
Again, this is all played for laughs, and there are exactly zero laughs to be had from any of this.
Wow, six pages into this and we have another hour of screen torture to go — Not on my watch! Let's speed things up a touch shall we? Excellent, I knew you'd like that idea.
While Blanc de Blanc and Sakura wrestle in the water, Captain Crazy and his men come upon the still unconscious form of Gideon in the little copse of trees. Rather than just shoot him dead and take the strongbox, Crazy announces that he's going to put Gideon through a courts martial.
Sakura and Blanc de Banc stage a rescue just as Gideon is about to be hanged. They escape into the night and — for once the God's of technology shine down upon me as the screen goes weird blue-black and freezes.
Can it be? Is it possible that this idiotic, offensive, stupid, unremastered heap of cinematic shit on a disc could be incorrectly encoded?
I try fast forward. Nothing.
My happiness increases.
I fast backwards, and return to the movie running in reverse.
I fast forward again, and again nothing.
Aha! If chapter advance is dead too, then I am out of this nightmare film!
Blanc de Blanc finishes fighting a bunch of unnamed guys.
Somewhere in the DVD error Blanc and the others got separated and now Gideon and Sakura wait at the appointed spot for the Apache representative to return His Excellency. In rides Blanc de Blanc dressed as an Indian chief. He negotiates with the pair but doesn't want to hand over the pony (because he doesn't have it). Gideon and Sakura agree to wait, still unaware that Blanc is trying, yet again, to screw the two of them. Blanc returns with a horse painted with the same pattern as His Excellency, but the animal is obviously not a pony.
This could have been a really funny joke if Corbucci used a Percheron or some other ginormous horse painted up as His Excellency, but he just uses a regular horse. However, instead of something funny he has the painted horse fart in Sakura's face while he's inspecting it.
They realize that Blanc is pretending to be the Apache chief (InekCHOCK!) when he reveals that the real His Exellency ran off. On cue the pony appears up in the rocks and Sakura immediately gives chase.
Sakura is then captured by Captain Crazy but is rescued by real Indians.
Blanc gets the best of Gideon, again, and they start to chase Sakura because he has the key around his neck for safe keeping. All three wind up in a real Apache village run by Machaco.
Cut to Mr. Butler complaining that they mayor and Captain Crazy have failed him yet again. He learns that the three are on recognized Apache land, and commands that Crazy ride in and kill them all. He's been lusting after Machaco's land for ages anyway and this is as good an excuse to solve his Apache problem.
Captain Crazy agrees. Captain Crazy is only a little sillier than the other characters in this movie, and he's played with relish by Manuel de Blas, even the dubbing is sort of spot on with him. I wish he'd been a little more nuts though as he was a moderately entertaining diversion here, but amped up he could have been a blockbuster of funny.
Cut to the Apache village where we get PLENTY if scenes of our three heroes being drunk, inspirational, scholarly, and annoying until Crazy's gang rides into town. Blanc, in a fit of inspirational speaking, gets Gideon really drunk and convinces him to ditch Sakura and take the money so the two of them can go to Paris. Gideon admits that Blanc is his only friend.
At this point I considered visiting my local gun shop, purchasing a .357 magnum, waiting for 7 days for the clerk to check my background, and in the meantime taking gun safety courses, so that once I retrieved my legally obtained mammoth hand-cannon I could come home and shoot my TV.
Gideon can't remember which of the keyholes is connected to the lock and which two are connected to the dynamite. He cries out, "the first time in my life I flaunt the law and I can't remember which keyhole opens the box." He then passes out.
The next morning, hung over, Gideon agrees to open the strong box again after Blanc badgers him. Except now, Gideon says that the money isn't for them, it's for the Apache who have been starved by the white man's greed. He opens the case (in what is the only nice bit of suspense in the film) and reveals that there is a thin layer of one-dollar bills (played by Lira), a shit load of shredded newspaper, and an even bigger shit load of dynamite.
Blanc says that the banker and Sakura already stole the money and they've been chasing around the desert for nothing. Sakura says he didn't take anything. Before the argument can go any further Captain Crazy's gang attacks the village.
Gideon tells Sakura to take His Excellency and leave. Sakura says he can't because Gideon saves his life, Blanc saved his life, and Machaco (that's the Apache Chief) saved his life and as a samurai it's his duty to pay them back.
Crazy demands that Gideon bring out the box.
Sakura grabs the box and walks it out. Blanc doesn't understand why Sakura would walk into what is certain death. Gideon says that Sakura finally understands what it means to be samurai.
As if he would know this —
Sakura says that the chest is light as a feather but he samurai duty is heavy. He takes the case and walks out to Crazy's gang. He then explains that the box is booby trapped and will open it for them.
Blanc hands Gideon his pistol and tells him to shoot the key while he holds the fuse to some stolen dynamite in front of the pistol barrel. This signals the beginning of a big fight scene. Now, I am sure that in the original cut of this movie the fight scene made some sort of visual sense, but because the video source is so fucking awful, not panned, not scanned, we get most of the fight consisting of empty sand and backdrop in the center frame and elbows and knees, or the occasional hat brim, at the edges. That's it. You can't make any kind of sense of it.
In the midst of this muddy melee, Captain Crazy gets his hands on the case, and because he's an idiot and didn't pay any attention to the scene just before the fight with Sakura explaining the booby trap, blows himself up banging on the case with a rock.
With him dead the other men all run off leaving our heroes alone.
No one knows where Gideon went.
Machaco says that with a samurai as brave and smart as Sakura protecting them there is no way that any white men will trouble them again. Sakura agrees to stay with them. He has nothing left in Japan anyway, and if he goes back he won't be a samurai.
Cut to Gideon driving some open top car with a prostitute beside him. He's in a new suit and smoking a big cigar. He says that protecting the million dollars and returning the horse netted him a reward of a hundred grand and now he was going to take his new woman all over the world.
Into frame comes a thumb. How Gideon managed to not see Blanc de Blanc sitting beside the road until he was almost upon him is anyone's guess, but he doesn't. Blanc says he can turn over the car, his money belt, and the woman now. Because he returned His Excellency, that reward should have been his.
Gideon says no.
Blanc points out the several gun barrels peeking over the rocks.
Gideon doesn't fall for it this time, but, oh no, this time there really are people manning the guns, its' Gideon's extended family. Including his wife, who announces that she's pregnant again.
Blanc car jacks the girl and the money and takes off.
End movie roll credit, play annoying musical refrain, eat a metric ton of cheap beans and stuff a lit candle up your ass.
Someone, somewhere, please, collect all of these orphans of spaghetti westerndom and out them out in digitally remastered widescreen. Please. Boot Hill, the Trinity movies, and a whole host of others deserve better than this, they really do.
Maybe I should hold a telethon.