On Tuesday evening, the day before the Festival officially opened, there was a press screening of the newly-restored Italian print of Fistful of Dollars. While normally the best way to watch a foreign film is in the original language with subtitles, that is not the case with Leone’s movies, unless you particularly want to hear Clint Eastwood dubbed into Italian by Enrico Maria Salerno. Contrary to rumours that recently-found additional material had been restored, the print seems much the same as that released in Italy on the Ripley’s Home Video label, only with the original opening credits – which feature as an extra on the currently-available disc – cleaned and restored, so that once again Ennio Morricone is credited as ‘Leo Nichols’, and Leone as ‘Bob Robertson’. Also, the scene in which the Rojos and the Baxters shoot it out at night in the cemetery, which was previously scratched, appears to have been cleaned up. However, what we were watching lacked the clarity of a restored celluloid print, and the suspicion arose that it was the restored DVD – which Ripley's presumably intend to reissue as a Special Edition – being projected on the screen.
At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, there was a press conference relating to this restored edition. According to the day’s guest list notification for the press, Tonino Valerii, assistant director on Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, was due to attend, but he didn’t (though he's still expected later for the screening of his A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die). This left a number of people involved in the restoration to talk on in an alarmingly technical way about the Techniscope process, four-sprocket frames, digital re-mastering of soundtrack material, etc., etc., etc. If you’ve ever sat through one of those ‘Restoring the Film’ documentaries included as DVD extras, you’ll know what I mean. The most interesting fact to emerge was that, apparently, the restoration of Per un pugno di dollari cost more than the film itself (which had a budget of about $200,000).
After this press conference, it was time to saddle up for real, with the opening film of the retrospective, Alberto De Martino’s $100,000 for Ringo, made in 1965 and starring Richard Harrison. The movie opens strongly, with a woman and baby being chased by a bunch of Redskins. Just when it seems she’ll be killed, a man appears out of nowhere and saves her, but then . . . well, I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it.
Enter Harrison, as a man called Ringo, though for some reason everyone assumes he’s a local rancher just returned from the Civil War. There's the usual set of warring factions, and Ringo, in the manner of The Man With No Name, begins to play them off against each other for his own ends, aided by a not very efficient bounty hunter, played by Fernando Sancho.
Harrison sports a Muscle Beach swagger and a vaguely surly manner which he may have imagined would come off like Lee Marvin, but is, alas, more like Skip Homeier. There’s a ridiculous scene when, without warning, Ringo suddenly emerges out of a loaded hay wagon, but it’s fun to see Sancho doing something other than his usual sweaty bandido routine, and there’s good support too from Guido Lollobrigida, an actor who might well have been called ‘The Man with Gunsight Eyes’ if Lee Van Cleef hadn’t got there first. There’s also an entirely unwelcome appearance by the appallingly cute child actor, Loris Loddi, who was also inflicted on an unsuspecting world in Carlo Lizzani’s The Hills Run Red (1966, and also scheduled for this event). In this one, he’s dressed up in buckskins and called ‘Shane’, in one of the most crushingly unsubtle homages you’re ever likely to see. $100,000 for Ringo is a solid entry, with some robust action scenes, but not a film to stick in the mind.
Calling Ringo...Alberto De Martino
Afterwards, I grabbed a few words with the diminutive De Martino, whose appearance here, unlike Valerii’s, had not been announced. Best known for his horror movies, The Antichrist (1974) and Holocaust 2000 (1977), De Martino made five Westerns, including Django Shoots First (1966). About $100,000 for Ringo, he said, “I love this movie very much because it was my first big success, one that changed my career. . . . The movie is not old because the actions are good and real. It’s not with the computer; you see that it’s real.” Was he surprised that the Venice Film Festival was honouring Italian Westerns after so many years of official indifference? “Well, it's not a surprise – I mean, because it happens with every kind of movie in Italy. The movies, for instance, played by Totò . . . You know, he had a very bad consideration when he made these movies, now he’s a big actor. And so it happens with the Western. But we had Sergio Leone. He was the first Western director declared as an important director, and so he opened the way to us.” Did he particularly enjoy making Westerns? “Yes,” he says, laughing, “But I must confess I also like to shoot movies without horses . . .”
The evening film was They Call Me Trinity… (1970), for which, much to everyone’s disappointment, neither Terence Hill nor Bud Spencer were in attendance. Marco Giusti, co-curator of the Spaghetti Western event and author of a splendid new reference book, the Dizionario del western all’italiana (Oscar Mondadori, €18.00), told me that both stars had been contacted and had tentatively agreed to appear, but as Blondie might have said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend, those who turn up and those who don't.”
The film itself was much less anarchic and iconoclastic than I remembered from the last time I saw it in full (a long time ago, admittedly). While the knockabout fight scenes are amusing enough, especially the delivery of Spencer’s patented pile-drivers to the top of the head, the essential silliness of it all is shown up by the constant need to have the protagonists agree to put away their shooting irons in favour of fisticuffs. All very civil, of course, but civility is not really a quality one wants in a Spaghetti Western. They Call Me Trinity… remains an agreeably entertaining, if undemanding, film, but one which lacks the more subversive humour and mythic resonance of Tonino Valerii’s My Name Is Nobody, made in 1973. Its sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name!, made the following year, was, if I recall correctly, the most financially successful Spaghetti Western ever made, a statistic as depressing as the one which shows Blazing Saddles to have been its American equivalent.
The Grand Canal from Santa Maria della Carita by Canaletto