Friday, July 31, 2015

A LOOK BACK AT GIULIANO CARNIMEO'S THE CRAZY BUNCH


Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

Tony Norton: “I am Twinkletoes... and Twinkletoes spells ‘death!’... T as in ‘twinkle,’ W as in ‘winkle,’ I as in ‘inkle,’ N as in ‘ninkle’... and K as in ‘kaput’!”
Goldilocks, a hairless henchman: “You are an indescribably arcane, devious, pusilanimous, fashion-conscious, nefarious, iniquitous, egotistic, narcissistic Western hero!”

These dialogue excerpts sum up the low level of humour at play in this quickie Tricky Dicky sequel (from 1974) to the more consistently enjoyable ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST THERE WAS A MAN CALLED INVINCIBLE (1973); but any western comedy directed by Giuliano Carnimeo and starring George Hilton definitely demands a look-see. The same producers and screenwriter who worked on its predecessor here returned for seconds in the same functions, with DP Federico Zanni and scorer Alessandro Alessandroni assuming the positions originally taken, respectively, by Stelvio Massi and Bruno Nicolai on the originator.

Once again, here’s a token breakdown of the rudimentary plot, which is by no means completely linear and objective in getting from A to B, but here goes nothing: A gang of outlaws awaits passage of a stagecoach to rob, only to encounter clownish adventurer Tricky Dicky (Hilton again) and his less-than-gazelle-like sidekick Bambi (Huerta again). Captain Frutti-Tutti [sic] (Riccardo Garrone) heads into the city of Mad House, Texas, to make a bank ‘withdrawal,’ only to be thwarted by the manager’s in-house security cannon. A political convention is in town. Tricky and Bambi arrive searching for $100,000 that has been stolen from the Yuma Junction mail train. Posing as a schizophrenic who believes he is the Arch-Duke of Austria while Tricky poses as a preacher, Slim is admitted into the Mad House madhouse for electroshock therapy. There, Tricky seeks to coerce the secret of the loot from a patient named Frank “The High-Handed” Fairy (Enzo Maggio). Tricky fakes an outbreak of the plague at the sanitarium. He and Bambi then follow a clue to Cactus River, followed by Frutti-Tutti and his moronic henchmen. There, Drakeman, the amazing One-Man Circus (Memmo Carotenuto), holds the key to unlock the 100-Gs. When he is menaced by Frutti’s bullyboys, Tricky and Bambi thrash them soundly. Proceeding to Striker’s Ranch, Tricky and Bambi defeat the outlaw gang and presumably acquire the missing loot. After his unlucky (for Twink) thirteenth encounter with Twinkletoes the gunslinger, Tricky, accompanied by Bambi and Frank, move on…

During the credits, a waiting bushwhacker is lured away from his post by sight of a fat billfold. When his back is turned, an unseen hand steals his pan of beans as they bubble on the campfire (the gunman ‘seasons’ the cooking grub with a pinch of gunpowder!). Despite the comedic visuals, this intro stands out thanks to Zanni’s screen-filling camerawork, Alessandroni’s charismatic, Neapolitan-laced music, and appealing sunlit, snow-covered background scenery. The latter’s score also incorporates a few familiar notes from “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” the hit pop song made famous by George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969).

George Hilton, Pietro Torrisi and Cris Huerta.

Hilton spends a goodly portion of the action disguised as a quack psychiatrist visiting a frontier funny farm. Expectedly, The CRAZY BUNCH (original Italian title DI TRESETTE CE N’È UNO, TUTTI GLI ALTRI SON NESSUNO / “Three-Seven is the Only One, All the Rest Are Nobodies”) stays true to Ascott’s comic œuvre – that is, Larry, Moe & Curly (and sometimes even Shemp!) by way of Trinity & Bambino. The entire opening sequence is modelled after that to TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME: George Hilton playing George Hilton to the hilt while Cris Huerta (w/ bowler hat) imitates Bud Spencer in look if not temperament. Huerta later dresses up as a Kaiser Wilhelm type, complete with eagle-topped pickelhaube helmet and spacious scarlet boxer shorts. Grinning bandit Goffredo Unger snorts like a horse and makes cuckoo clock noises when Hilton (“That son-of-a-mother in black!”) smacks him in the chops. Inevitable frypan (and chamber pot and drain plunger, etc.) violence occurs. A carpenter swallows a mouthful of coffin nails and later spits them out under duress like a Gatling gun; which would be a pretty handy talent to have if you happen to be a drywaller by trade. A Scottish pirate wears an eye-patch and a grappling-hook hand. One asylum inmate is General Custer (the head headshrinker rightly informs him that “Little Bighorn is a big lie!”; but you don’t wanna hear the dumb gag about “Standing” Bull). Four more loonies believe they are a steam locomotive (“the Colorado Express”). Another thinks he’s a dog and cocks his leg to urinate over a man’s boots. Still another believes he is the Statue of Liberty, holding high a fistful of smouldering cigars. Tricky and Twinkletoes share a homoerotic exchange concerning hu-u-uge stogies: “You put it in yer mouth and suck on it!” – “But, before you smoked cigarillos, not Havana...” – “You’re right, but these fit my mouth better!” Deep-throated Dicky’s foot-long stogie then explodes all over Twink’s face. In the interests of further subtle symbolism, the two pistol pals later reconvene in a cramped closet. Then there’s Frank the Foxy Fairy and Frutti-Tutti [sic], “with his gang of queer boys!” A bad guy refers to Hilton and Huerta as “bumholes.” Befitting this fanciful fairies’ tale, elements of “Cinderella” become evident when our heroes go in search of the man whose feet fit a certain-sized pair of cowboy boots.

Riccardo Garrone (so dead-serious as the black-hearted white slaver in his director brother Sergio Garrone’s fab NO ROOM TO DIE [1969]) here plays it for laughs as a stuttering, effeminate sea skipper with a big hairy wart on his chin. His speech impediment severely hinders his effectiveness as a bank robber, and he somehow gets a cannonball lodged up his rectum (?!). Rather than crowing at dawn, a rooster growls like a dog. Complete with Salvador Dali mustachios, Memmo Carotenuto plays a one-man circus act who pulls a white rabbit named Harvey from a tophat and keeps an invisible pet lion (“Now, there’s a pussy!”). As with Mario Adorf’s in Giulio Petroni’s A SKY FULL OF STARS FOR A ROOF (1968) and Osiride Pevarello’s in Bruno Corbucci’s THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST (1973), Memmo’s fire-eating skills are here put to good use. Even more bizarre is a KKK-robed secret sect of politician-hating anarchists called “The Brothers of the Spool,” who attempt more obscure would-be political satire. Nello Pazzafini has a riot as the jocular outlaw chief, complete with hyperactive Italian hand gesticulations (“...I’ll pull his ears off, bust in his face, give him a nose-job, smash his teeth, break his head, tear his hair, and I’ll nail him to a cross with a bayonet...!”). Three of Nello’s dopey flunkies are known as “Pimplenose,” “Pinkeye” and “Marmalade.” Hilton effortlessly gets his pistol erect on cue (“...look Ma, no hands!”), while Nello’s gang – no matter how hard they try (pun intended) – just can’t get ’em up. A duel with rapiers foreshadows the swashbuckling antics of Hilton’s silly willy in Franco Lo Cascio’s masked hero spoof The MARK OF ZORRO (1975).


Certain onscreen signs herein are printed in Italian; while a notice in the nuthouse intriguingly misreads “VIOLENTLY DEPARTMENT.” Not quite the Queen’s English, although the excess of Limey slang (“blinkin’ heck!” – “bloody ear’oles!” – “buggered-up!”) leads one to suspect the movie was dubbed with the British market in mind. Other dialogue is so out-of-it (e.g., “I don’t give a pollywog about fish!”) that it’s hard to determine precisely what export market the producers had their sights on. The disorienting, pleonastic dubbed script is not as consistently laugh-inducing as the forerunning film. The ’80s-vintage English-dubbed VHS videotape reviewed here came with Greek subtitles (God only knows how the humour translated into Greek!).

Like the first film, Carnimeo piles on the gags thick (real thick) and quick, apparently going by the philosophy that if the last gag didn’t git ya, then the next one will. Unfortunately, like too many of these “crazy” parodies (as well as exhaustive reviews of them), the sheer abundance of “rib-tickling” sight and sound gags soon leave you gasping for breath. Choreography of the comedy stunts is handled with real flair, while for a big man Huerta handles himself with surprising agility. Physical comedy is the star here, helped by smooth editing and some judiciously applied fast-motion (and you could always speed it closer to the finish line with your FF button, if needs be!). The latter half-hour really picks up, with some hilarious split-second slapstick routines.

As Twinkletoes astutely observes, “You’re a funny man, Tricky... though I’m not gonna die laughing!” You may not either, but The CRAZY BUNCH is still a hoot... depending entirely on your state of mind (or lack thereof). And once again, nobody is killed, so it’s no-guilt entertainment. So kick back, fire up a Marlboro Longhorn 100 – or perhaps a foot-long, inch-thick stogie – for the occasion and let the craziness take you!

Notes:  Assistant director was seasoned stunt-hand Goffredo “Fredy” Unger. Upon its 1974 release, the film received no Canadian playdates on the ethnic Italian theatrical circuit. After popping up for a few airings on television in Italy and playing a brief run in German cinemas, it seemed to fade from sight (until eventually reemerging circa the late-’80s / early-’90s via that ninth wonder of the world, pre-DVD Greek videotape).1

1. This Greek videotape was released by Key Video and, although unusual for most Greek tapes of the time, it was letterboxed at approximately 1.66:1.  It was in English with Greek subtitles.  Fortunately, The CRAZY BUNCH has since been released on German DVD courtesy of X-Rated Kult DVD in one of those fancy oversized hardboxes.  Presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, it was unfortunately not enhanced for 16x9, but zooming into the picture helped alleviate this; plus it got rid of that annoying disclaimer at the bottom of the screen “Only for sale in Germany, Austria and Switzerland”, which some DVD and Blu-Ray players could remove. The disc contained German, English and Italian audio tracks, a trailer and a small photo gallery.  As a bonus, this “spezial” 2-disc edition also contained an uncut version of Maurizio Lucidi’s The GREATEST ROBBERY OF THE WEST (1967) on a separate disc, and like The CRAZY BUNCH, it also contained German, English and Italian audio tracks along with the film’s memorable English trailer and a brief photo gallery.  This past May, yet another English friendly DVD of The CRAZY BUNCH surfaced in Germany courtesy of Edel with the added bonus of a 16x9 print. –Dennis Capicik

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