Sunday, June 24, 2012

Commie Pasta Horse Operas A Go Go!

184) The Big Gundown (1966) Dir: Sergio Sollima Date Released: August 21, 1968 Date Seen: June 9, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

188) The Great Silence (1968) Dir: Sergio Corbucci Date Released: ????? Date Seen: June 13, 2012 Rating: 4/5

191) Tepepa (1960) Dir: Giulio Petroni Date Released: November XX, 1979 Date Seen: June 16, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

My kingdom for more energy to write about movies like these.

 Anyway, The Big Gundown and Tepepa, both of which star Tomas Milian as a Mexican bandit/peasant hero, are interesting in that their fundamentally similar pro-individual ideas are tonally very different. More to the point: their creators' respective approaches to humor are distinct. With the exception of the monocle-wearing gunman in The Big Gundown, who is surprisingly not the butt of many, if any, jokes, Sollima cracks wise at his working class characters' expense and not against the gentry/land-owners. In fact, even a revelatory scene where one nobleman prepares to, uh, take advantage of his station is played straight (I mean, rape's not funny, I get it. But still, Sollima's not exactly a guy whose deranged sense of humor suggests that he'd hesitate before disrespectfully making a rape-related joke). 

In The Big Gundown, buffa gags are only made at the expense of lower-class characters, like the scene where scruffy-looking types cut through Brokston's party. The joke in that scene is on the rich folk who are confused as to what these uncouth-looking people are doing at such a fancy do. Which is interesting since Sollima is on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, etc. Lee Van Cleef's gun may get the last word in the fight between Brokston and Cuchillo (Milian). But that's only because by that point he's seen reason and been inexplicably convinced of Cuchillo's innocence. The peasants have a new champion, and it's the amoral man that transcends his station with his gun (though surely the later scene where LVC practically drools at the sight of food he can't afford is a testament to his impending change in sympathies....).

By contrast, Tepepa mercilessly mocks the rich. Who exactly thought it was a good idea to make Orson Welles, playing a greedy land-owner that our titular hero seeks to unseat, look like Fu Manchu? I'm not exaggerating: he has the Fu mustache, blue eyeshadow and inexplicably slanted eye lids. Whose responsible this?! 

Furthermore, the moral crisis that Tepepa (Milian again) goes through when he realizes that the old boss is the same as the new boss, etc., is intended to be rathah serious. Tepepa's flashbacks reveal the titular character to be a man in turmoil, a would-be revolutionary whose ardor shrivels up because he's betrayed by pretty much everybody. But the only person that we know from the outset will act like a traitorous SOB is Welles's character. And yet, by film's end, Tepepa is so disabused of his delusions, that he manipulates Dr. Henry Price (John Steiner) to his advantage, an indirect sign of his corruption as a character. Tepepa's no longer chaste and pure and full of humanistic righteousness: he's disillusioned and he uses that to do good but ultimately, he can't run from the darker implications of being, uh, how you say, not so innocent?

In the end, we learn that Tepepa has done a terrible thing, a thing that Steiner understandably need to avenge (understandable according to the logic of the genre). But even that act of vengeance needs punishing, ultimately, doesn't it? The ends may or may not justify the means in Tepepa, a film whose code of Ouroboran ethics is actually pretty admirable, in a grand guignol kind of way. When the film's ra ra go revolution (to paraphrase Victor Morton) finale comes, it's a fairly hollow victory. Everybody's dead, corrupt, lame--but we can still remember what they stood for, hey, hey! I don't think that's meant to be enough, ultimately, which is where Mr. Morton and I differ in our opinions. But still: wow, sharp, if crude, stuff.


In case you missed it, I wrote about The Great Silence for Capital New York. Hope you enjoys it.

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