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Don't turn the other Cheek Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database


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# Introduction

The original choice for the director’s chair was Sergio Corbucci, but Franco Nero refused to work with him after Corbucci had been favoring Tomas Milian on the set of Vamos a matar Compañeros (1). The producers then asked Duccio Tessari, the third founding father of the spaghetti western, to take his place. With a picaresque storyline put against the political background of the Mexican revolution, the movie (View Database Page) nevertheless feels like a Corbucci movie. However the European played by Nero is not a mercenary, but a swindler, and the Mexican is not a peon, but a bandit.


# The Three Main Characters

Nero is a Russian ex-prince, Dmitri Vassolovitch Orlowski, who has become a con man out West. He’s introduced in the opening scene - a lovely series of stills - disguised as a priest, robbing the people present at a wedding. Driving off with his automobile (this is definitely a ‘post-western’) he is stopped by two men who force him to hear their father’s confession. The dying man tells him about the fortune of gold, stashed in a village across the Mexican border, and the Mexican bandit Lozoya (Wallach), who’s in possession of further information. In other words: the movie puts the premise of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly against the background of a Zapata movie. Nero and Wallach are two scoundrels forced to team up in a treasure hunt, because each of them is in possession of pieces of information that will lead them to the gold. The two motifs are linked by means of a third character, Mary O’Donnell, a female reporter of Irish descent, who plans to poke up the fire of the revolution in order to have a scoop for her New York based newspaper.


# Differences with Corbucci's Zapatas

Compared to the Corbucci Zapata westerns, the dialectical aspects (to use a Marxist term) are nearly totally absent. Both The Mercenary and Compañeros featured a professional from the Old World instructing an uneducated Third World revolutionary in the art of warfare, developing a revolutionary awareness of his own in the process (2). This movie looks at things from a different angle. Wallach is not instructed by Nero, his ‘buddy’ from the Old World, but manipulated by Mary O’Donnell, the reporter from the New World. She bribes the corrupt sheriff Randall to free the revolutionary ‘El Salvador’ from jail, not knowing that Randall has already killed El Salvador and therefore saddles her with the bandit Lozoya instead. But O’Donnell is not a woman to be easily daunted and uses all her wit and charm (mainly her well-shaped behind) to manipulate Lozoya into becoming a hero of the revolution. Lozoya is much closer to Juan Miranda from Leone’s post-western Duck, you Sucker! than to any of the heroes of Corbucci’s political westerns.


# The Trinity Factor

Don’t turn the other Cheek is not without flaws, but it’s a very likable movie. Some think Corbucci would have done more with the material, but I doubt it. Corbucci’s art was already in decline around this time, and for most part Tessari's direction is fine. The humor isn’t always refined, but there are also a few clever jokes, such as the sadistic sheriff Randall explaining that he was ‘turned into a turtle’ by his cousin Prince Dimitri, who put a bullet in his spine: he is now wearing a cuirass in order to walk straight. What seems to hurt the film most, was the decision to add some slapstick ingredients to the mix, the 'Trinity factor', so to speak. The genre was shifting towards comedy by this time, and everybody wanted to climb on the band wagon. The body count is pretty high, but every now and then the whole thing seems to slip into parodist gear. A protracted action scene halfway the movie, degenerates into a sort of circus act, with Wallach shooting three opponents with only one bullet, Nero knocking out five opponents with one punch, and a soldier walking off with a toothache after being hit by a bullet (!). The large scale finale, on the other hand, works well, with a lot of frantic action and a band that plays on in true Titanic style.


# Evaluation

The film has a fine cast, even if Wallach and Nero never reach their finest form. Wallach is too much in his Tuco mode and Nero tries hard, but comedy never was his forte. Redgrave finally walks away with the movie as the short-sighted redhead with little or no scruples. Wallach’s transformation from the selfish bandit into a charitable folk hero is a nice illustration of the so-called doppelgänger motif: eventually he identifies himself with the man he’s supposed to represent, so when he’s finally in possession of the gold he was looking for, he donates it to the people. Such a hero of course deserves a hero’s death, and he seems to get it, but then the movie comes up with a twist that is more suitable to a Sabata movie. These wrong decisions on script level prevent it from being labeled as one of the finest genre examples, but it still is way above average, not as good as Compañeros, but better than What are we doing in the Middle of the Revolution, the film Corbucci made instead (as the third part of his Zapata trilogy)


# Original and English Title

The original title is a bit bizarre, a combination of Spanish (Viva la muerte!) and Italian (tua). Literally the title means Long live your Death, or Long live Death ... Yours!, but Eli Wallach came up with another, funnier English title. Like in the east-meets-west crossover Blood Money, the info that leads to the treasure, is written 'where the sun doesn’t shine', and many jokes are made about it. Mexicans, so Lozoya explains, don’t like to be touched on their cheeks, so they won’t show you this particular body part.


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Director: Duccio Tessari - Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave, Eduardo Fajardo, Marilù Tolo, Horst Janson, Victor Israel, Gisela Hahn, Dan van Husen, Tito Garcia, Mirko Ellis, Lorenzo Robledo - Music: Gianni Ferrio

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Notes:

  • (1) The source is a Mickey Knox interview - http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/articles/knox.html
  • (2) The so-called dialectical method goes back to Hegel. In this method contradiction is at the base of things, with a thesis and its anti-thesis leading to a synthesis. The central idea in Corbucci’s Zapata movies is the opposition of the European professional and the third world peon : they learn from each other and lead the world to a new phase, a synthesis of Old School and New Idealism. At least that was the theory …


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