Howard Hughes' Review: For a Fist in the Eye

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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Director:

  • Michele Lupo

Cast:

  • Franco Franchi
  • Ciccio Ingrassia
  • Francisco Morán
  • Lina Rosales
  • Carmen Esbrí­
  • Mónica Randall
  • Jesús Puente
  • Alvaro de Luna
  • Jesús Tordesillas
  • Romano Giomini

Cinematography:

  • Alberto Fusi, Julio Ortas

Music:

  • Francesco De Masi
FOR A FIST IN THE EYE

The film's SWDB page: For a Fist in the Eye

Per un pugno nell’occhio (1965), also called For a Fist in the Eye and Fistful of Knuckles, is one of a group of Italian and Spanish westerns – including For a Few Dollars Less (1966) and The Handsome, the Ugly, the Cretinous (1967) – that spoofed Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. As is obvious from the title, this film’s primary target was Leone’s first western, A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood, which had been a huge hit in Italy late the previous year.

For a Fist in the Eye stars two of the most popular Italian comedians of the era – Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia – as a pair of gun salesmen. This Italian-Spanish co-production was shot on location in Spain near Madrid and at studio interiors at Cinecittà in Rome and Vallehermoso in Madrid. Roberto Amoroso conceived and wrote this parody of Fistful, with Roberto Gianviti, Eduardo Manzanos Brochero and Amedeo Sollazzo writing the screenplay. Amoroso’s RamoFilm co-produced it, with Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica (Madrid). It was co-photographed by Julio Ortas and Alberto Fusi. From the stars to the crew, this enterprise seems to have been all about teamwork.

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The film opens with an animated title sequence, of the type so popular with spaghetti westerns. The music by Francisco De Masi is a parody of Ennio Morricone’s themes from Fistful. For the title music, a twanging Sicilian maranzano (for these two Sicilian comedians) and a trumpet deguello are interrupted intermittently by a comedic conflagration of clip-clops, bells, electric and flamenco guitars, harmonicas and deft xylophone runs, while bullets ricochet in the background. The sproing! of the maranzano would reappear in the theme music to Leone’s Fistful sequel, For a Few Dollars More (1965). Lupo’s send-up was released in April 1965, as Leone’s second western began filming, and it’s interesting to speculate if the spoof’s theme music had any influence on Morricone as he scored For a Few Dollars More later in the year.

Franco and Ciccio mosey into the Mexican border town of Santa Genoviefa. Both are dressed in ponchos, one rides a small mule, one a large one. They are gun salesmen, peddling their wares from town to town. On the outskirts of the settlement, they see a hangman’s noose and visit a well for refreshment. Pulling on a rope, seemingly forever, they only haul up a sign: ‘EL POZO ESTA SECO’ (This well is dry). This and other scenes from the beginning of Leone’s film are spoofed by the comedians in their trademark slapstick style. Instead of passing a corpse with a sign saying ‘Adios Amigo’, a sleepy peon (designated the village idiot) who they think is a corpse belches loudly in their direction. A bunch of Mexican kids ‘welcome’ the strangers to town – they shoot at the duo with their cap guns and scare the mules, as the gang of Baxter gunmen had deliberately panicked Eastwood’s mule in Fistful. When a stagecoach arrives in town with a Mexican cavalry escort, Franco looks into the vehicle through the window and gets an eyeful of cleavage and – as per the film’s title – a punch in the eye.

And so the spoofing goes, with set-ups from Leone’s film played for laughs. But around these comic homages, the plot rambles off-track into its own inane territory. The stagecoach contains Mexican cavalry officer Captain Hernandez (Jesus Puente), his wife Consuela (Lina Rosales) and her maid Marisol (Maria Badmayev). Franco becomes enamoured with Marisol and he and Ciccio follow the convoy to Villa Hernandez. While the pair infiltrate the villa (to get a better look at Marisol), the captain is visited by a band of US cavalrymen, who turn out to be a bandit gang in disguise. The bandits are led by Don Ramon Cocos (Paco Morán), who is having an affair with Captain Hernandez’s wife. Back in town, Ramon is engaged to be married to Carmencita (Monica Randall), the beautiful daughter of Señor and Señora Brenton (Emilio Rodriguez and Carmen Esbri).

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The film’s best joke is that Santa Genoviefa is a peaceful town, a place of no use whatsoever to arms sellers, so Franco and Ciccio stir up trouble to sell their stock. They cause a feud between the ‘Fratelli Cocos’ and the Brenton family, by revealing Ramon’s dalliance with Consuela. Carmencita is livid, as are her parents. This results in a big shootout, with the two clans in the main street behind barricades of boxes, wagons and barrels, which greatly pleases the local undertaker and coffin maker. The coffin maker closely resembles Piripero (Josef Egger) from Fistful, as he measures up the heroes for their caskets and takes their dates of birth, while the town’s cantina owner, Francisco (Jose Riesgo), is a mimic of Silvanito the barman (as played by Pepe Calvo). The parody is closely-observed and the details cleverly incorporated, which makes this comedy of great interest to fans of Leone’s movie. For example, we are introduced to Ramon Cocos disguised as a US soldier, but in completely different circumstances to our first sight of Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volonté), also disguised as a US cavalryman, in Fistful. In Lupo’s film, Ramon’s brothers Benito and Esteban are played by Rafael Albaicin and Giullermo Mendez. Alvaro De Luna played Ramon’s cohort Sergeant Black, Francisco Camoiras was Capitan Hernandez’s faithful trumpeter, Jose Canalejas and Rafael Vaquero appeared as US cavalrymen and Simon Arriaga and Jose Luis Lizalde are among the Brenton henchmen. The authentic ‘spaghetti western’ cast only adds to the comedy.

What is of even greater interest to film historians today is the film’s shooting locations. The main town of Santa Genoviefa (Saint Genevieve, rather than Leone’s San Miguel, or Saint Michael), is the same town set used in A Fistful of Dollars. It was a standing set at Hoyo De Manzanares, north of Madrid, and its presence in the film immediately conjures up the right atmosphere. In the background of the opening shot of the film, as the two heroes ride out of the wilderness towards the dry well, the distinctive hump of the Sierra de Hoyo De Manzanares looms in the distance. In town, the cantina is used in Lupo’s spoof in the same capacity, including the interior barroom set. There’s even a shot filmed through the window of the bar to display the coffin maker’s workshop and wares, as in Leone’s film. The Brenton house is the saloon exterior at Hoyo De Manzanares, while the Baxter house is used as the Cocos residence and warehouse, where they store their ‘fuegos artificiales’ (fireworks).

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Captain Hernandez’s villa is Casa De Campo, a museum of historical rural living in Madrid that was used as the Rojo’s residence in Fistful of Dollars. There are extensive views of the property in For a Fist in the Eye – and Lupo reuses the suits of medieval armour and villa interiors, including the dining room with its long table and fireplace, where Esteban and Don Miguel Rojo argued. Look out too for the staircase and landing, where Clint Eastwood passed Marisol (Marianne Koch) in Leone’s film. Captain Hernandez uses suits of medieval armour for target practice with his Winchester and he always ‘aims for the heart’ of his prey – there’s a red ‘heart’ target pinned on the armour. The Rojos’ wine cellar, with its distinctive ramp (where Eastwood was savagely beaten up) is also used here. It is a store room for the Brenton clan, where their gunmen led by Pablo the Terrible (Tito Garcia) beat up Franco and Ciccio. There’s a very funny scene when fearless Franco takes on Pablo in a game of pistol-to-the-temple Russian Roulette – Franco doesn’t realise the gun is loaded.

This 95-minute movie is perhaps Franco and Ciccio’s most sustained foray into the spaghetti west. The loose plot just about holds together and the gags and parodies are pulled off with something approaching wit. Leone may have seen For a Fist in the Eye and taken note. In one scene the heroes are photographed through a hangman’s noose (as Tuco Ramirez would be in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), while in another gag, Ciccio eats a cigar (again, like Tuco). An acquired taste, the twosome made 11 comedy westerns in all, including satires of ‘Cavalry and Indian’ westerns, Zorro and Ringo films, the Trinity movies and their occasionally-on-the-mark send-up of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, called The Handsome, the Ugly, the Cretinous, with Mimmo Palmara as The Handsome, Ciccio as The Ugly and Franco as the cretin.

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For a Fist in the Eye’s final shootout is an inspired piece of stupidity. Captain Hernandez, armed with his Winchester, faces Franco and Ciccio, both dressed up in Man With No Name-style Mexican ponchos. As they approach the captain (accompanied by a trumpet Deguello on the soundtrack) the captain shoots at their hearts and they fall down. But though their ponchos become bloodstained, they get up, to continue their advance. When Il Capitan runs out of bullets, the duo laugh manically and reveal their trick. They are both wearing bullet-proof shields across their chests. Their armour, borrowed from the cantina, is made from several cans of tomatoes used in the spaghetti sauce recipe Salsa di Pomodoro. This fascinating snapshot of spaghetti western history is well worth a look.

by Howard Hughes

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