My Name is Nobody Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
# Jack Beauregard
Jack Beauregard is an aging gunslinger who is planning a return to his home country, France. He’s tired of being challenged by young men who want to prove themselves. The film opens with three gunmen trying to ambush him in a barbershop. The three have gagged both the barber and his youngest son and locked them up in a separate room. One of the gunmen takes the place of the barber and plans to slit Beauregard's throat with the razor blade, but the gunslinger is on his guard and points a gun at him while being shaved. After Beauregard has disposed of the three men, the barber's son expresses his astonishment: he has heard only one shot and Jack Beauregard has killed three men. His father explains to him that it’s all about speed. When the son asks if there’s anybody faster than Jack Beauregard, the father says: “Nobody.“ And then we get the title on screen:
# My Name is Nobody
Basically My Name is Nobody is a film about a nobody who wants to become a somebody. The Nobody from the title is a young, ambitious gunslinger, who, all of a sudden, looks his idol full in the face. He has always been dreaming of becoming Jack Beauregard, the fastest gun in the West, and knows all about the man’s exploits. Jack Beauregard is a hero, but Nobody wants him to become a legend. In order to become one, Jack Beauregard would have to face the Wild Bunch, a gang of 150 outlaws. Beauregard thinks the idea is nonsense, but Nobody has discovered that the members of the bunch carry explosives in their saddle bags. During the showdown, which takes place near a railroad, Beauregard aims at the saddle bags, sending the members of the Bunch sky high. Nobody tells him that his name now will be written in history, and subsequently arranges a fake duel, so that he can take his place as the fastest gun alive.
# A Meta Western
My Name is Nobody was made after an original idea by Sergio Leone, who also conceived and produced the movie. Like Once upon a Time in the West, it’s a meta western: a western about the West, and about the Western. Alternating ‘serious’ sequences in the tradition of the classic Hollywood western, with swift action from the Dollar movies and parodist slapstick in the Trinity tradition, it reflects the development and degeneration of the genre. Leone had never been happy with the stream of westerns that had followed his Dollar movies, but then again, the fact that most directors had tried to ape his style, had tickled his vanity. But the Trinities had been one step too far. If he was the father, Barboni was the degenerated son. He recognized the qualities of the Trinity movies, but thought they had turned the genre into a travesty. Barboni had committed a sort of patricide by parodying the genre, and now the father planned an infanticide by mocking the parody (1).
# A Sergio Leone movie?
Leone thought about the project as ‘a Sergio Leone movie, directed by someone else’ . He wanted Tonino Valerii, one of his most loyal students, to direct the movie, and Valerii is indeed credited as the movie’s sole director. In later interviews Leone claimed he had directed the opening scene, the graveyard scene, Fonda facing the Bunch, and the false duel in New Orleans. He also might have done the mirror and the urinal scene and (part of) the shooting of the beer glasses (2). I don’t think he did any of the slapstick scenes – he explicitly told Hill, who was very keen on being directed by Leone, that he was not going to direct “Trinity” – but he might have had a hand in some of the more light-hearted things in the movie. The mirror scene is usually interpreted as a reference to Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai, but is more likely referring to a similar scene in Chaplin’s The Circus. Chaplin was one of Leone’s favorite directors, and some of the comedy in My Name is Nobody feels Chaplinesque (3). The scenes directed by Leone belong to the best remembered of the entire movie, and I don’t think it’s wrong to call My Name is Nobody an essential addenda to the quartet of westerns he made in the sixties. It’s probably more essentially his than the fifth western that officially bears his name: Duck you Sucker!. Stephen Spielberg once called My Name is Nobody his favorite Sergio Leone western.
# Mocking the parody
Leone had intended Once upon a time in the West as the keystone to the western genre, the summit of the arch, locking the whole together. He had reinvented the genre by deconstructing its myths, but at the same time glorified its history by referring to scenes from classic genre examples. My Name is Nobody would do more or less the same, but with an undertone of ridicule and disrespect. Jack Beauregard represents the classic gunfighter, and he’s played by one of Hollywood’s finest and most iconic actors, Henry Fonda, who also happened to be Leone’s favorite actor, the one he had always admired, like Nobody had always admired Jack Beauregard. Terence Hill is his direct opposite: he represents the stage in the history of the western in which things no longer made sense. He inherits Jack Beauregard’s fame by staging a fake duel, and the scenes in which he uses his gun are all sped-up. This all feels as if it’s not real: Nobody is not a real gunfighter, he’s a fraud and a caricature, he’s not Jack Beauregard’s heir, but his reflection in a distorting mirror.
If No Name was a person who had never needed a name, and Harmonica a man in search of a name, Nobody was a person who stole one. But for what? During the entire movie, the whimsical and manipulative Nobody seems to be in control of things, but during the film’s coda, it becomes clear that Nobody is as much an anachronism as Beauregard. The time of the gunslingers is over, violence has changed, it has become organized, being quick on the draw is no longer a life insurance. Nobody has become a somebody in a world that is gone, that is already history. In the final scene (which echoes the opening scene) Somebody uses a fake gun, his index-finger, to tell the false barber who wants to slit his throat, that he’s on his guard. The scene ends in a freeze frame, as if the director wants to say: Oh come on, this is ridiculous, let’s stop this nonsense.
# From joke to elegy
In spite of this freeze frame, it seems to me that Leone couldn’t bring himself to carry out his original plans. Or maybe he couldn’t resist the idea of showing his copycats how things were really done. Some of the things in the movie are so incredibly strong, and so deeply felt, that the mockery turns into a homage. Leone and Fonda got the news of John Ford’s death on the set of My Name is Nobody (4), and Fonda’s speech seems as much about Ford’s death as about the end of the West. Nobody is treated with respect after he has become a somebody. Beauregard warns him of the dangers of modern life and even expresses his gratitude for what the younger man has done for him. The fraud of the fake duel, is indeed presented as an act of generosity: by “killing” Beauregard, Nobody can become Somebody, and Beauregard will be able to depart, and spend the rest of his life in peace in his beloved home country (5).
# A name on a gravestone
The original idea of My Name is Nobody was that the movie would metaphorically kill the western, but in the end it rather tries to reconcile four types of westerns: the classic Hollywood western, the classic Italian western, the revisionist Hollywood western and the Italian comedy western (6). Even the second jeer, a malicious hint at American director Sam Peckinpah, more or less turns into its own opposite. Peckinpah had refused to direct Leone’s previous project, Giù la Testa, and Leone thought the American was an uncivilized person. He therefore put his name on a tombstone. But the end of the West was also a dominant theme of Peckinpah’s westerns, and in this context the jeer feels more like a friendly turn.
# Locations, actors and score.
The locations, actors and score, all seem to match this synthesis of styles. The graveyard scene was shot in Acoma Puebla, a Native American settlement built on a sandstone mesa in the state of New Mexico. Fonda faced the Bunch in La Calahorra, near Guadix, Andalusia, the homeland of the spaghetti westerns. The scenes with Hill and the Wild Bunch riding through the white dunes are shot in the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The false duel was filmed on Royal Street in New Orleans, where the Old West and the New World collide (7). Fonda and Hill are perfect antipodes, representing Old and Young, Classic and Hip. Leone’s West is represented by some of his stalwart actors like Mario Brega and Benito Stefanelli, while the revisionist western is represented by the likes of R.G. Armstrong (a Peckinpah regular), Steve Kanaly and Geoffrey Lewis. Like the movie, Morricone’s score is very eclectic, mixing the whimsical with the dramatic, using natural sounds (the ticking of a clock) and incorporating influences as different as Wagner’s Valkyrie ride (in the Wild Bunch theme) and Paul Anka’s My Way (in the Beauregard theme).
Alex Cox calls it a half-great spaghetti western, French author Giré thinks it’s un film collage, a patchwork movie. These are my thoughts too. Some of it is pure magic, but in the end there are too many things that do not work to call the movie a masterpiece. Personally I don’t care much for yet another mirror scene and I think the urinal scene (although well-executed) is rather tasteless. The subplot about Beauregard trying to locate (and revenge) his brother is underdeveloped and French actor Martin is a bland villain. The slapstick moments were an essential element of the original concept, and they were also essential to the film’s success in 1973, when it was nearly impossible to sell a ‘serious’ spaghetti, but in retrospect they’re clearly the weakest link.
- (1) Jean-François Giré, Il était une fois le western européen
- (2) For a discussion on these things, see the Film's thread. According to Tom Betts everybody working on the film had to swear “to never mention Sergio Leone directed any of the film”, which would also explain why in early interviews Leone claimed that he had never directed anything himself. Things were further complicated by people involved in the making of the movie (notably Hill and Valerii) making contrary statements, calling each other a liar.
- (3) The International Dictionary of Films and Film Makers: Films, p. 181. The scene from The Circus with the mirror maze: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7VVNyTESTE
- (4) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiano
- (5) Jack Beauregard’s wanderings have also been related to Homer’s Odyssey. “My name is Nobody” was also the answer given by Odysseus (Ulysses) when the Cyclops Polyphemus asked him for his name. See: http://www.livius.org/ho-hz/homer/homer_odyssey.html
- (6) Paul Simpson, The rough guide to westerns, p. 41; see also: Alex Cox, 10.000 ways to die, p. 301-302
Directors: Sergio Leone, Tonino Valerii - Cast: Terence Hill, Henry Fonda, Jean Martin, Piero Lulli, Antoine Saint-John, Geoffrey Lewis, Steve Kanaly, Benito Stefanelli, Mario Brega, R.G. Armstrong, Leo Gordon, Karl Braun, Carla Mancini, Franco Agrisano, Remus Peets, Mark Mazza, Neil Summers - Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi - Story: Fulvio Morsella Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Leone - Music: Ennio Morricone
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