Now They Call Him Sacramento (Wait, what did they call him before ??)
Now They Call Him Sacramento (I Bandoleros della dodicesima ora)
Hits inspire knock-offs. Songs, movies, books … in each there are smash hits that set trends, and there are those which then follow the trends. In some ways, examining the cash-ins can be a more fascinating and rewarding search: the hits, the touchstones of popular culture, have been dissected and re-dissected ad nauseam. How many books are there about The Beatles — a million. Now how many about The Swinging Blue Jeans? Not a one. Tell me that’s not a tree ripe for picking. Enjoying the copies means seeing what got copied and how, which marks were hit identically to the originator, which were ignored or deemed unimportant. It’s a window into the creative process of those who rush in to make a cash-in, who want to be “the first to be second”, to see which artists are “Hey, I can do that too”, and which are “This ought to hold the SOBs”.
In movies, knock-offs of big hits have always been huge business, nowhere moreso than in Italy. They had their run of James Bond-inspired spy flicks in the ’60s, Godfather and Death Wish -style crime dramas in the seventies, Star Wars-esque Space Operas in the early ’80s, among many others. And that’s without mentioning the mid-60s wave of fake Hollywood Westerns, which in turn spawned its own own rash of copycats, lookalikes, and cash-ins. By the early ’70s, after years of non-stop gritty Spaghetti Westerns featuring squinty-eyed loners on amoral quests to line their pockets with gold and/or exact revenge on their trespassers, moviegoers were ready for something new. The sea change arrived in the form of an amiable, laconic buddy-comedy Western titled THEY CALL ME TRINITY, which upon its 1971 release broke European box office records and made international stars of handsome, charming Terence Hill as Trinity and his grumpy, bearded behemoth of a partner, Bud Spencer as Bambino. The floodgates opened, and a wave of mismatched partners having madcap adventures washed over movie screens for several years. You had to have a handsome guy with a fat guy, or a handsome guy with a tall guy, or a tough guy with a sissy, or a smart guy with a dumb guy. You get the idea. Many of these type of flicks were by-the-numbers affairs, with little to offer save the regurgitation of the formula.
1972’s NOW THEY CALL HIM SACRAMENTO, well, it does stick to the formula! The casting of the two mismatched buddies sticks exactly to the Trinity blueprint: Sacramento is (like Terence Hill) handsome, charming and wily; a tattered layabout looking to find his next easy payday. His partner is “Reverend” Jim (the name coming from his favorite disguise, church garb), a big, hirsute brute, all fists and gut … a dead ringer for Spencer. The pair is dressed almost identically to the iconic Trinity and Bambino outfits: The handsome guy in a beat-up, turned-up cowboy hat and tattered, faded red undershirt; the brute with thick, dark hair and beard and a pair of suspenders that barely contain his belly.
The roles are played by Michael Forest and Fernando (“Fred Harrison”) Bilbao. Forest, a tall American actor, had a long list of of Hollywood TV credits when he relocated to Europe by the mid-’60s. He made numerous appearances in Italian films and did a fair bit of voice-over and dubbing work. Fred Harrison, as he is billed here, was a kind of go-to guy for Hulking Brute roles in early ’70s Europe. In addition to many sidekick parts in westerns and exploitation films, Harrison portrayed the Frankenstein Monster twice in pictures directed by cult legend Jess Franco (DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN and EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN). SACRAMENTO hedges its bets by adding a third piece from the Spaghetti Western bag of tricks: a diminutive, foreign rascal thief a la Eli Wallach’s “Tuco” (the “Ugly” part of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY). In this case it is “Tequila”, Reverend Jim’s pint-sized scoundrel father, played by Luigi “Gigi” Bonos. Bonos had appeared in the small role of a bartender in each of the two official TRINITY films, now here he is just one year down the road in a TRINITY rehash.
Sacramento and Jim each begin the film by running a flim-flam of sorts on a group of tough guys. Sacramento arrives in town leading his horse (the horse wouldn’t carry him, despite Sacramento’s pleas) and saunters into a rough-looking saloon adjacent to a railroad station. He draws the ire of the local toughs inside by ordering a bottle of milk, which we quickly discover is meant for the horse. Sacramento then aims to impress the rowdies by offering a round of whiskey — in bottles, not shot glasses. He gulps down his entire bottle as if it were iced tea, while a trio of tough guys tries to match his pace. In a flash, they are too stoned to walk out to the arriving train, and Sacramento gladly boards in their place.
Meanwhile, Jim, decked out in a preacher’s frock, cons a different group of toughs at another way station by swiping their meal. (Hard to tell if Jim is actually in league with this group—he intimates as such and later events seem to bear it out.) A huge fight breaks out (the first of many we’ll see in the pic) and Jim manages to beat the baddies away for long enough to board the train himself. We learn that our two heroes are wise to a train robbery that’s about to go down: by getting the jump on the two gangs (and a third on the train itself), they are able to grab two saddlebags worth of cash and make a getaway. Things get sticky when the boys, while arriving in the next town to spend their cash, learn that the dough belongs not to the government but to a group of poor farmers. A greedy banker has staged the robbery to cause the foreclosure of multiple parcels of land, which he would gladly scoop up.
We slog through scenes of the money being hidden in a cemetery, recovered from the cemetery, hidden in a Mexican cantina, of Tequila being rescued from a noose (Tuco-style!), and of Sacramento attempting to make time with a comely female farmer (played by Malisa Longo). Also, after many squabbles between our heroes, we get a weird sequence whereby Jim is seen hiding out in the bank office and whispering instructions for Cray, the evil banker, to give to his thugs. So is Jim playing both sides? It is never really made clear.
Anyways, things come to a head in a bravura finale which involves the good guys battling the baddies in a street brawl which involves several instances of dynamite being thrown into a building which then blows up and becomes demolished in grand fashion. You might expect this to be done maybe by miniatures, but careful viewing and a bit of research prove otherwise. I actually love to play “spot the miniatures” during sequences like this, so I did a quick rewind of the first big explosion to “see how they did it”. Well, come to find out they did it large-scale, for real, and not very carefully. Fully visible in the shot are ropes tied to the front wooden columns of the building, which are then pulled taut to expedite the “implosion” of the structure once a cloud of stage smoke is launched. Preeeetty lazy film-making there. Plus, various sources online relate that the filmmakers obtained the rights to use a condemned Western town backlot; they figured why not let us demolish it on film? About a half-dozen structures are destroyed in this manner, usually with ropes fully visible.
The zinger at the film’s close is that after shaming the corrupt banker and sheriff, giving the farmers back their money, and destroying the town, our heroes unknowingly discover an oil gusher. They ride on to their next adventure as the townsfolk become drenched in the oil geyser, rejoicing in their newfound riches.
The direction is by Alfonso Balcazar, who made 29 features in the Western and exploitation fields over his career. He was a writer on many other films, including the early Spaghetti blockbuster A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965). He also co-wrote this one, and while the story is workaday, his direction is notable in its attention to small bits of comic business. Balcazar coaxes some fine moments out of his cast in little, throwaway scenes. Watch the gangsters react to Jim stealing their food, or one of Tequila’s many pathetic attempts to abscond, unnoticed, with the bags of cash. Little gestures and facial reactions are highlighted; that shows care by the director. (Leaving elements of your big-scale stunts obviously unhidden from the viewer, not so much.)
Willy Brezza composed the music, prominently featuring a lazy, folk-rock theme song called “Sundown Son”, credited to Dream Bags. Other tunes I found on the web credited to this group show them to be a typical European pop combo of the era, with spritely melodies and harmonies that bring to mind the style of Gilbert O’Sullivan. “Sundown Son”, which plays no less than three times during the picture, is a nice but annoying easy-listening-style soft rock number along the lines of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, so you can see the connection they were trying to suggest there. The film’s incidental music is countrified, “funny” music that would not be out of place at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant or in a Benny Hill chase scene. It serves to inform you that, yes, this is all pretty silly and meaningless.
With the emphasis on slapstick humor and all-out comic brawls rather than violent shootouts, this film seems ready-made for a Saturday afternoon matinee-type crowd. That is to say, if you are an undemanding 12-year old, and in the APPLE DUMPLING GANG demographic, you’ll be amused by the antics on display. SACRAMENTO is certainly not a bad film, and if the TRINITY flicks or BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID did not exist, SACRAMENTO would seem like a real breath of fresh air. But it’s not, it’s a knock-off — a fairly enjoyable knock-off, a competently-made 87 minute cash-in of some highly successful and influential pics.
My grade: 6/10, a solid C.
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* About the author
Guest author Bawtyshouse is a resident of Ocean City, New Jersey, often called America's Greatest Family Resort. He's the proud father of four sons and also the proud owner of the L. Bill's PEELY BLOG, where he discusses movies and songs.