Yankee Film Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Where there's muck, there's brass, the English proverb says; a film critic once added: And where's cinematographic muck, there's Tinto Brass. (*1). Most people only know Brass as the director of movies like Salon Kitty or Caligula, but before he turned to erotic cinema, he directed several avant-garde movies that were well-received in Italian intellectual circles. He also made two short experimental movies on visual language commissioned by university professor Umberto Eco. And yes, he had also directed a spaghetti western.
Thematically Brass' western is a not-so-special variation on the A Fistful of Dollars formula. Philippe Leroy is the stranger in town who smells money when he's told - by the local gravedigger - about a man called The Great Concho, a megalomaniac bandit who has supreme power over the region. Concho is living in his own palace, a church no longer required for public worship (instead he is worshipped!), surrounded by an army of henchman. In the sheriff's office, the stranger notices that Concho and his men all have a price on their head and therefore represent a fortune. The Yankee concocts a scheme to eliminate them all, and collect the bounties.
That's the movie we know, but apparently not the movie Brass had in mind. His material was taken away from him and re-edited to make the whole thing look more like a spaghetti western à la Leone. Brass was influenced by the paintings of Dali and De Chirico and the psychedelic fumetti, Italian comics, by Guido Crepax (*2). He had also wanted to construct his movie like a bullfight, with Leroy in the role of the torero teasing and agonizing his victim before giving him the estocada, the pierce through the heart. In spite of the producers decision to interfere, some of Brass' original intensions still shine through: the action scenes are marked by the rapid editing techniques of Brass' experimental movies and many scenes - especially those in the church - breathe a certain psychedelic atmosphere.
Brass' editing techniques and unusual framing (often showing only one eye of a character) make up for a familiar, all too familar storyline. Initially his western is a bit too talkative, but the action picks up in the second half with a series of brisk action moments and some grotesque imagery, Freudian and Biblical symbolism galore. Concho's girlfriend (Mirella Martin) is tied naked to a totem pole and Leroy is symbolically crucified on a wheel of fire (no, Johnny Cash does not perform the theme song). Leroy is not very convincing as the stranger, but Celi is quite remarkable as the villainous Concho, a cross between the traditional Sancho type of Mexican bandit, a Mafia Don and a depraved Roman emperor.
- (1) There are a few variations, such as "Where there's muck, there's usually Tinto Brass", but I have not been able to find out who coined the phrase, and in what version. See: https://johnlprobert.blogspot.be/2013/06/the-key-la-chiave-1983.html
- Cambridge dictionary: where there's muck there's brass UK saying - said to mean that a lot of money can be made from business activities that are dirty or unpleasant
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana; see also: Kevin Grant, Any Gun Can Play, p. 281.
- For Guido Crepax, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_Crepax
Dir: Tinto Brass - Cast: Philippe Leroy (Yankee), Adolfo Celi (Grande Concho), Mirella Martin (Rosita), Víctor Israel (sheriff), Cesar Ojinaga (Deputy), Jacques Herlin (Philosopher), Franco De Rosa (Angel Face), Pasquale Basile (Gold Teeth), Giorgio Bret Schneider (Painter), Renzo Pevarello (Portuguese), Antonio Basile (Tattoo), Tomas Torres, Francisco Sanz, Osiride Pevarello - Music: Nini Rosso