And for a Roof, a Sky full of Stars Review (Scherpschutter)
The film opens with a scene that belongs to the most beautiful in the history of the spaghetti western. A stagecoach is attacked and all passengers are brutally killed. The bandits ride off but the camera remains with the victims, eventually lingering on the face of a blonde girl. A hand brushes the dust from her face and when a plaintiff musical theme starts filling the air, we look into the face of a young man in shock. He is joined by a second man, a passer-by who wanted to rob the victims of the valuable things the murderers have left behind, but is also swept off his feet by the sight of the massacre. While that plaintiff music continues, and the credits start rolling over the screen, the two men decide to bury the victims …
As a result of the mutual experience, the two become friends. The younger one, Tim, is a swindler, using his wit and charm to fleece people of their money. The older one, Harry, is a bad-mannered, but basically good-natured drifter living from hand to mouth. Tim does not carry a gun because – in his words - there’s less competition for a swift brain than for a pair of swift hands. Tim soon tricks his partner by stealing his dearest possessions, a few knuckles of gold. He invests them in a small circus (main attraction: a mermaid), and it seems a good investment, but when Harry catches up with him, he reduces the entire circus to ruins …
Like Death Rides a Horse, Petroni’s most famous western, And for a Roof … is a sort of alternative buddy movie. Soon after the opening scene, the film takes an unexpected, light-hearted turn. A few minutes into the movie, we’re in the middle of an unfunny barroom brawl, and throughout the movie, the tone veers from comedy to drama and back. There are some great comedy moments – like Gemma talking himself into the house (and bed) of a young widow – but overall the film struggles to keep up with the expectations created in that wonderful opening scene. The drama only picks up when we find out that the stage coach robbers from the opening scene, were in reality looking for Tim. And then there’s a second surprise … but you may want find out yourself ...
When I saw this film for the first time, I was disappointed, but I liked it (quite a lot) more when I rewatched it recently. Director Petroni has infused his comedy with a melancholic tenderness that eventually makes us care about these two rascals. With its combination of comedy and hard-edged action, the movie (like many others of the period) is tributary to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but Tim and Harry also anticipate the different approach of the Trinity movies, with the introduction of two so-called contrapuntal characters, one handsome, skillful and cunning, the other chunky, clumsy and rough-mannered. Tim and Harry are vagabonds who are no longer looking for a treasure, but for something unspecified which may change their lives, a home, a family, an income, anything will do, but whatever they do, whatever they’re looking for, they will end up as shabby and down and out as they have always been. Apparently it was Gemma who came up with this idea of the contrasting characters after reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1).
Due to its uneven nature, the movie got mixed comments. Kevin Grant has compared it to Michele Lupo’s Ben and Charlie, made four years later and offering a similar mix of comedy and tragedy (2). Kevin thinks Lupo’s movie is the better of the two. I prefer this one.
Director: Giulio Petroni, Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Mario Adorf, Magda Konopka, Julie Menard, Anthony Dawson, Rico Boido, Franco Balducci, Sandro Dori, Ivan G. Scratuglia, Franco Lantieri, Cris Huerta, Victor Israel, Benito Stefanelli - Music: Ennio Morricone
- (1) The novella tells the story of two migrant ranch workers during the great depression, George, quick-witted and cynical, and Lennie, big and strong but mentally handicapped.
- (2) Kevin Grant, Any Gun Can Play, p. 306
This article is part of the A Fistful of Pasta archive