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Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (Los Amigos) - see Database Page

A fairly enjoyable example of a spagh featuring an unlikely pair of heroes. Anthony Quinn is a deaf spy on a mission in 1836 Texas, Franco Nero is his pair of Ears. The opening and the finale are quite violent, but in-between we get some inadequate comedy, delivered by Nero in overdrive.

The only spaghetti western by director Paolo Cavara, best known for his shockumentory Mondo Cane (1962). The story is set in 1836 Texas. Anthony Quinn plays a deaf and mute gunslinger, called Erastus “Deaf” Smith, who works as a spy for governor Sam Houston, while Franco Nero is cast as his comical sidekick and ‘ears’ Johnny, a Mexican of dubious descent (to prostitutes he says he’s from Spain, but apparently that’s what they all say!).

The two friends are sent on a mission to investigate the rumors of a possible uprising of Texans who are opposed to Sam Houston’s plans to bring Texas into the United States as a constituent state. When they arrive at the MacDonald place, to talk to the owner, they find the whole family slaughtered, including women and kids, by a group of fanatics, led by a religious maniac. Knowing that this zealot can’t be the true mastermind behind the uprising, Smith & his Ears continue their investigation, but their job is complicated by the romantic jaunts of the latter: When visiting a whorehouse, Johnny falls head over ears in love with one of the prostitutes and tries to persuade her to leave the business with stories about a gold mine.

History buffs and Texans might be aware of it, but to most others it will come as a surprise that Quinn’s deaf spy was based on a historic character, who owned his knick-name “Deaf Smith” to the fact that he had lost his hearing due to a childhood disease; however, according to some sources the hearing loss was only partial and he was not a mute (*1). Nero’s character was made up entirely. The movie is an odd mix of styles; the massacre at the MacDonald ranch is quite graphic and the grand finale, set in an army fort, is equally energetic and brutal, but in-between we get a lot of scenes with Nero in comical overdrive. Nero can be very effective when playing a cool, taciturn hero or an ultra-cool, sophisticated mercenary, but comedy was not his thing. He is yelling, jumping around, playing a type with two ears but no brains at all: he falls in love with a whore, but is shocked when he finds out that she has costumers (!). Quinn, on the other hand, is excellent as the handicapped spy and director Cavara cleverly illustrates his situation by presenting the scenes shot from his perspective without sound; those moments are very functional, giving us, for a moment or two, the idea that we are Smith, and are deaf. Nero’s comedy capers don't pay off, but there’s a funny reference to his Django days when he’s confronted with a machine-gun and doesn’t know how to handle it!.

Los Amigos isn't bad, but like most spaghetti westerns of the first half of the Seventies with a decent budget and a good cast, it misses this je ne sais quoi when compared to the movies from the glory years; it's still okay, but the magic is no longer there. The score by Daniele Patucchi is, like the movie itself, a mixed affair, alternating dramatic moments with more upbeat themes; The Ballad of Deaf and Ears, sung by Ann Collin, reminded me a little of the spiritual rock operas from the period, such as Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. The film best reviews went, for all the good reasons, to Tonino Delli Colli’s magnificent cinematography of the Spanish landscape.


Director:Paolo Cavara - Cast: Anthony Quinn, Franco Nero, Pamela Tiffin, Franco Graziosi, Renato Romano, Adolfo Lastretti, Romano Puppo, Luciano Rossi, Tom Felleghy, Ira Fürstenberg - Music: Daniele Patucchi


--By Scherpschutter

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