They call me Trinity Review
The king is dead, long live the king! In 1970 the Italian western seemed a moribund genre, but this film changed everything. It made a star out of Terence Hill, a blue-eyed, good-looking matinee idol, and Bud Spencer, a former swimming champion, who had represented his country at the Olympics of 1952 (Helsinki) and 1956 (Melbourne). The film did for the comedy western what A Fistful of Dollars had done for the die hard spaghettis : it created a subgenre of its own, spawning an entire army of false sequels, loose sequels, pale imitations and some nice sequels and colorful imitations as well. In Italy, the movie also marks a linguistic turning point: while the diehard western were called spaghetti westerns, the comedy western would be referred to as fagioli westerns (fagioli = beans).
The story of They call me Trinity is surprisingly traditional: it's about two men coming to the aid of a defenseless group of people who are threatened by a corrupt land owner. What made this movie look so fresh, was the presentation of the two Trinity brothers: they're unwashed and unshaved, have very bad table manners, and most of all they're crooks, small-time crooks maybe, but crooks, with no wish to repent. In this first movie we're introduced to Trinity (Hill), a good-for-nothing, lazy and ever-smiling gunslinger who accidently discovers that his fat, grumpy, horse-thieving brother Bambino (Spencer) has become the sheriff of a small western town. Bambino has taken the place of the real sheriff because he wants to steal the horses of a rancher called Major Harrison. To keep his smiling brother happy, Bambino makes him deputy, a particularly stupid decision. Trinity soon causes all kinds of trouble and also makes acquaintance with two lovely Mormon girls, who tell him that their religion permits polygamy. The Mormons have settled in the valley, but Major Harriman is determined to frighten them away. Bambino doesn't want to meddle with anybody's business but his own, but Trinity persuades him to help the Mormons ...
The origins and genesis of this movie are a bit obscure. Barboni has always sustained that he got the idea for a comedy western when he was working as director of photography on Sergio Corbucci's Django, but that his plans were rejected, on several occasions, by spaghetti western producers (*1). Some recent inquiries seem to contest Barboni’s claims. According Luigi Montefiori, who would originally star in it, Barboni wanted to make a more serious western. Some early scenes in the movie seem to endorse this view, for instance the scene with Bambino (‘the left hand of the devil’) shooting several opponents from the hip. Barboni had also other actors in mind, but producer Zingarelli wanted the duo Hill & Spencer, who had become minor stars thanks to a trio of movies with director Giuseppe Colizzi (*2).
Both Frayling (*3) and Hughes (*4) have associated the comedy of this movie with the Hollywood slapstick of the Mack Sennett era, in particular the Laurel & Hardy comedy Way out West (1937). Other sources of inspiration often mentioned, are the comic series by Belgian cartoonist Morris about Lucky Luke, "the man who shoots faster than his shadow" (an early scene has Hill shooting three opponents behind his back without looking over his shoulder) and the Italian comic Strip Cocco Bill, about a short-tempered but good-natured cowboy who helps sheriffs to capture criminals (*5). To me it seems that Trinity also has its origins in European folklore and picaresque traditions; he seems closest to Thyl Ulenspiegel, the famous practical joker from the novel by Charles de Coster. Like Ulenspiegel, Trinity is a footloose layabout, roguish and deceitful, but ultimately kind-hearted and honest, with a clear eye for the ladies, always in for a free beer or a free dinner. Like Ulenspiegel (who fought as a Flemish freebooter against the Spanish oppressor), Trinity will always side with the poor and defenseless.
Hill and Spencer had discovered that audiences loved the contrast between the blue-eyed Casanova and the grumpy fatso, so this was emphasized. According to Hill, in an interview to the magazine 'Amarcord', Spencer and he both liked Stanley Donen's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in particular the famous barn raising scene, and their idea was to make a similar movie, albeit one without songs. Note that the grand finale - one of the most elaborated fistfights ever put on film - is set in and around a barn under construction. The opening scene with Hill traveling in an Indian travois and gormandizing a full plate of beans in a cantina has become classic; it's also the scene that gave the new sub genre its name, fagioli western. There are various nice jokes, such as the running gag of the Mexican bandit leader who can't knock out Spencer and is knocked out himself all the time. There are a few raunchy jokes on dialogue level as well, especially in Italian, with the girls using biblical lines to seduce Hill into a threesome (*6). The film cost less than 400 million lire but it was an immense success, grossing some 6-7 billion lire in Italy alone.
The spaghetti western was dead - Long live the fagioli western!
- For more about the brothers and their movies, see: A Man called Trinity (under construction)
- (1) See: Kevin Grant, Any Gun Can Play, p. 304-305
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana - Franco Nero has stated on several occasions that he rejected to appear in the movie; most sources agree on one of the two names Barboni had in mind for his movie: Luigi Montefiori; according to Hill, in an interview from 2002, the other one was Peter Martell. This would imply that Martell lost an crucial role to Hill for the second time: Hill had already replaced him - because Martell had broken a leg - for God Forgives, I Don't. For the Hill interview (in Italian) see: http://www.terencehill.it/news_intervistaperugia.html
- (3) Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti westerns, Cowboys and Europeans, from Karl may to Sergio Leone, p. 96
- (4) Howard Hughes, Spaghetti westerns (pocket essentials)
- (5) Cocco Bill: http://rzz.mbnet.fi/CoccoBill/index.htm
- (6) See: They Call Me Trinity, Differences in various versions: http://alchetron.com/They-Call-Me-Trinity-28525-W
Dir: Enzo Barboni - Cast: Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Farley Granger, Steffen Zacharias, Luciano Rossi, Dan Sturkie, Gisela Hahn, Remo Capitani, Elena Pedemonte - Music: Franco Micalizzi