Monday, December 7, 2009


In his Spaghetti western survey 10,000 Ways to Die Alex Cox calls Tonino Cervi's film "a near perfect revenge Western." But Cox had reached a point in the survey where he was beginning to give perhaps too much credit to fairly ordinary films that at least didn't insult his intelligence, as too many "circus westerns" that depended on technical gimmicks or outlandish stunts were doing at this point in genre history. I'm not saying that Oggi a me...Domani a te is a completely ordinary film -- it's far from that -- but it's also further from perfect than Cox cares to admit.

The thing that bugs me right away is that our avenger hero, Bill Kiowa (Montgomery Ford a.k.a. Brett Halsey), spends the first third of the movie putting a gang together. It just seems to me that a nearly perfect revenge Western should have a lone avenger. Maybe I wouldn't be bugged by it if his gang had more going for it. It's a collection of types: a dandy, a gambler (William Berger), a veteran sheriff, and Bud Spencer doing here for what Cox says is the first time his standard spaghetti character of a big lummox. Spencer and Berger have a certain charisma, which explains why they became spaghetti stars, but the other two characters are ciphers; the one interesting thing the sheriff does is quit his job when Kiowa offers pay in advance and appoint his one prisoner as the new sheriff. Berger doesn't have much to do apart from delaying the plot a bit when he runs away from the gang, but he gets one good line later when he complains about bloodstains on his frilly white shirt. "I paid five dollars for it," he laments, "and I only got two years' use out of it." Ford/Halsey/Kiowa himself is dull (Cox euphemizes this as "unsmiling and obsessed") and we only gain interest in him when we learn what he's really out to avenge.

Montgomery Ford as Bill Kiowa (above and center below) and his gang in Today It's Me...Tomorrow, You.
At the beginning, Kiowa is finishing a stint in prison, having been framed by erstwhile pal James Elfego, a comanchero bandit. Kiowa needs extra men, I suppose, because Elfego has a small army of bandits to hit stagecoaches with. But he wants to deal with Elfego himself because, as a sepia flashback shows us, the wiry little cuss congratulates Kiowa on his wedding by raping Mrs. Kiowa and gunning her down in front of him.
The interesting, if not extraordinary thing about Today It's Me... is that Elfego is played by Tatsuya Nakadai, one of the titans of Japanese cinema. It's an incredible bit of stunt casting that nods to the genre's sources, since Nakadai played Toshiro Mifune's gun-toting antagonist in Yojimbo. More recently, he had scored hits in such diverse samurai fare as Harakiri and Sword of Doom, and bringing him to Europe was a coup just short of getting Mifune himself. Ironically, Mifune had already played a disreputable Mexican in a Mexican film, and he would finally confront the West on his own terms, as a samurai teamed up with Charles Bronson against Alain Delon, in the awesome-on-paper Red Sun. Probably by this point playing a bandit doomed to be dispatched by "Montgomery Ford" was beneath Mifune's station, but Nakadai, not so well known in the West, was game and gets into his work as the leering, sort of nervous seeming bandito.
Cervi was quite self-conscious about the stunt casting, and it shows in the Asiatic-sounding gong included in Angelo Lavagnino's score and in the way Elfego wields a machete like a samurai sword. This makes for one of the most peculiar fight scenes in spaghetti history, something you wouldn't expect to see outside one of those computer simulation scenarios that pit Spartans vs. Ninjas: Nakadai with the blade vs. Bud Spencer with a tree branch.
Spencer already has a bullet in his belly, and Nakadai carves a few rashers off of him before the rest of the good guys arrive to save the big man's bacon. I suppose that's another of the things that annoys me about this movie: given the number of expendable assistant heroes, not one of them is killed. And Dario Argento co-wrote the thing! You'd think he would have come up with some way to get rid of some of these guys. Not doing so leaves the impression that the deck is stacked in favor of the good guys.

Apart from the unique contribution from Nakadai, Today It's Me (also known as Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die) didn't live up to Cox's admiring review. It's not a terrible film -- we're not talking about White Comanche here -- but it struck me as fairly uninspired beyond the stunt casting. It lacks intensity for a large portion of the story and the action is too one-sided for it to be very suspenseful. On the other hand, I only paid $1.97 for it at a local FYE, the sort of store where you can still find obscure items that have long since vanished from other store shelves, so I don't feel that let down. It should throw Alex Cox's critical standards open to question, however, for anyone planning to buy that book.

Here's a mixed trailer with Italian dialogue and English titles, uploaded to YouTube by LindbergSWDB


Nigel M said...

I am, by coincidence planning on getting cox's book- it seems you are a bit unsure of the worth of that...

I spotted in a bookshop on my last trip to the capital and there is never much in the way of italian genre related stuff there.

As to the movie- I am sure I did see this on tv not so long back, and to be honest cant remember the first thing about it (maybe I was a bit full of guiness that evening). I ll watch again.

Samuel Wilson said...

my review, Nigel. It's actually quite an entertaining book because Cox is so opinionated, but its usefulness as a guide to spaghetti westerns depends on your understanding and/or agreeing with his particular biases, and some of the history is bunk.

Nigel M said...

Thanks for that- I would much rather read an opinionated book than one that is overly theoretical. Deep film theory gives me headache :)