Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Let's take a look at the trailer first this time. This copy was uploaded to YouTube by venomchamber.

That's the trailer I saw on a compilation disc and that's why I rented a DVD of the film now known as Blood Money. I should have been seeing a vigorously brutal story worthy of the hype, something that should have been an improvement on the only other spaghetti western-kung fu crossover I've seen, the merrily vicious and unconscionably entertaining Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe. As far as production values are concerned, Blood Money, a collaboration between Carlo Ponti and Shaw Bros. with Antonio "Anthony M. Dawson" Margheriti directing, wins hands down. This is a beautifully shot film on a bigger budget than you might expect, with lush cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa and evocative landscapes filmed in both Spain (standing in for the U.S. as usual) and China. The music by Carlos Savina is more elegiac than badass, more Ortolani than Morricone, but very easy on the ear. The mighty men who star, Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh, are troupers who perform with enthusiasm....


That's a pun, not a typo, and it leads us to the problem with this promising package. It turns out to be a comedy, but I have no automatic problem with that. Shanghai Joe is pretty funny, too, whether it means to be or not. But the type of comedy The Stranger and the Gunfighter indulges in has little to do with its gunfighting or kung-fu elements. The original Italian title is La dove non batte il sole. My Microsoft Translator rather witlessly translates this as "Where does not beat the sun," but a more idiomatic attempt, "Where the sun don't shine," gets us nearer the bottom of the matter.

We're introduced to Dakota (Van Cleef) working his way through the defenses of a safe. At each obstacle he discovers a photograph of a woman, and with each discovery Margheriti cuts to a flashback presumably showing how the picture was taken. Each woman had a tryst with a short, bald Chinese merchant who seems to have a rear-end fetish. He examines each woman's tush with an appraiser's eye. All of this is unknown to Dakota as he prepares to blow the safe. The merchant appears to prevent the blast, but is killed by the explosion. Dakota is captured, tried and sentenced to death for the merchant's death.

In China, we learn that the merchant was the uncle of Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) and that funds entrusted to him by a local mandarin are unaccounted for. All the official has to show for his investment is a cigar store Indian. To redeem the family honor, not to mention save their lives, Ho must go to America and recover the money. Lo Lieh gets to show off some moves here but the action seems perfunctory and the director seems most interested in getting slow-mo shots of the actor leaping through the air. Still, it's just about the most fighting we'll see from Lo Lieh in the picture.

Ho makes it to our original starting point in time to interview Dakota on the night before the hanging. He decides that the outlaw would make an excellent guide to the rest of the west and contrives to rescue him from the gallows. Reviewing the four photos, our duo realize that they must track down these women and find out what the old man found so fascinating about their butts. The bright but guileless Ho is unselfconscious about asking women to examine their asses or, worse, asking the men in their lives for the privilege. Despite these faux pas he emerges as the brains of the outfit, equipped with a foolproof method of picking roulette winners and a case full of acupuncture needles to enhance his imposture of a doctor. He deduces at last that each woman has had a share of information tattooed on her behind; combined, these rump notes will reveal the true location of the treasure.

"I wish to look at ass of your wife." A redundantly shocking moment from The Stranger and the Gunfighter.

The plot renders Blood Money a mildly bawdy comedy of manners -- or in Dakota's case, the lack thereof. The copy I watched seems to be 10 minutes short of the original length, which may explain why nothing more salacious than a butt is exposed here. The same comedy situations are repeated four times over, while Van Cleef is wasted playing a buffoon. You hold out hope for something better once some villains are introduced: an ex-con religious fanatic murderer (Julian Ugarte) who travels in a horse-drawn church and dresses like Rasputin of the West, and a big Indian brute clearly meant for a showdown with Ho. Add the inevitable Mexican bandits and you have a potentially formidable roster of enemies. But no one's heart really seems to be into the violence, even when a tortured Dakota gets hold of a Gatling gun, and the big fight between Lo Lieh and the Indian is lackluster. This is fatal. There's no point to making a spaghetti-kung fu crossover unless you go for broke with the action and violence. There's no point to watching such a film unless you expect a lot of action and violence. But somebody (Carlo Ponti, maybe) must have thought that the actresses' assets were equal in importance to shooting, kicking and killing. With all due respect to the rears of Femi Benussi, Erika Blanc, Patty Shepard and Karen Yeh, it just ain't so.

"The Deacon" (Julian Ugarte) brings the wrath of God wherever he goes, but no man makes a martyr of Lee Van Cleef -- though they can sure try.

Maybe this film was made too late. By 1974 comedy had contaminated spaghetti westerns to an almost incurable extent, and to a point where we should be grateful that we at least got Van Cleef and not Terrence Hill. By the time kung-fu was big enough globally to make a project like this plausible, the damage had already been done, and it was probably inevitable that a film like this would end up as some sort of comedy. It is only a Seventies dream, I suppose, to envision a film with a gunfighter and a martial artist who are both badasses true to their respective genres, something closer to the Mifune-Bronson teamup in Red Sun. That ideal crossover may exist only in that trailer I saw. If that sort of crossover is what you're looking for, the trailer is probably all you need to see.


venoms5 said...

I have the French DVD for this one, Sam and it has the dubbed version on it. There's also a Shaw Brothers featurette, but frustratingly, it's French language only.

I couldn't tell if there was any additional footage from the old Columbia tape, but I think it's the same apart from being widescreen. It does look like some moderate gore may have been cut most noticeably during the Lo Lieh-Indian fight.

I prefer this one much better to that awful first Shanghai Joe movie. Van Cleef seemed to be having a grand time doing the film and some old Southern Screen magazines from 1974 attest to that.

I thought the fights were kind of poor at first, but got better over the course of the movie. Shaw's was doing a lot of co-productions in 1974 with Italian and German producers because KING BOXER had become a massive success all over the world especially in Europe. Lo Lieh was also in one of those retarde '3 Supermen' movies, too, with Shi Szu.

I liked this western, but agree it could have been better.

Another well done write up, Sam!

Samuel Wilson said...

venom, I confess that Shanghai Joe is a guilty pleasure for me. It's inferior to Stranger on every technical and thespian level, but it delivered what I expected from a spaghetti-kung fu crossover: violence in excess. As for Stranger, I agree that Van Cleef clearly enjoyed himself playing the clown, but I guess that just wasn't the Van Cleef I wanted to see in such a film. And as for the fighting I was disappointed by the sheer lack of it in the middle part of the film. It surprised me because the Italians were quite capable of large-scale knockabout mayhem as in the Steno/Bud Spenser Flatfoot movies and ought to have accommodated Lo Lieh more than they did. All the parts were there in Stranger but they didn't quite click for me.