Okay, I was out of commission for a while there; I was born with a heart valve problem that wasn't too dangerous for much of my life, but I was told that I would need surgery at some point, and well, the time came, open heart, the works. No need to go into detail, but I didn't feel like doing much of anything for about a month and a half; when I did start writing again, I got back to work on the final Zorachus book. I'm back to running and weight lifting, although the full benefits of the operation won't really show for another month or two, or so I've been told. This is my first post since that Vikings piece; what motivated me was seeing this jaw-dropping movie that I'd been waiting much of my adult life to be blown away by.
I grew up on Italian Westerns, but the vogue for them didn't last too long Stateside; their popularity here dropped off after Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and a lot of the best ones either never got imported, or only played in places I just couldn't get to. But the fact is, the Spaghetti Western industry kept on chugging along well into the seventies, when finally it was kinda supplanted by the Italian crime flick explosion, which employed a bunch of the same guys. I never lost interest in the Pasta Oaters, though, and I kept on the lookout. When DVDs appeared, finding stuff got a whole lot easier, and I managed to collect a number of Italian Westerns that I'd only heard about. Leone's films had always been readily available, but work by the other two great masters of the genre, namely Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, was harder to track down. I only recently got my hands on .Sollima's Run, Man Run ( a sequel to The Big Gundown), and Face to Face, a very nifty, scary flick about moral transformation that's The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly's only real rival for best Spaghetti Western.
Or so I thought until I managed to locate God Hates A Bastard.
I'd keep running across references to this thing, by people who were completely knocked out by it forty years ago, but hadn't seen it since. It came out in 1970 and was directed by Sergio Corbucci; rumor had it that it was even nastier than his The Great Silence, had attracted a ton of negative publicity, and had vanished very quickly. As far as anyone knew, it had never been distributed in the US, and it had been kept out of circulation because there was a dispute over the rights. I'd heard that it had been produced by Alberto Grimaldi, had music credited to Bruno Nicolai (his frequent collaborator Ennio Morricone apparently wrote most of it), and starred Klaus Kinski in one of his few heroic roles, as Hunchback Joe, El Penitente, a peon-loving religious zealot who walks around bowed under the huge hollow cross, filled with every sort of killing device you could access in 1913 Mexico.
Facing off against him is Gian Maria Volonte, the main bad guy from Fistful of Dollars and Face to Face, here playing Fulgencio Cicatrice, an especially demonic Huertista colonel...his men under constant attack by rebels, he responds with hideous reprisals, some of them quite imaginative, against the poor civilian population. He's also using peons as slave labor to construct a gigantic fortress....seems to be the same set that they built for El Condor. He's maybe Volonte's scariest villain ever, at least as frightening as the professor-turned-monster he played in Face to Face...his eyes simply blaze, and he's got this very memorable scar, an amazing bit of makeup, that runs from his brow right down his nose, and over his chin. Every time he appears, you simply cringe. He also growls some excellent villain dialogue that really comes through, even in translation, which is very rare...credit has to go to screenwriter Guiseppe Vivaldini, who I know nothing whatsoever about.
Anyway, things are going from bad to vile south of the Rio Grande, and into this situation comes the aforementioned Hunchback Joe, Klaus Kinski in full flaming eccentric mode, surely the most grotesque good guy that ever kicked ass in a western, Italian or otherwise. Of course, if you've seen For A Few Dollars More, you already had a primo Kinski hunchback experience, but imagine that character hybridized with the rebel priest he played in Bullet For The General, and you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about. There's also a great deal of Christ symbolism, as one might expect with a protagonist who carries a huge cross around most of the time. He preaches against Cicatrice, gets tortured extensively by leering goons, and doesn't fight back until about halfway through the movie...then all Hell literally breaks loose. This thing must be the single most violent Italian Western ever made. When Joe gets into the goodies in his cross, he has a particular penchant for blowing noses off faces, and the gore effects are a whole lot more competent than you normally get in Italian flicks. As the peons rise up, roused by Joe's especially sadistic brand of Christianity, we get a number of preliminary slaughterfests leading to a final shootout which is about as bloody as the demise of the Wild Bunch. Cicatrice comes to a fantastically gruesome noseless end, and after receiving many thanks from the peasants, Joe drags his cross off into a gorgeously lensed Almeria sunset...
And oh, I forgot to mention John Ireland, "In the role of Robertson." Ireland made a few of these things (he's in Run Man Run), and here he's a gringo gunrunner who plays both sides of the fence, but winds up aligned with the bloodspattered angels.
Corbucci turns in his best directing job; for my money, God Hates A Bastard is better than The Great Silence, Companeros, El Mercenario, or Navajo Joe, all of which it easily surpasses in savagery and sheer wacked-outness. In between unbelievable bouts of butchery, it's also frequently extremely funny and subversive. If indeed Morricone was primarily responsible for the score, it's one of his very coolest, making haunting use of Gregorian chant; praise to Mr.Nicolai too, if I'm not giving him enough credit. There's even a song (in weirdly pronounced English) that goes:
God hates a bastard
You know that it's true
If God hates a bastard
You know He hates you.
The movie is also uncommonly good looking for an Italian Western. You have the same overused Spanish locations, but they're photographed at more interesting times of day than they generally are, and the colors are extremely vivid, even in my copy, which I suspect is a bootleg, although I'm not sure.
In short, get this movie if you possibly can. That might not prove easy, though. I bought it from some enterprise called Video Tiger, up in Canada, and I haven't been able to locate them since...