Lighthearted Italian Western, Starring Terence Hill and Harry Carey Jr., is a Real Winner.
DIRECTED BY ENZO BARBONI (AS E.B. CLUCHER)/1974 (U.S. Release)
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 9, 2021/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Nestled half a world away from Hollywood, director Enzo Barboni’s terrific Man of the East (aka E poi lo chiamarono il magnifico) is nevertheless chronologically and tonally somewhere in between Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface (1952) and Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974). It’s a quietly burnin’ hunk of nonsense that wouldn’t want you to think about it any differently than that. Though thoroughly endearing, and not at all dumb, hindsight 20/20 inclines us to view Man of the East as something that Mel Brooks, a year or two later, effectively goes further than.
There is, thankfully, more to Man of the East than that. Barboni, operating here under his preferred pseudonym E.B. Clucher, which he also used in making the inferior 1970 outlaw comedy The Unholy Four, might have some ‘splainin’ to do in the eyes of some Italian western fans. Taking the notably ferocious “spaghetti” subsection of the western genre to the innocuous and even harmless place of the screen comedy, Man of the East certainly rubbed some bloodthirsty fans the wrong way.
First among them might just be our audio commentator for this Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray. Filmmaker Alex Cox (Highway Patrolman; Straight to Hell), being no stranger to Italian westerns, is on hand for another of his leisurely walk-throughs. Cox sounds thoroughly unimpressed and even a bit remorseful about Man of the East being such a broad comedy. He recalls that the spaghetti westerns of just few years earlier were brutal, violent, unpredictable, and populated with total psychos.
Cut to this film and its trio of varmint criminals (the towering Gregory Walcott, the great Harry Carey Jr., and the rascally Dominic Barto) all of whom prove to be the exact opposite of lethal. Tough talking and grizzled, sure. But no one is shot in the entire 125 minutes, and everyone who gets socked gets back up a minute later. Cox, though, isn’t shy about pointing out aspects that elude him. He is, however, an expert on the genre career of the film’s primary star, Terence Hill. (Hill being the star of the “Trinity” Italian westerns, where he worked previously with Barboni. Cox makes the case that Man of the East is, in actuality, yet another film in that series).
Hill, as the cultured and nonviolent-by-nature Englishman Sir Thomas Fitzpatrick Phillip Moore, carries the film just swimmingly. And keep in mind that carrying anything is a challenge when traveling on an imported bicycle on the unpaved paths of the edge of the American west circa 1880, which is how Moore gets around. (Of note, Man of the East was filmed in Yugoslavia, of all places). His two-wheeled contraption earns no shortage of stares and dumb looks from his friends, the three surly criminals. He aims to settle down and have himself a ranch even as they have their sights set on making a real man out of him. A film like this has a way of granting most everyone’s wishes.
Moore is eventually motivated to fistfighting action over the love of the beautiful fellow bookworm Candida Olsen (Yanti Somer). For the inevitable confrontation with his rival, he must hang up his tweed and dandy hat and put on cowboy clothes and a gun belt. Arriving to the showdown, in lieu of typical bravado he opts to immediately impress the gathered townsfolk with a handstand on the saddle, just ‘cause. It’s yet another fun and unexpected moment in a very unexpectedly fun movie.
Fans of western films, particularly Italian westerns and/or western comedies, will not want to overlook KL Studio Classics fine release of Man of the East. The Blu-ray does solid justice to this entirely pleasing endeavor that is not without a resonant through-line signaling the end of the Old West. It just goes to prove that if you go far enough west, you’re eventually heading east.