Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No Deniro Pistolero: GET MEAN (1976)

Someday I would like to meet Tony Anthony. Some people want to meet their matinee idols so that they can bask in their presence and maybe get some recognition of their hard work of keeping a seat firmly attached to the floor over the many hours and years of watching their films. I want to meet Tony Anthony so I can ask him one question.

Anthony’s film career is a relatively short and rather odd one comprised of a fistful of spaghetti westerns and a smattering of others. His main claim to fame would be The Stranger series. The first film being A DOLLAR BETWEEN THE TEETH (1967), a pretty straightforward, but entertaining, low-budget rip-off of A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS (1964), the second being A MAN, A HORSE, A GUN (1967) and the third being THE SILENT STRANGER (1968) in which Anthony’s unnamed character goes to Japan. This was a genre precedent as RED SUN wouldn't see the light of day until three years later. The film was not well received by MGM who decided to edit it and tack on a voice-over explaining the action early in the film and then shelved the film until 1975. In the end it barely got released to US theaters and went largely unreleased in many foreign territories. I am guessing Anthony had a bit of a fascination with Japanese cinema (as did most Italians at the time) which led to this ground-breaking crossover pic and then subsequently the superb Zatoichi reworking BLINDMAN (1971). Where it all goes pear-shaped is this quasi fourth installment (aka THE STRANGER GETS MEAN), which ends up in a surreal universe that is so completely bizarre that it really has nothing to do with the three Stranger films at all and almost makes EL TOPO (1971) seem rather rational.

The basic plot outline is thus: The Stranger finds himself in a dilapidated desert town that is under attack by Viking raiders. A gypsy fortuneteller and her son offer him ten thousand dollars to escort a Spanish princess (Diana Lorys) back to Spain where she can summon an army to assist in putting an end to the attacks. After The Stranger demands fifty thousand for the task, they are off. Once they travel from Wisconsin (!?) to Spain, they find that the Vikings and the Moors are at war and the Vikings now control Spain (though, the leaders seem to be more Moorish than Nordic) and are searching for the lost treasure of Rodrigo, which as the legend goes, only the princess can find. Naturally this causes some friction between The Stranger and the usurpers , the permanently enraged Diego (Raf Baldassarre), his gay advisor Alphonso (David Dreyer) and the hunch-backed puppet-master Sombra (Lloyd Battista) who has an obsession with Shakespeare’s Richard III. Oh, and yes, you read that right. Vikings in Wisconsin. Hey, maybe they migrated over from Minnesota.

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi (under the appropriately named “Strange Films Inc. Productions”) with some of the same stars as BLINDMAN, from the opening frame you know this is not going to be your average western. Opening with a close-up of a silver sphere sitting among the tumble-weeds on a desert plain (I think I have that album), we are re-introduced to The Stranger as he is literally dragged screaming into a windy, empty dirt town, where his horse promptly keels over and dies, while the town is being ripped apart by desert winds. If that isn’t one of the best character intros ever, I don’t know what is. No lazy, loping into town at noon ala Trinity or slogging through the rain and mud ala Django, nope, this one is not having any of it.

On arriving in Spain, The Stranger and the Princess find themselves trapped between the Viking/Barbarian army and the Moors who proceed to wage an epic battle with hundreds of extras that looks as if it’s lifted straight out of a ‘60s peplum! Once the Moors are routed by the barbarian forces, which include an amazingly cool horizontal gattling-cannon device, The Stranger finds himself strung up by his feet and shot with a cannon mortar while the barbarians take off with the princess. He is, of course, no worse for wear after this and is now pissed off and looking to settle the score. In BLINDMAN he wanted his 50 women. Here he wants his 50 thousand. Sure, it’s pretty simplistic, but I’m fine with that, which is a good thing because that’s all we are really going to get as far as plot is concerned.

One of the most bizarre moments has The Stranger searching for Rodrigo’s treasure in a cavern inhabited by a screaming bearded hermit with a knife. While trying to escape from the hermit, The Stranger is blown up in a black cloud that turns his skin completely black. He finds out that he is completely black by looking down his pants and shouting in horror “I’m black!!”

If there is some symbolism here...
I have no idea what it is.
But wait! It’s not over yet - he then scrambles out of a hole into a small valley that is occupied by a black bull that chases him around until he finally falls into another hole, back into the caverns and is able to steal what he believes to be Rodrigo’s treasure (a figurine of a horse and a scorpion necklace). Narrowly avoiding the hermit’s knife, The Stranger kicks him off of a ledge and escapes right into the clutches of Sombra and Diego who do not even bat an eyelash at The Stranger’s completely black visage. The only thing here that has any bearing whatsoever to the rest of the film is the necklace, called The Scorpion’s Sting, which is used by The Stranger to terrify the villains who believe it to be cursed. At one point he encases it in wax and shoves it down Alphonso’s throat, sending him back to the castle where Sombra has him force-fed on the wheel until he, errm, releases it.

Like many of Anthony’s films, there is a weird mean-streak running through it that is off-set by the amiable, if not downright gullible in this film, quality of his character. Here Anthony plays his character as not the stoic serape-clad loner of the Stranger series proper, but a southern-accented rube dressed in patched up rags. On the other side of the fence, his usual themes of the villains being cruel beyond measure are intact with Sombra forcing a gypsy girl into a duel with fencing swords, only to stab her in the back when she tries to flee. Battista, who co-wrote the script with Baldi, clearly is relishing his obviously self-scripted role by chewing the scenery while being vain, cruel and all the while quoting lines from the Bard’s play, including during his death scene. If nothing else, they were having a damn good time making this movie, that’s for sure. The whole Shakespeare angle is actually great fun and works well in the context of an exploitation film. As much as high-brow scholars pontificate about Shakespeare’s works being great art (which, granted, they were), they seem to skip over the fact that Shakespeare wrote entertainment for the masses. Exploitation plays as it were. Sure there are lots of beautifully crafted soliloquies, rife with subtext and word-play, but the man also worked in groin humor and graphic violence. People meet all sorts of nasty ends, get kicked in the balls and have illicit sex at the drop of a quill. It’s good stuff.

After being roasted like a pig on a spit, The Stranger has had about enough out of the barbarian trio and loads himself up with enough weapons and explosives to make Schwarzenegger shake his head at the excess and says “when things are even up, a man really should fight fair, but oh, when they just keep puttin’ it too ya buddy, and they’re stompin’ on your ass… there’s only one way to fight… get mean!” Yep, for my money, no matter how bizarre the premise, how ludicrous the situations, you just can't go wrong with Tony Anthony and Ferdninando Baldi blowing stuff up.

In the end GET MEAN may not reach the crafted genius that is BLINDMAN, or achieve the dreamlike atmosphere of COMIN’ AT YA!, but it lives in its own little world of surreal weirdness that makes it a must for those who enjoy Tony Anthony’s stuff or just want to see something that is so completely off-kilter that it is no surprise that it hasn’t been released on video in the US and has barely seen the light of day anywhere else. “But wait!” I hear you say, “what’s the deal with the silver sphere?!” That is exactly the question I would ask Mr. Anthony.

Be sure to check out executive producer Ron Schneider's impressive shrine to the film, loaded with interviews, reviews and tons of great info and anecdotes regarding the production.

1 Reactions:

  1. Hello Thomas

    I have Tony's answer for you. But first; When we did Silent Stranger, we chose not to have subtitles and give the audience the atmosphere of what a cowboy arriving in Japan would be like--the original cut was great fun but leave it to the 'suits' to not get it plus there were political problems with them and Klein.
    Now for your answer...Tony saw the end of the spaghetti western genre and felt he had to take it to another level. Where as Silent Stranger put "the Stranger" in another country, GET MEAN was putting the Stranger in another time period(s)-enabling The Stranger to fight Barbarians and Moors -Tony says that is "Back to the Future"--Unfortunately, way too ahead of it's time. I think his concept is confirmed in--"Cowboys and Aliens" :-)
    Ron Schneider


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