Part elegy for the Old West, part in-jokey celebration of the spaghetti western’s popular ascendance over classical Hollywood models, My Name Is Nobody plays like a deeply schizoid production, albeit an amiable enough one that manages several brilliant passages. One reason for the film’s general impression of patchiness is probably attributable to tensions between producer Sergio Leone and director Tonino Valerii. Though an able craftsman of westerns in his own right (witness something like The Price of Power), Valerii tends to get lost in the shuffle when discussing the creative forces behind My Name Is Nobody. Leone’s name is all over the opening credits, at any rate, while Valerii’s appears only once. By all accounts, Leone was nobody’s idea of a hands-off producer, keeping his thumb in every aspect of production, down to directing several of the film’s larger scale scenes.
Then there are dual protagonists Henry Fonda and Terence Hill, a study in contrasts if ever there was one. Fonda’s dignified old-school gunfighter Jack Beauregard couldn’t be more antipodal to Hill’s irrepressible trickster Nobody. A far cry from his chilling turn as the blue-eyed killer in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, Fonda plays Beauregard as the reluctant hero, an older and wearier facsimile of his Wyatt Earp in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. Whereas the always antic Hill, known primarily for Italian western-comedies like the Trinity films, endlessly mugs for the camera whether engaging in protracted drinking games, walloping witless opponents with a traveling carnival’s punching machine, or even grinding the proceedings to a halt so he can sing a silly little nursery rhyme.
The story is a gangly, episodic saga that follows Nobody’s efforts to see Beauregard inscribed in the pages of the history books by forcing a confrontation between the aging lawman and the “150 purebred sons of bitches” who comprise the renegade Wild Bunch. There’s something about a gold mine being used to launder the gang’s filthy lucre, but mostly it’s an excuse to send up other westerns, or for Hill to launch into one of his more-or-less engaging routines. The opening, for instance, echoes and parodies that of Once Upon a Time in the West: Three henchmen infiltrate a rural outpost, taking over the local barbershop in the process, where they await Beauregard’s arrival. An impossibly protracted slow burner, the scene culminates in a ridiculously impossible bit of sharpshooting. Thus myth becomes burlesque.
Yet there remains something honestly affecting about the film’s invocation of this “closing of the West” thematic, a tonal approximation of Peckinpah’s underrated The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which seems sort of ironic when you consider the scene where Beauregard and Nobody come across a headstone that bears Peckinpah’s name. Of course, the filmmakers have set their sights on the slow-motion carnage emblematic of The Wild Bunch (which gets duly lampooned), not the wistful low-key tomfoolery of Cable Hogue, but still it’s hard not to see such an unambiguous takedown as a territorial pissing contest. What’s more, it suggests the notion that you can view the history of the revisionist western as a series of such competitive calls and responses. If the film takes to heart the famous injunction in Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence to “print the legend,” then Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid would double down on My Name Is Nobody’s pervasive mood of melancholy, resulting in the director’s final mournful masterpiece.
Image’s 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer is a mixed bag. Color and contrast get a major upgrade in quality from previous DVD editions. The source material, however, is prey to plenty of artifacts: Speckles and scratches are strewn across nearly every scene, sometimes distractingly noticeable, at other times only a minor nuisance. The Master Audio mono track is serviceable enough when it comes to dialogue; after all, this is a post-sync dub that’s never going to sound exceptionally dynamic. Then again, the track does quite well when it comes to Ennio Morricone’s freewheeling score with its jaunty Euro-pop theme, brazen quotes from earlier Leone films, and dashes of Wagner tossed in for good measure.
Since Image is touting its Blu-ray release of My Name Is Nobody as a 40th-anniversary special edition, you’d think they could manage to bring something to the party, even if it’s only a measly theatrical trailer, but unfortunately that isn’t the case: Poor old Nobody gets nothing.
My Name Is Nobody gallops onto Blu-ray looking better than ever, but without so much as a single extra for outrider, from Image Entertainment.