Thursday, October 15, 2020

Cowboys Riding Along the Tiber [archive news article]

 The Missoulian

By Louise Hickman

November 29, 1964


ROME – Out here south of the Arno, a man sits tall in the saddle, shoots from the hip and drinks his vino straight.

     That’s the way it is in the movie badlands outside Rome, amico, mio, because in Italy that’s where the West begins.

     It ends in feature-length films that may not be “High Noon” but are usually enough like workaday Hollywood Westerns to be good box office—at least for non-Americans.

     And for the astute cinema wranglers riding herd on Italian filmdom’s latest phenomenon – the Eastern Western  -- a good financial return on their art is good enough for them.

     To movie fans who grew up on Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard and William Boyd, it might seem like pure cinema sacrilege to have celluloid gunslingers with names like Mario del Conte and Gianpaolo Francobolli. To get around that, the names are anglicized.

     But the Italians, Europeans, Asians and South Americans who see the Rome-made Westerns don’t seem to mind. There seems to be an unflagging market for the horse opera and with Westerns now just a minor part of Hollywood production, the Italians have jumped in to meet the demand.

     They see nothing laughable about it, either. If Americans can make movies about Michelangelo, they ask, why can’t Italians make films about cowboys?


     Reluctantly, the film makers have decided that it’s simply too much trouble to do original Western dialogue in Italian. Instead, the films are shot in English, no matter how broken. This makes it easier all around to dub them for the foreign language outlets elsewhere.

     Turri Vasile, producer of “Massacro al Grande Canyon” and “Minnesota Clay”, explains the Italian rage for the range in terms of decline in American production.

     Hollywood now concentrates on TV Westerns and the so called “big” Westerns. The budget that are bread and butter for distributors abroad have disappeared, starting a European do-it-yourself trend that also has them shooting it up on the plains of Spain and Yugoslavia.

     Right outside Rome there’s a whole Western town, complete with saloon, bank and barbershop – and with plenty of hitching space in the piazza.

     Wherever the location, the lead usually goes to an American actor. Cameron Mitchell, Guy Madison and Rod Cameron have starred in recent productions.


     Italians direct the films, but along with most of the secondary players assume American sounding pseudonyms. One Rome press agent went so far as to say his company’s current moneymaker was not an Italian Western. “We consider it an American film produced in Italy”, he said.

     Ads for the movie ballyhoo it as “the exceptional American Western that is triumphing in all Italy.”

     With titles repeating words like West, Texas, dollars and sheriff, the illusion is nearly complete. The action will do the rest.

     “A Western is formula, not history”, says director Sergio Corbucci. “You have to satisfy the public’s concept of the thing. There aren’t many American Westerns that show what America was really like then.”

     Corbucci has just finished his first Western and is the first to put his own name on the product. That’s the only thing that’s worrying him now that “Minnesota Clay” is about to be released.

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