Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Cow(s) and puns of the Old West - The Unforgiven meats Trinity

 By Michael Ferguson

When Enzo Barboni, the soon to be ex-cinematographer turned director, stole away the protagonists of Giuseppe Coluzzi, who had first paired actors Terence Hill & Bud Spencer in God Forgives I Don't, Ace High and Boot Hill, one would assume he was just out to spoof what was then Colizzi's increasing humorous approach to the western. True, but on closer examination he also borrowed certain scenes and plot points from John Huston's less than comical epic-western The Unforgiven (1960), that had starred Burt Lancaster.

Throughout the latter half of the sixties Barboni while he was working for producer Manolo Bolognini at the B. R. C. Produzione Film, as their chief cinematographer, he was mapping out his own version of the old west. There he got to see the latest and newest crop of young actors Italy had to offer: Franco Nero, Peter Martell, Leonard Mann and the newly renamed Terence Hill (ex-Mario Girotti).

Somewhere along the way Barboni cut ties with his producer Bolognini, whom he directed the revenge motivated The Unholy Four, and set out on his own.

At first glance one would think that They Call me Trinity is just a joker version of the three Coluzzi films, but he also added his own wry humor and also cleaver references to The Unforgiven, which he must have seen on repeat showings. He may have even purchased a 35mm copy on film for his own amusement.

Early on in both films bovine humor can be observed. In The Unforgiven there is a tracking shot of Miss Audrey Hepburn greeting her cows as they graze on top of the family homestead. As the farm was built into the side of a hill, the cows were able to roam above.  For his Trinity Barboni was able to slip in a lone hungry bovine graving on the top of the coach-station run by Gigi Bonos, that Terence Hill first approaches. Much to his production manager's puzzlement ("Vacca, why a vacca"?).

This scene alone sets the tone of the film. One can see Barboni running around with his storyboards, featuring among things a contended cow, to bemused industry onlookers.

Another influence from The Unforgiven that Barboni lifted was the character of clownish lug head Charlie Rawlins, played by Albert Salmi, that would become the template for Bud Spencer's brawny performance. Actor Salmi supplies the Huston film its humor. He not only bounds around in playful roughhousing, but also has a comical approach to riding a horse. Here Barboni, saw inspiration, and came up with his own unique mode of transporation for his protagonist. First, he had the character reclining in a native-style portage pulled behind a horse, and later a western version of a car seat in the inevitable sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name

With a finished script Barboni turned back to his job of casting his film. Having worked with Franco Nero (Django and Texas Adios) and both Peter Martell & Leonard Mann (The Forgotten Pistolero and The Unholy Four- all B.R.C. titles), he decided to go in a different direction. 

In Terence Hill, whom he had shot in Little Rita in the West & Django Prepare a Coffin, he found his perfect Trinità. Mr. Hill liking Barboni's easy going de-meaner wisely chose to play along.

For Hill's amicable half-brother Barboni had the fortune of securing the services of actor Bud Spencer, not just because he looked and worked well alongside Terence Hill, but most importantly was already under contract to producer Italo Zingarelli (Five Man Army).

The four partners, Zingarelli, Barboni, Hill & Spencer buoyed by the unsuspected box-office bonanza of They Call Me Trinity teamed up for a sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name, that was released the following year.

Soon after the second Trinity outing, the acting combo of Hill & Spencer returned to the stables of their discoverer Giuseppe Colizzi for a 6th team-up, All the Way Boys. This would be their first non-western together and was financed by their US Trinity disturber Avco Embassy [Joseph Levine]. It would be the start of a two decade long list of box-office hits.


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