Monday, February 19, 2007

Make Damn Sure

West Virginia-born Tony Anthony was a struggling actor in bit parts before he moved to Europe and found great success as the star of several so-called “spaghetti westerns”—Italian productions usually filmed on Roman soundstages and in the Spanish desert. A STRANGER IN TOWN received a major theatrical release in the U.S. in 1968 by MGM and made enough money worldwide to bring Anthony back for three sequels.

The plot is simple and a bit reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, which was made in 1964. A Bounty Hunter With No Name (aka The Stranger) rides into the tiny Mexican village of Cerro Gordo, where he witnesses bandits led by Aguila (Frank Wolff) slaughter a platoon of Mexican soldiers and steal their uniforms. Aguila’s men plan to impersonate the soldiers and meet up with the U.S. Army, who is transporting two sacks of gold meant to be a loan to the Mexican government. The Stranger muscles in on Aguila’s plan by claiming that he’s the Army’s advance man and, with his assistance, he can vouch for Aguila’s authenticity and get the gold with no bloodshed. Aguila, not surprisingly, welches on the deal and beats The Stranger up. Unfazed, the American manages to swipe the gold from Aguila’s hideout and stash it back in Cerro Gordo, where Aguila arrives for the blood-soaked finale.

From looking at him, Anthony seems an odd choice for a western hero. He’s not particularly charismatic, and he’s short to boot. He struck some sort of chord with audiences, however, or perhaps people just liked to pay to see Anthony shoot people. American Allen Klein, the Beatles’ manager during the breakup, produced the film, though it lacks any kind of Hollywood gloss. Leone’s influence on director Vanzi is evident in the occasionally slow pacing, as Anthony wanders slowly around town, giving half the rooms in Cerro Gordo a once-over. When the action comes, however, it’s relatively exciting and well-staged. Benedetto Ghiglia’s oddball score isn’t exactly what you would call melodic, but it does fit Vanzi’s weird vibe, and you’ll be humming the theme out of repetition if not affection.

Anthony had a strong hand in his acting career, contributing the story for his next movie, THE STRANGER RETURNS, and producer and screenwriter of THE SILENT STRANGER, an unusual western set in Japan that didn’t see release in the United States until 1975. Anthony also served as producer and star of BLINDMAN (a spaghetti western riff on Japan’s popular Zatoichi character) and COMIN’ AT YA!, a 3D western that was a surprise hit and kicked off a mini-resurgence of 3D cheapies (such as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 and JAWS 3-D). Also in there was GET MEAN, the fourth and final Stranger story.

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