Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Stranger In Town

West Virginia-born Tony Anthony (née Roger Pettito) 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, which was actually shot entirely in Italy, 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 is no coincidence. A Bounty Hunter With No Name (aka The Stranger, played by Anthony) rides into the tiny Mexican village of Cerro Gordo, where he ingratiates himself with bandits led by Aguila (Frank Wolff), who plans to impersonate Mexican soldiers and hijack two sacks of gold from the United States Army. The heist is successful, but a doublecross and a nearly fatal beating set up the blood-soaked climax staged by director Luigi Vanzi (THE STRANGER RETURNS) on the Cinecitta backlot. There is hardly any dialogue, and it’s ironic that one of the sequels — a chattier film than this one — was titled THE SILENT STRANGER.

Though an odd choice for a western anti-hero — he isn’t particularly charismatic, but he pulls off grubby well — Anthony somehow manages to be likable, even while doing unsavory acts on-screen. He’s good with self-effacing humor (granted, not so much in A STRANGER IN TOWN than in the sequels), and plays the underdog well, which likely explains his popularity. Certainly A STRANGER IN TOWN lacks the typical Hollywood gloss, even though it was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein.

Sergio Leone not only influenced the plot, credited to Warren Garfield (THE HIGH CHAPARRAL) and Giuseppe Mangione (SUGAR COLT), but also Vanzi’s deliberate pacing. Anthony slowly wanders the town of Cerro Gordo (“fat hill” — also a small town in downstate Illinois), but when the action comes, it’s exciting and well choreographed. Benedetto Ghiglia’s oddball score isn’t exactly what you would call melodic, but it fits Vanzi’s weird vibe, and you’ll be humming the theme out of repetition, if not affection.

Anthony had a strong hand in his movie career, contributing the story for his next movie, THE STRANGER RETURNS, and producing and writing 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) in 1982. Also in there was GET MEAN, the fourth and final Stranger story.


Grant said...

I never saw it till months ago.
One real "WTF?" kind of moment is the scene between the "Stranger" and the "femme fatale" character. Even in a gritty, violent story like this one, what happens between them seems to break a real taboo.

Felicity Walker said...

“Tempt him, whip him, brand him, break him, but don’t mess up his hair.” :-)

Give that I dislike Westerns, given that some Westerns were based on old samurai movies, I wonder if I would dislike old samurai movies too.