19 August 2006 | rmahaney4
One of most satisfying WAI
One of the more satisfying Western all'italiana, Johnny Yuma has the freshness of many WAI made during the heyday of the genre and is highly recommended for fans of the genre or offbeat, intelligent cinema.
Johnny Yuma is, in most respects, not terribly original, but this actually does not count against it. The success of a genre film depends on how well it meets the audience's expectations as well as provides surprising variations on these expected elements. Earlier, pleasing experiences are recreated but with subtle (or major) twist that provide continuing interest. The quality of the execution is also, obviously, important. A tired retread will be less successful than a sincere attempt to entertain or move the audience.
Given these criteria, Johnny Yuma succeeds. There are numerous reprises of elements from earlier films. The setting is the brutal, twisted semi-feudal twilight world of shared by many of the best "Gothic family" westerns made 1964-1968 such as Tempo di massacre (1966). The plot is a combination of the basic Fistful of Dollars (1964) plot and the Ringo films, a fact not surprising as screenwriter Fendiando di Leo was involved in both. Di Leo was one of the best screenwriters in the popular cinema coming out of Cinecitta in the 1960s-70s and his work helped provide much of the thematic continuities and coherency to the genre (Along with a couple of other personalities in a few distinct circles of actors, directors, and screenwriters). In the FOD plot, the protagonist arrives in town, stirs up a tense situation, then undergoes a near-death followed by a resurrection (in some films, like Quella sporca storia nel west (1968) it is quite literally a crucifixion). The Catholic undertone to the narrative and the symbolism is intriguing, especially given the implicit populist/explicit socialist leanings of the filmmakers and their films. The Ringo plot, developed more fully by screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi in a series of films starring Guliano Gemma, a egoistic protagonist chooses the interest of a community over his own through the medium of a relationship with a member of that community (with a healthy dash ironic uncertainty).
The relationship between Carradine and Johnny is clearly based on that of Manco/Mortimer from a Fistful of Dollar (1965). The two scene of the exchange of the gun belts provides a clever dialog and understanding between the two. Numerous films, including Da uomo a uomo (1968) or even El Chuncho, quién sabe? (1967), use this relationship between an older and younger man (father/son, older/younger brother, Anglo adviser/adversary and peasant revolutionary) as a central dynamic to the plot.
Additionally, there is the focus on deception and misdirection, mazes and mirrors, that recur throughout the best early WAI. The canons and pueblos of Almeria become literal mazes through which protagonist and antagonist play shifting games of cat and mouse.
What distinguishes Johnny Yuma from other WAI is the quality of director Romolo Guerriri's use of visual/psychological space together arrangement with the script's intelligent mechanisms to forward the plot. Dialogue was never very important to the WAI and often absurdly unintelligible (thought there are exceptions, such as the cynical commentaries in Django (1966) or Faccia a faccia (1967).
Psychological depth of character is created almost entirely through iconic imagery, it's juxtapositions, and it's description of the overall narrative situation. See how the presence of the deadly Samantha is felt during the beating scene watching from the roof or from the background of the action. Or how Johnny strips Samantha and Pedro of their security and confidence in their power through his stealthy invasions of their ranch, hotel, even bedroom (this, again, is a theme from FOD). Finally, note how there is a focus on the search for information. Like many elements, this is borrowed from FOD which was ultimately based on the hard-boiled mystery novel Red Harvest. It is through incidental contacts, wanted posters, overheard conversations, glances out of windows, watches left in the dust, or mistaken identities and movements through the ripples created by the actions of Pedro and Samantha within this surreal and absurd reality that the narrative tacks forward to it's conclusion.
The movie was notable in it's time for what were perceived of as excesses in violence. Of course, these films were hardly more violent than many American westerns. What was different was the psychological intensity of the violence and the causes to which it was attributed, which is to say that it was not the violence but it's meaning that had changed. Johnny Yuma is distinct and interesting in it's use and portrayal of violence and this is another interesting aspect of the film.
What I personally find most interesting about most of this genre is the link it provides to the anonymous, nameless audiences in Italy and Spain to whom these recurrent narratives held some significance and interest. The artifact may have no intrinsic worth in and of itself some flint debitage from a prehistoric site, a shard of cruse pottery, or a moldering piece of leather and rusted metal but it is reference to some nameless presence, lives, that were significant simply because they existed. While Johnny Yuma has intrinsic worth, much of it's interest for me derives from this connection and mystery.
Top spaghetti western list http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849907
Average SWs http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849889
For fanatics only (bottom of the barrel) http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849890