21 April 2009 | Squonkamatic
You Know You Are Seriously Addicted To Spaghetti Westerns When ...
... you start purposefully seeking out material like JESSE & LESTER, former matinée idol Richard Harrison's rarely seen attempt to make a "Trinity" type slapstick comedy western. Everybody who was anybody had to try making one of these after 1971 and you have to give the guy credit for taking the chance even if he came up empty. Harrison got busy and corralled writer Renzo Genta -- who had already secured his place in history for having penned the marvelous DAY OF ANGER -- to be his fall guy director, conned eventual Euro horror legend Donald O'Brien into wearing a ridiculous fake Dunkin Munchkins beard to be the straight man, and cast himself as a foppish, lovable rogue philandering and fist-fighting his way across the old west in search of a crummy $1500 to build a whorehouse. You know your spaghetti western's ambitions are severely challenged when it's hero can't even come up with an interesting goal. Like blowing Luigi Pistilli's head off, for instance.
The film can be politely described of as an ungainly if harmless mess. Comedy should always be left to either comedians or those with a gift for comic timing, and there are all sorts of examples of spaghetti western comedies that "work" even when bypassing the Trinity formula. Check out Anthony Steffen and Daniel Martin in TOO MUCH GOLD FOR ONE GRINGO to see what I mean. That film's hilarity lies within it's attention to understatement, timing, and panache, where JESSE & LESTER is all about gonzo Euro supporting actors running around in silly costumes, waving their arms, and jabbering excitedly. Between so-called comic encounters there are fistfights, shootings, jokes involving ladies' bloomers, and Richard Harrison in his long underwear. As another reviewer points out, if you aren't really into this stuff it gets tiresome.
The film does have a few saving graces to recommend it to fans of the genre: A musical score by Carlo Savina announces the funny parts with lots of "wahh-wahhh!" muted trumpets, but when it relaxes provides some nice themes, which is what one should expect from Carlo Savina. There's some interesting supporting work done by George Wang in particular (another one of those actors like Steffen who just happens to have a sense for comic timing), Rick Boyd gets to show off his bleached blond hair as a dubiously talented gunslinger, and familiar faces like Fortunato Arena, Claudio Ruffini, and good old John P. Dulaney of ROBOWAR fame rumble it up as assorted desperadoes, con-artists, and unfortunates who's fate leads them into Jesse & Lester's path. Pretty Anna Zinnemann gets to look pretty as Harrison's would-be romantic interest (he generously supplied himself with several, actually). And there are some inappropriate touches of brutality that ingeniously work to undermine the film's comic intentions, including a big, sprawling shootout at the end that seems to go on and on and on ...
Obviously I am not the person to be reviewing this film, and I will offer one concession. Actually, two: The fullscreen pan/scan formatted version of the film that I saw makes it impossible to evaluate in terms of characteristics of form, and the movie may very well play out better in the original Italian. Hence the neutral rating of 5/10. Comedy spaghetti's are an acquired taste but in addition to the original Trinity films & TOO MUCH GOLD -- as well as pretty much anything with Eli Wallach, who is hilarious even just eating a plate of stew -- there are a few which have caught my fancy. Like BEN & CHARLIE, which this film took a lot of it's cues from, Enzo Castellari's ONE DOLLAR TOO MANY, Bud Spencer's life-affirming CAN BE DONE, AMIGO!, and the sly, kitschy surrealism of CAPTAIN APACHE which works even when Lee Van Cleef is singing rather than shooting people. He's not bad, actually. To say that one would be better off going with any of those would miss a point, however, which is that films like JESSE & LESTER make them look epic by comparison. To truly appreciate greatness one must experience a certain amount of mediocrity, and one can only sit through BAD MAN'S RIVER so many times.
While watching the movie one thought did keep coming to mind, which was the question of just WHO was this movie made for? It's too violent for kids and not funny enough for general audiences. The answer is so obvious it should go without saying: People who are dangerously addicted to Italian made westerns and will sit through anything just to watch a bunch of Italians dress up like cowboys and ride around in Almeria. Chances are that if you're reading this review you are among that sect, and must seek this movie out immediately lest you miss the chance of being the first kid on the block who can blather on about how genuinely awful it was. Hurry.