Saturday, 11 July 2009

Un buco in fronte / Hole in the Forehead

A nicely executed deliberately paced, mood-heavy opening sequence sets the scene as gunman Bill Blood (Antonio Ghidra) arrives at a monastery and takes advantage of the monks' hospitality.

Blood's first distinctive feature is that he does everything with his left hand. We soon learn his second, and what is his right hand is reserved for as bandit Murienda arrives at the monastery with an acute case of lead poisoning courtesy of General Munguya's men: Blood is a deadly shot with his right hand, invariably planting a bullet in the forehead of his target, right between the eyes.

With Munguya's men dealt with, we learn that Blood had been waiting for Murienda because was in possession of a playing card on which is written one-third of the location of a fortune in stolen pesos.

General Munguya has the second of card and clue, another bandit, Garrincha, the third. Bill thus goes in search of Munguya to see if they might make a deal and share the treasure...

Yes, what we are dealing with here is essentially a The Good, The Bad and the Ugly knock-off. It is also, however, one distinguished from its model in that, once the leisurely opening sequence is out of the way, everything else comes at us quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Blood, the General and Garrincha are already aware of the treasure and that it is somewhere nearby. Nor are there any external obstacles in their way: Though Munguya's title and acquisition of some arms hint at civil war in Mexico, and thus the possibility of discussing revolution and social banditry in the manner of the more political spaghetti, no such context or subtext emerges. Munguya remains thus just being another Mexican bandit whose excessively large sombrero is only matched by his excessive sadism, cruelty and talent for betrayal. (Yes, the arms include a Gatling gun and, yes, it is used for some summary executions, amongst other things.)

Hole in the Forehead's attitude towards its model is made most clear at the finale: It momentarily looks like we are going to get a truel, or three-way duel, as one of the characters (I won't say which) makes an unexpected entrance from out of frame to establish a triangular rather than linear re-arrangement of figures. Then, before we get any serious discussion of the dynamics of the situation, of the possibilities for alliances and betrayals, or the building of tension through the score and the ritualised close-ups, the three are reduced back to two by the summary removal of one (again I won't say which).

Hole in the Forehead also has a distinctive approach to the kind of figures who would have represented its primary Southern Italian audience. Leone's film is ultimately more Tuco's than Blondie's. Here, by contrast, we are placed with the non Mexican Blood against unsympathetic Mexican antagonists in Munguya and Garrincha. Crucially, however, note that I do not say Anglo: If Blood is an Anglo he's also appears to be a decidedly Catholic, non-WASP one considering his relationship to the monks whose monastery has the misfortune to be located right at the centre of the treasure hunt.

Joseph Warren / Guiseppe Vari's direction is efficient and effective, if a touch heavy on the shock zoom - a trope which, ironically, undercuts its impact precisely because we come to expect it.

The dialogue is agreeably pared down and the production design, costuming and cinematography pleasing. Roberto Predagio's contributes an memorable Morricone-styled score. Coupled with Serbian-born actor Anthonio Ghidra's / Dragomir Bojanic's successful conveyance of Blood's self-confident invulnerability, the net result is to make one wish Vari had been more thoughtful in his own contribution at times.

Robert Hundar plays the General with his customary gusto, making for a nice those who talk / those who don't talk 'two kinds of people' pairing with the taciturn Ghidra.

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