Thursday, November 13, 2008


"Ace High" (***1/2 out of ****) qualifies as one of the better hybrid action/comedy spaghetti westerns that followed in the wake of Sergio Leone's trend-setting bounty hunter movie "Fistful of Dollars." Variously titled overseas as either "Revenge In El Paso" or "Four Gunmen of Ave Maria," this handsomely-produced, elaborately-staged, sun-drenched, shoot'em up shares something in common with the Lee Van Cleef oater "Death Rides A Horse" (1968) in that our lice-ridden hero (EIi Wallach of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly") got double-crossed by his outlaw buddies and left behind for the law to capture while they made good their escape. A two-bit bandit of Greek heritage, Cacopoulos winds up serving fifteen years in prison. Once he gets out of prison, he is framed by crooked banker Harold ("Trinity" alumnus Steffen Zacharias in a dramatic role) for a murder that he didn't commit, and then sentenced to be strung up by the neck. Although this Giuseppe Colizzi written & directed effort contains about as many twists and turns as a diamond-back rattlesnake, the scripting is often haphazard but nevertheless entertaining. Our heroes participate briefly in the Mexican revolution, a favorite theme of late 1960s and early 1970s spaghetti westerns, which hikes the body count substantially. Italian western buffs who aren't familiar with this well choreographed dustraiser need to saddle up and watch the bare bones Paramount DVD with enhanced widescreen to see what other less well-known helmers were doing with the genre while Leone rode herd over sagebrushers.

For the record, blue-eyed Terence Hill plays Cat Stevens (like the folk singer but no relation to him) and Bud Spencer co-stars as Hutch, his beefy, barrel-chested sidekick who shuns a Stetson. They are an arresting pair to watch in their sweaty, greasy, western outfits, on horseback in the blinding sun prancing around mainly on the plains of Almeria, Andalucia, Spain, where veteran cinematographer Marcello ("Assignment Outer Space" & "The Stranger Returns") Masciocchi lensed this sprawling western in widescreen splendor. A clue to its filming location is the lopsided anvil-shaped mountain in the background that dominates the long scenes not only in "Ace High" but also "For A Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" the way that the Paramount logo mountain stood out against the studio sets in the old "Bonanza" TV series. Another dead giveaway that this is a foreign western is the perfectly synchronized but too cool dubbing of Hill and Spencer. Their perfectly modulated dialogue foreshadows the dubbing on anime adventures of the 1990s. Some of the dialogue sounds like it was translated into the English by foreigners, because nobody would talk that way, but that's what makes Italian movies of any genre so much fun.

Actually, "Ace High" is the second entry in the only cinematic trilogy that Hill and Spencer starred in. Remember, they only did two "Trinity" movies together. "Ace High" picks up where Colizzi's "God Forgives, But I Don't" wrapped up with the explosive death of bandit Bill San Antonio (American expatriate Frank Wolff of "A Stranger In Town"). Our heroes trundle into town with a wagon load of gold, $300-thousand, and try to collect the bounty on Bill, though all they have of him is his boots and hat. When they cannot convince the law as to the authenticity of their claim, they traipse over to Harold's Bank and blackmail him into giving them an undisclosed fortune that Hutch at least plans to retire on and run a small ranch. Seems that the late Bill San Antonio and Harold were in co-hoots in stealing from the bank. Spaghetti westerns always had more plot than they needed. One of the neat touches that occur through "Ace High" is little bits and pieces like the dusty boot prints that Cat and Hutch leave when they saunter across Harold's blood red carpet in this upstairs office. Meanwhile, Harold springs Cacopoulos and hopes that he will kill Cat and Hutch. Caco does steal their newly acquired fortune, but not before he deals with the slippery as a rattlesnake Harold, one of the three men who set him afoot after a bank robbery. Anyway, Cat and Hutch chase Caco across the parched southwest and run across a traveling circus sideshow Thomas (Brock Peters) who performs high-wire (in this case—rope) acts. Eventually, all team up to rob a casino—think a lean, mean, "Ocean's Eleven" with only one casino. The music is pure spaghetti.

"Ace High" is tops!

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