Monday, May 18, 2009


The title of writer & director Roberto Mauri's flippant, featherweight, low-brow continental oater "An Animal Called Man" (** out of ****) packs more philosophical wallop about the fundamental nature of mankind than his spaghetti western comedy clone of Enzo Barboni's "Trinity" movies delivers laughs. Anybody but completist Italian western aficionados shouldn't saddle up for this half-baked horse opera. The most unusual thing about Mauri's minor sagebrusher, however, is its feminist slant. The gorgeous heroine, a high-stepping saloon dancer, has a medical degree and can practice medicine, but everybody refuses to seek her services since she is a woman. "An Animal Called Man" appeared long before CBS-TV's "Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman.” "Few Dollars for Django" composer Carlo Savina provides a flavorful score that maintains the film's carefree aura of humor.

Everything opens leisurely enough with Johnny Matson (Omero Capanna of “Forgotten Pistolero”) complaining about the inequality of his predicament as he pedals a huge, old-fashioned velocipede bicycle while Bill Matson (Vassili Karis of “Five Giants from Texas”) lies sprawled in a cart attached to the bicycle. “God will punish you for this,” Johnny assures Bill. In a sense, Johnny is right because later the villains shoot Bill in the buttocks twice. Johnny is especially upset because he always gets stuck with the up-hill climbs while Bill gets the down-hill runs. Pausing in a stream, they playfully knock each other around in the water before they resume their journey to Silver City. When our heroes arrive in Silver City, the townspeople ridicule their mode of transportation and trampy apparel. Despite Johnny’s abysmal showing against Bill in the stream, Johnny knows how to handle himself in a fistfight. He dispatches several opponents with adept, acrobatic movies. The Matson brothers plan to participate in a sharp-shooting contest that pays $500 as well as a night in bed with the gorgeous dancehall girl, Dr. Yvette (Gillian Bray of “The Bod Squad”), who practices medicine on the side.

Nobody informs the footloose Matson brothers that the individual who typically totes off the cash prize and beds down Yvette is the local rancher, Mark Forester (Craig Hill of “Siege at Red River”), with an army of gunmen at his disposal. Forester keeps the town under his thumb. During the shooting contest, Bill goes to the toilet. He uses his trip as a cover to sneak next door to Charles Smith’s general store, burglarize the safe, and plunder a small fortune. He clobbers Smith as the man enters his own store. Afterward, Bill matches Forester in the bullseye shooting contest and then tops him again shooting out candles at twenty paces. When Bill meets Yvette, she explains that she came from Paris, France, with a heart full of hopes and a medical diploma that has done her no good. “Nobody trusts me because I’m a woman,” she explains. “All you want is a pretty, brainless female you can play around with, that’s all men want. To live I had to do something, even sell myself to men. I had to do it. There is nothing else for me to do. People here are just too prejudiced.”

Meanwhile, the sheriff suspects Bill robbed the general store despite his alibi. He visits Bill the next morning in Yvette’s room. “Thievery is rare for us. Local folks don’t go in for it. They’re proud of their honesty. You get the idea,” he says and then searches Bill’s clothing. He finds nothing. Later, Bill slips the stolen money out of a pillow casing while Yvette makes him coffee. Our heroes set out to their “rat’s nest of a shack.” Forester’s men beat them to it and dynamite it. Returning to Silver City, Johnny and Bill check into the hotel. The sheriff arrests Bill the following morning and takes him to jail. They discover that Smith has died of a punctured appendix. The sheriff’s deputy explains, “His wife refused to call Yvette to take care of him so he died.” Reluctantly, the sheriff releases Bill. Our heroes buy themselves some clothes to replace their rags. The livery man tells Johnny that he has a very special horse. “He’s been trained to warn you of approaching danger.” They ride out to Forester’s ranch. The gunmen run Johnny and Bill off the property.” Mr. Forester likes to have only the company of the people he knows.” After our heroes ride off, they masquerade as Forester and demand more money from people that have been paying Forester for protection.

Johnny and Bill return to Silver City to visit Yvette, and Forester’s men escort them out to the ranch. Forester is quite insistent about the ground rules. “There is no room for people like you. Your fancy shooting is going to cost you, mister Matson. People around here don’t outshoot me if they know what’s good for them. And we have another score to settle, a more serious one, before out the business of the shooting, first you’ll have to pay me back the $2-thousand you collected in my name. That was a silly thing to do. Did you imagine you could get away with it?” Bill assures Forester that it was all a part of his plan to get to see him. Johnny and Bill disarm Forester’s henchmen in an ensuing brawl and demonstrate how useless they are to the rancher. Johnny has ringing success with an iron pot that he clobbers his assailants with and knocks them out. Contemptuously, Bill observes about Forester’s hired hands, “Your boys need practice. They’re getting too much soft living around here, Mr. Forester. As bodyguards, they’ve had it. Your life isn’t safe . . .” Forester tentatively agrees to a partnership with our heroes and then orders his men to kill them.”

No sooner do they leave Forester’s ranch than the villainous rancher sends out two gunmen to ambush them. Our heroes survive the ambush attempt, but Bill catches bullet in the backside. Yvette digs it out, making Bill her first patient. Later, he is shot again in the backside and Yvette removes that bullet, too. Forester hires a gunslinger from Laredo dressed in black to kill Bill, but Bill guns him down in a fair draw in a saloon. Later, two Forester men invade the hotel room where Johnny and Bill are sleeping. They fill the bundled shapes on the bed with lead and then receive the last surprise of their ill-fated lives when our heroes pop out of nowhere and gun them down! Eventually, Forester’s own right-hand henchman Joe (Gilberto Galimberti of “Viva Django”) shoots him three times in the back.

Vassili Karis somewhat resembles Terence Hill, but Karis plays a scheming protagonist. Meanwhile, gimlet-eyed Craig Hill is appropriately stern and slippery as Forester, but he isn’t ruthless enough for us to hate him. One drawback here is Forester’s death at the hands of his own men. Mauri doesn’t write any memorable dialogue, but to his credit he doesn’t wear out his welcome. He likes to rack focus and zoom. Mauri’s western isn’t exactly side-splitting material, just amusing enough to be tolerable. There are enough shoot-outs, but none are distinctive. “An Animal Called Man” isn’t a savage spaghetti western.