Sunday, March 14, 2010


Terence Hill had been acting in movies for almost twenty years before he took the lead in "Unholy Four" director Enzo Barboni's "They Call Me Trinity" (1971) with his favorite co-star Bud Spencer. Initially, Hill made his cinematic debut in 1951 as a child actor in director Dino Risi's "Vacation with a Gangster" under his real name Mario Girotti. Later, Girotti would appear in co-directors Gillo Pontecorvo & Maleno Malenotti's "The Wild Blue Road" (1957), and director Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard" (1963). When Franco Nero became popular, Nero's popularity was so vast that he couldn't appear in every Italian film so the Roman film industry found suitable substitutes, among them Maurizio Merli and Terence Hill. Hill starred in several Spaghetti westerns, including a Nero-esquire oater, director Ferdinando Baldi's "Viva Django!" (1968) as well as in the Giuseppe Colizzi trilogy, "God Forgives, But I Don't" (1967), "Ace High" (1968), and "Boot Hill" (1969), where he met Bud Spencer.

Although it did not qualify as the first Spaghetti western parody, "They Call Me Trinity" (**** OUT OF ****) cemented Hill's claim to fame and he became famous in his own right. Italian film comics Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia had starred in parody picture "Two R-R-Ringos from Texas" as early as 1967. Meantime, this landmark, low-brow western slapstick shoot'em up roughly imitates the same trail as George Stevens' "Shane" with Alan Ladd and John Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven." Not only did "They Call Me Trinity" turn Terence Hill into an international superstar, but also Bud Spencer and he wound up co-starring in 18 films. They met on Colizzi's "God Forgives, But I Don't" when Hill replaced actor Pietro Martellanza after the latter broke his leg and found himself acting with Spencer. Ironically, cinematographer-turned-director Enzo Barboni is reported to have persuaded Sergio Leone to watch "Yojimbo" because it would make a great western. Barboni lensed his share of Spaghetti westerns, including "The 5-Man Army," "The Hellbenders," "A Long Ride from Hell," and "Viva Django!"

Although it is not the first Spaghetti spoof, "They Call Me Trinity" ranks as one of the top five Italian western comedies, bracketed by its side-splitting sequel "Trinity Is Still My Name" and director Tonino Valerii's "My Name Is Nobody." Unfortunately, Barboni never delivered a third "Trinity," but he did make an inferior spin-off western "Trinity & Bambino: The Legend Lives On." Incidentally, do not be fooled into believing that director Mario Camus' "Trinity Sees Red" is a "Trinity" sequel because it is not. Furthermore, Terence Hill does not play Trinity. Presumably, the distributors were banking on Hill's identity as Trinity to see the film. Terence Hill displayed a knack of comedy so that he could move from a dramatic role to a comedic one. Trinity's first appearance makes it clear he is not a hero in the western tradition of John Wayne riding tall in the saddle. Instead, Trinity sprawls out comfortably on a travois, dragged by his faithful horse that attracts his attention when have reach a stopping point like the Chaparral Stage Coach Station.

Covered from head to toe in dust, Trinity (Terence Hill) fetches his horse some hay and enters the station. The owner gives him a plate of beans. Two bounty hunters with a Mexican in their custody watch in fascination as Trinity polishes off his beans. As he leaves, Trinity takes the poor Mexican with him to the surprise of the bounty hunters. As he strolls out the door with his back to the bounty hunters, they try to bushwhack him. Trinity casually plugs both of them without a backward glance. He just keeps on traipsing along with the little Hispanic to his horse. This scene depicts Trinity's incredible marksmanship. Later, we discover that he can slap a man faster than the other man can draw his own six-gun. The long funny scene when Trinity appropriates the huge pan of beans and wolfs them down with a slab of bread is an amusing gastronomic gag. Thereafter, eating beans became a trademark for both Trinity and Hill. Altogether, Hill is just plain, downright affable as the protagonist who you cannot help but like because he radiates some much charisma.

In the next scene, Trinity rides into town where his half-brother Bambino (Bud Spencer) is masquerading as the town sheriff. Bambino is known as 'the left hand of the devil' and he guns down three tough-talking gunslingers when they challenge his authority. As it turns out, Bambino escaped from prison, shot a man following him, learned the wounded man was a sheriff and then took his job. Bambino is waiting for his fellow horse rustling thieves, Weasel (Ezio Marano of "Beast with a Gun") and Timmy (Luciano Rossi of "Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears") to arrive so they can head for California. Major Harriman (a mustached Farley Granger of "The Man Called Noon" doing faux Southern accent) is trying to run a community of Mormons out of a scenic valley where he would rather see his horses grazing. "Either you leave this valley, old man, or I'll bury you in it," Harriman assures Brother Tobias (Dan Sturkie of "Man of the East"), the leader of the Mormons. Eventually, Harriman teams up with an evil Mexican bandit, Mezcal (Remo Capitani of "The Grand Duel"), and his army of horse thieves. Of course, Trinity and Bambino thwart the Major and the Mexicans and save the Mormons from sure suicide.

The slapping scene in the saloon between Trinity and the Major's hired gunmen is hilarious. Bambino and Trinity get along for the most part, but Bambino has little respect for his half-brother's apparent lack of ambition. Nevertheless, the comedy emerges from their clash of personalities. "They Call Me Trinity" relies on broad humor, some shooting, and a lot of fist-fighting, but this western is neither violent nor bloody. The opening theme song provides a thumbnail sketch of Trinity and it hearkens back to similar theme songs in American westerns made in the 1950s.

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