My Name is Nobody looms large among spaghetti western and Sergio Leone fans — and probably Henry Fonda’s too, since it was the last Western this legendary range rider appeared in. The legend of its creation is an amusing one, and a rare one among directors who are generally sensitive about the worlds they created. Leone, appalled at the spaghetti western industry that he had wrought, decided to gleefully destroy it with his protege, Tonio Valerii.
If the Italian western was going to become a joke led by actors dubbing themselves Flint Westwood, then by Tuco they were going to make it the biggest joke of all. And the film certainly is. It’s like Mel Brooks by way of Leone — every sacred scene of Leone’s films is mocked and beaten dead of its coolness.
The only thing missing is that they never shoot a blonde fellow in a serape, or kick around a guy smoking a big yellow pipe. Perhaps they couldn’t quite bring themselves to do it. There’s a crying clown under all the pranks, and when Fonda’s character gives his grand speech about the dying West and its romantic gunslingers, you know that Leone, Valerii, and Fonda mean every word of it.
They also refused to slum it. They may be burying the genre, but Leone and Valerii couldn’t resist showing their country copycats how it was done. It may be a satire, but every shot is perfection. Leone personally directed the opening scene, and I think even a blind film fan could tell. It oozes the tension and raw sound that always made his openings a thing of epic, cruel beauty.
There’s also an incredible shootout in a funhouse that tips its hat to The Lady from Shanghai. It’s just begging for a better film. A serious film. A film that isn’t so darn creepy.
Yes, that’s right — creepy. I hadn’t spent long in Nobody’s (Terence Hill) company before his blue-eyed charm wore off and he began to take on a Fatal Attraction level of scariness. This is like Big Fan or Misery, only set in the waning days of the West. Nobody is obsessed with Jack Beauregard (Fonda) in a distinctly unhealthy way that no monkey grin or wink can disguise. He stalks him.
He has devoted his life to becoming faster on the draw, and to setting Beauregard up for the duel to end all duels. He wants him in the history books. It’s like the fans of anything (sports, actors, comic book characters) who can’t rest until they’ve commanded another performance.
Nobody would rather drive his idol into the grave than see him “sell out”, and the implications of that are really terrifying. You could probably read a lot of symbolism into it if you wanted. Perhaps Beauregard symbolizes Leone’s career, and Nobody the studios and fans who wouldn’t let him leave the dust and sand.
As if Nobody’s stalking wasn’t eyebrow raising enough, there’s a distinct homoerotic element that just pervades everything (and I do mean everything) that Nobody does. I kept trying to convince myself I was just reading into it too much, and then Nobody and Beauregard spent some time shooting pool, but with bullets instead of cues.
In a show of bravado, Nobody casually blows two of the balls (count ’em, two) into the pocket and an onlooker actually says “What’d you have to go and blow on his balls for?” Nobody just gives a knowing grin.
I could excuse that as evidence of a very dirty mind, until Nobody corners an old man in a public bathroom (I’m not sure if those actually existed in the West) and makes it his business to help him relieve his prostate troubles. By whistling. And staring.
By the time he points his finger-as-feigned-gun into Geoffery Lewis’ no-no special place (a shot the film freezes on before going to black), there’s just no better explanation than good old-fashioned homoeroticism. Taken by itself, the finger pointing scene would just mean Nobody was all flash, and lacked the grit and preparation of Beauregard. Combined with everything else, it implies that if he’s not shooting for the other team, he at least likes to threaten and tease opponents that he is.
Lest you think I’m being unreasonable, consider that Leone’s Roman masculinity informs every frame of his Westerns. His gunfights were inspired by the Roman chest-thumping he saw on the streets as a kid. There’s a scene in A Few Dollars More where a gang of children watch Manco and Col. Mortimer shoot at each other’s hats (a scene parodied endlessly in Nobody) that’s a nod to what his own childish eyes saw.
If you’re trying to really mock a genre, what better way to do it than to make your fastest draw a man of sexual ambiguity? What better insult can you send to “the new West” (i.e. your copycat countrymen) than implying they’re gay? Plus, the film (and its character) is named after a line in The Odyssey.
You know what everyone likes to say about ancient Greece. Coincidence? I think not. Once Upon a Time in the West proves how delicately Leone can link a homage. There isn’t a scene in that film that doesn’t reference something, and I think the same probably goes for Nobody.
Whew. That’s a lot to dump on a comedy, isn’t it? I’ll stop here, and let you have your own experience with the movie. Honestly, if you love Leone films, you owe it to yourself to watch My Name is Nobody.
It’s a fun little satire, and even if you get bored of the joke, the cinematography and Fonda are worth your time. The sad, proud look in his eyes as he faces down The Wild Bunch can’t be cheapened, no matter how many obnoxious faces Hill pulls. That’s the stature the Flint Westwoods could only dream of, and just exemplifies the whole myth that Leone and Valerii were trying to put down.
(My Name is Nobody is available on Netflix Instant Watch, as have most of the Western Wednesdays before them. How many have you seen?)