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Cry Onion
(a.k.a. Cipolla Colt)
(1975)

Director: Enzo G. Castellari   
Cast:
(See below), Martin Balsam, Sterling Hayden


Ah, those Italians, you've gotta love them. They have the ability to take something old and familiar, and give it an extra zing to make it feel fresh and invigorating. They have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. I think it all started around the time they brought back noodles from China; they took them into their kitchen, and quickly came out with the more tasty (and manly) dish of spaghetti. Then there was the time where they decided to reserve a special place for the creation of Italians who happened to be more spicy in spirit than usual; you can see for yourself today if you take a trip to Sicily. (As for a place for Italians who simply lack spice in their spirit, that's where Sardinia comes in.) But much of this ability to create something new out of what's old hat in the past few decades has been used in their film industry. Things really starting cooking in this area several years after the Second World War. First, they noticed that movies - European, American, or wherever - were lacking anything resembling sexiness. So they went into their studios and added a bunch of ingredients to their movies to make them nice and sexy, these ingredients ranging from nudity to Sophia Loren. Then they noticed that movies world-wide were lacking in fantasy, but a drop of musclemen combined with a dash of sword and sandals into the brew remedied things. Not long afterwards, they saw that the western had become as dry and dreary as a prairie, but an injection of violence and cynicism got the vitals flowing again. Funnily enough, their use of violence and cynicism proved handy in several other genres they touched, like the ever-popular zombie genre.

But with the Italians being as spicy as they are, sometimes they prove Cry Onionto not be content with adding just a little kick to something. There are times when they get the impulse to give it an extra shot of something, even if it takes it towards a direction not so obvious. For example, when the spice of violence and cynicism started wearing off in their spaghetti westerns, a sprinkle of comedy helped to rejuvenate things and help the genre to last a few more years. And then there are times when the Italians are not content to simply add a dash, a sprinkle, or even a kick of something. There are times when they simply open everything in their spice cabinet and throw it in the pot. There is a term often used for this kind of action, and it is called "insanity". It's when the filmmakers seem to be high on those same spices they threw in the pot, and their end results show little to nothing in the way of rational thinking. I've reviewed a few of these movies in the past - Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, Troll 2 - and while I have found their flavor to be certainly downright odd at times, at the same time I have found them refreshing. Because - let's face it, everyone - it is fun once in a while to see something done with what seems to be limited brain power. We have an instinct to seize on other people screw-ups, perhaps so we can feel superior and that nothing is wrong with ourselves.

Cry Onion is one of these kinds of movies, though it also happens to be a little different in a way. When watching it, you certainly start wondering just what the hell director Enzo G. Castellari (The Last Shark, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas) and the other people behind the movie were thinking. But at the same time it's clear that the movie's berserk nature was intentional; the movie was fashioned to be more or less a slapstick comedy, with plenty of crazy and unreal situations. Some may argue that since the movie was intended to be this way, it really doesn't deserve to be placed beside movies like Sinbad or Troll 2 since those movies were intended to more or less be straight. Under normal circumstances, that would probably be true. But we are talking about Italians here, remember. Sure, the movie was intended from the get-go to be a comedy, but remember about that spicy Italian spirit I was talking about. In this case, it spiced up the comedy - and pretty much everything else in the movie - to go beyond simple humor and into the surreal.

Actually, it starts off pretty much like your typical spaghetti western, albeit one with above-average production values. Spectacular production values, as a matter of fact. We find ourselves in a bustling oil town, where dozens of extras are seen riding, working, and puttering around below dozens of oil rigs towering dozens of feet in the air over dozens and dozens of acres of desert landscape. Three tough-looking riders exit the area, going through the nearby Paradise City first. Thanks to overheard conversations from the townspeople they pass, we learn they are enforcers for the local oil cartel, and are planning to visit Foster, a farmer who is the last holdout in the area. They find him on his farm, seize him and start beating him up, finally finishing him off by throwing him off a cliff. (Gee, I thought this was a comedy.) Nothing terribly unusual so far, except maybe that Foster's son Al - a boy who can't be more than twelve years old - speaks with a quite adult voice. Then we cut to El Paso, at the headquarters of this oil company (which goes by the name "Oil Company".) In a boardroom meeting we find the ringleader of the villainy going on in Paradise City, the oil company's president Petrus Lamb (Balsam, Mitchell). With Foster's "accident", he proclaims the land is now available, and it's victory for the company. Nothing terribly unusual about that... except that we see that he has a metal gear-driven right hand. Oh, and that the mechanic he has standing by should anything go wrong with the hand has an uncanny resemblance to Adoph Hitler.

Think things are starting to get strange? Trust me, it is only starting. We cut back to the outskirts of Paradise City, where a cart is being pulled by a horse towards town. The cart is riderless, but it is jam-packed with onions, enough so that a vulture flying overhead takes a nose-dive to the ground because of the stench. A "funny" song starts playing on the soundtrack; I won't get into the lyrics part of the song (typical of the De Angelis brothers, who also scored a number of Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies), though I will mention the part of the song that sounds like Donald Duck trying his hand at scat. The cart goes into town, pulling up in front of a saloon. At that moment, the onions start to stir, and someone's sleepy head starts to push its way out of the onions. Ah, we're finally going to see the movie's hero. Who could the actor be? Well, Terence Hill seems like a safe bet. I can even picture Bud Spencer as the slobby unconventional hero. But as it turns out, the actor is neither of them. As the onions roll away, we see... Franco Nero.

WHAT?!? Yes, believe it or not, the tough hero of movies like Keoma and Compañeroes is cast as the goofy and unconventional hero of this comedy. But his humiliation has just begun. A trip to the hairdresser's has given him a full head of curly locks. And even though Nero already had a good command of English at this point (and has dubbed himself on several occasions), someone else was chosen to dub his Italian, giving him a voice that sounds like a drunken Jimmy Stewart. We quickly learn that his yet-to-be-named character really loves onions. He eats them like apples, and squeezes the juice out of them to drink. Unsurprisingly, his saunter to the saloon has several people fainting when they smell his breath. Lamb's goons are about ready to make him unconscious when they find out he has purchased the Foster property, but they are interrupted by the entrance of local reporter Henry Pulitzer (Hayden, Dr. Strangelove), whose paper questions the death of Foster. They beat the crap out of him (I thought this was a comedy), but our hero comes to the rescue before they can really beat the crap out of Pulitzer. First he gets into some classic Hill/Spencer fisticuffs, full of "gong!" and "poingggg!" sounds as he punches and kicks the crap out the villains. Even when the goons decide to act as a team, our hero gets the upper hand each time, either by mesmerizing them with onion juggling, or by crushing an onion in his hand and squirting the gushing stream of juice into all of their eyes.

Our hero accepts a dinner invitation from Pulitzer before leaving town. He introduces himself as "Onion". Onion? "Just 'Onion' - I never had a father," he explains. At dinner, Onion meets Pulitzer's daughter Marianne, and it's love at first sight for him, which is shown as cartoon hearts appearing all around his freeze-frame face. Marianne is smitten as well, cartoon hearts also appearing around her face, though the romance briefly turns to tears when Onion next to her chops up an entire onion over the steak he's served. Next morning, Onion travels to the Foster ranch, though on arrival he finds himself dodging bullets and bombs coming from a couple of people holed up. Onion manages to sneak behind them and get them to drop their weapons, discovering that the shooter and bomber are Al and Dutch, Foster's two cute kids. Onion nicknames them "Capone" and "Schultz", since the two kids act like those two well-known gangsters of the wild west, right down to smoking cigars and drinking wine. After some discussion, and seeing how they are orphans, Onion makes a partnership deal so that these poor little gangsters can stay on the farm.

To register the deed, Onion rides to town... oh, wait - I don't think I have gone into detail about Onion's horse yet. Archibald is its name, and he is one smart horse; in town, he demonstrates to two of Lamb's goons - two pasty-faced blondes that look like German goths - that he can read by lifting his tail and giving out a large fart. (Trust me on this one.) Onion finds the local judge flat on his back dead drunk, but squeezing the juice out of an onion and into the judge's mouth wakes him up. Outside the judge's office, Onion bumps into more of Lamb's goons - time for another slapstick fight! Only this time, add in some kung-fu leaping and bounding, plus speed up the footage so that it has the pace of your typical Keystone Kops flick. Eventually, Onion gets hit from behind and his deed is stolen. He goes to the sheriff, but quickly finds that the sheriff is in cahoots with Lamb and his men, no doubt guessing by the fact those two goths are in the sheriff's office playing a jolly tune on the piano. Maybe it's not time for another slapstick sequence, but we get one anyway, this time with Onion (on a bicycle) being pursued by the goons on horseback all over the city and countryside. At times it becomes a live-action cartoon, with Onion biking into a large barrel but popping out of another nearby barrel, or biking off a cliff but keeping afloat until he inevitably looks down. Of course, this sequence is also shown with the footage speeded up - you can't very well expect them to suddenly neglect that audience.

Fortunately, Archibald had parked the onion cart below the cliff, so Onion has a soft landing after he falls. He is grateful, but tells Archibald they have to get going and there's no time for Archibald to have sex with a nearby cow. Meanwhile, Lamb has gotten word that Onion is proving hard to get rid of, so he comes into town to deal personally with it. Accompanying him is his new weapon - motorcycle-riding goons wearing football uniforms. They immediately get to work by emptying the town hotel for Lamb, doing so by throwing off all the occupants from the second story balcony. That night, Onion hears mysterious footsteps outside his house - he leaps out and gives the intruder a big punch in the face. It turns out the intruder was Marianne. Fortunately she isn't mad, giving Onion a message that her father and his pals want to meet with Onion later that night. To pass the time until that meeting, Onion gets into a romantic ramble about onions, bringing Marianne to near orgasm with talk about California yellows and Nebraska purples. At the meeting, Pulitzer and Onion plan to gather evidence that will put Lamb and his boys out of business once and for all. But Lamb still has some tricks up his sleeves, so it's not going to be an easy fight. Suffice it to say that there is still plenty of exotic spice still left in this dish that you have yet to sample, from more slapstick mayhem to rats wearing tiny porkpie hats. Don't say that this movie doesn't have something for everyone.

(Posted June 13, 2016)

Watch the trailer on YouTube! (Warning: Not safe for work)

See also: Quest For The Mighty Sword, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, Troll 2

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