Don't Turn The Other Cheek!

Director: Duccio Tessari
Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

There are a lot of occupations out there that while many of us have not ever actually tried for ourselves, sure seem like a lot of fun based on what we have observed many times over the years as outsiders. For example, being a race car driver gives you the opportunity to drive at incredible speeds. Being an airline pilot not only lets you control a multi-million dollar piece of machinery, but allows you to take it up into the heavens. And being a chef gives you the opportunity to spit in the food of people who annoy you. But I think that the particular occupation that most people dream about with the most frequency is being a big-time motion picture actor or actress. It's easy to come up with reasons why movie acting is so enticing. For starters, you get the opportunity to play characters much different than you, and that can be a lot of fun. Also, if you're really a big time actor, you can earn tons of money. And you can be adored by millions of people around the world. But there is a dark side to movie acting, problems many people don't think about. Often if you are a big star, that means a loss of privacy - you are bait for the media. There is also the potential problem of being typecast, having to play the same basic role over and over again despite wanting to spread your acting wings. Then there is a problem worse than being typecast, and that is eventually finding it hard to get hired on any sort of movie in your home territory. It may be because of typcasting, but there can be other reasons as well. You might have unintentionally angered a producer, and they subsequently spread word that you are difficult to work with. It may also be that the film genre you are expert with acting at has become box office poison, and you don't fit with the new projects that are being developed in town.

Whatever the reason or reasons might be, it can be tough when you find it hard to get hired for movie acting assignments on your home turf. But there are possible solutions for such unlucky actors. They may try television, which people like Rock Hudson found success with after movie roles dried up. But there is another solution - travel to another country and act in foreign movies. Over the decades, a number of actors have found success with this. Clint Eastwood is the most obvious example, acting in Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that became big hits around the world, leading Hollywood to quickly start knocking on his door. Lee Van Cleef is another actor who became a big star due to his work in European movies. Despite success stories like those, I am sure some actors on lean times might pause with this idea, wondering about things such as the language barrier. But from what I've learned, most actors who go to other countries for work have good experiences. Adam West in his autobiography talked about the spaghetti western he made (The Relentless Four) before Batman, and said it was a fun experience. Language was no problem - he spoke his lines in English, and let the local dubbers take care of his dialogue in the editing room. When the movie became a hit, he was offered more roles in the same genre. "I felt good about that," he said looking back. "The Italians treated me with respect, the fans in Europe had a reputation for being loyal, the pictures had good production values (even if the scripts were on the thin side), and the money was good. I was inclined to accept."

It is true, however, that some actors who go to other countries for work find that it backfires in some ways. If you are out of your movie making city of choice, working in another country, what memory local movie producers have of you may fade quickly. This can lead to finding Don't Turn The Other Cheek!work in your own country even harder in the future. But I can tell you that if I were an actor finding it hard to get work in the country that I live in, I wouldn't hesitate to look for work in another country. As long as I'm making a steady source of money, I wouldn't care where it came from. Working in another country would also be an adventure and a lot of fun potentially. And I wouldn't care what country my fans were from. Don't Turn The Other Cheek! concerns English-speaking actors going to another country for work. Not just one, but two - Eli Wallach and Lynn Redgrave. I couldn't turn up the exact reasons why these two actors left America and England behind to act in this Italian spaghetti western, but the spaghetti western genre was still going strong world-wide in 1971, so maybe this film looked like a sure bet. Especially since their co-star was the hugely popular Italian actor Franco Nero. The events of the movie start off in the American southwest, while nearby Mexico is in the middle of the Mexican revolution, with control of the territory just across the border being held by the ruthless General Huerta (Eduardo Fajardo, Django). In the middle of all this chaos, one Dimitri Orlowsky (Nero, Keoma), a supposed Russian prince who despite his pedigree has been pulling off a number of robberies, decides to track down one Max Lozoya (Wallach, The Good The Bad And The Ugly), a prisoner in Yuma, Arizona who may know the location of a hidden cache of gold in Mexico. Dimitri eventually saves Max from being killed by the supervising Sheriff Randall (Horst Janson, Captain Kronos), thanks in part to one Mary O'Donnell (Redgrave, The Happy Hooker), a feisty Irish journalist who has revolution in her heart and believes that Max, really a common criminal, is actually a revolutionist leader. While Dimitri and Max make an uneasy alliance not long after the escape from Randall while trying to ditch Mary, their problems are not over. The trio are soon being pursued by not only stubborn Sheriff Randall, but also the ruthless General Huerta and his men.

When I sit down to watch a spaghetti western, whether it's to be reviewed on this web site or simply one of the many movies I watch in my spare time, I have some certain requirements that I ask that the particular western to measure up to. I'm pretty sure that these requirements are similar, if not exactly like, to what other spaghetti western fans demand. Among my demands are good music, good and plentiful action, and solid production values. When it comes to those three particular demands, Don't Turn The Other Cheek! does manage to make the grade. The musical score by Gianni Ferrio (A Bullet For Sandoval) is considerably different than your usual spaghetti western score. It's more comic and playful, and contains touches ranging from classical music style to women singing in that breathless style popular in European movies of this time. I thought this music was not only tuneful, but a nice change of pace. When it comes to action, there is a plentiful amount, ranging from shoot-outs to fist fights, the highlight being the very exciting climactic battle in the streets of a village. I must admit though that the level of violence sometimes gets a little extreme for a movie that is frequently light-hearted and comic in nature, with people getting such violence like being blown up or set on fire as well as mass massacring by gunfire. As for the production values, while the movie obviously didn't have a gigantic budget, the filmmakers did manage to spend their money wisely for the most part. Much of the movie takes place in the countryside, which is inexpensive. But the movie did splurge on things like antique cars, a mining operation, competently dressed indoor locations, as well as dozens of extras milling in the background when the situation warrants it. The look of the movie may not be as sweeping as a Sergio Leone western, but it does do the job well enough to be pleasant to the eye.

There's another requirement I have when I sit down to watch a spaghetti western, a requirement that I almost always have for any other kind of movie, and that is that the movie have good characters. Good characters come from not only the writing and direction, but by the actors who play the characters. I have to admit that some of the characters in Don't Turn The Other Cheek! were kind of disappointing, and a couple of others were downright weak. I'll start with the weakest characters, they being the movie's antagonist characters, Sheriff Randall and General Huerta. I don't blame the actors for these unsatisfying characters, but the script. To put it simply, there isn't a terrible amount of running time with these two bad guys. They are off the screen for a considerable amount of time, and the few times they do show up, not much is done to make them fully fleshed out or characters we really hate or make us feel that they have a real threat towards the protagonists. But it's not just these bad guys that are given little to do, but also one of the protagonists, the character of Mary O'Donnell. She too is off the screen for a surprising amount of time, especially if you watch the 93 minute cut down version that was originally shown in American theaters. (In case you are wondering, I watched the fully restored 111 minute version.) A further problem with this character is that she really doesn't seem to need to be here. Although she keeps popping up throughout the movie, it eventually dawned on me that she wasn't really doing all that much that was necessary to advance the story. With very little rewriting, this character could easily be completely eliminated from the entire movie. The only reason this character seems to be in the movie is so the movie can advertise three big stars in its cast instead of just two.

I will say that despite being in these dubious circumstances, Redgrave does give a spirited performance, so she is absolved of all blame in this area of the movie. Nero and Wallach also give lively performances as well, enough that they greatly compensate for some deficiencies in their characters. Nero's Russian prince character, for one thing, has no real background, such as the fact it's never explained what a Russian prince is doing in the American southwest. Wallach's character is simply a thinly disguised take on the Tuco character he played in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Despite these problems, the movie really lights up when any of these two characters is on the screen. It's even better when both Nero and Wallach are teamed up in the same scene. Both actors really work well together, generating genuine chemistry as well as a rapport that convinces the audience they are watching real people, each with different yet believable motivations and schemes. The Nero and Wallach scenes aren't just convincing - they generate genuine comedy with their constant scheming and executing of plans to deceive the other so one of them can get the treasure all for himself. Most of Don't Turn The Other Cheek! is played for laughs, and while there aren't any laugh-out-loud moments, the frequent slapstick and goofiness did get to me enough that I had a pretty wide smile on my face - for the most part. As I mentioned earlier, there are some pretty violent moments that momentarily shattered my smile and rearranged my facial expression to one of shock and bewilderment. Fortunately, there are only a few such radical and sudden changes in tone in the movie, so most of the running time is pleasant to sit through. This isn't a classic spaghetti western, but more often than not it's a likable and entertaining one.

(Posted September 11, 2016)

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See also: A Bullet For Sandoval, The Five Man Army, Navajo Joe