Man Of The East

Director: Enzo Barboni
Terence Hill, Gregory Walcott, Yanti Somer

Though I live in a country that makes one rotten movie after another (and at the taxpayers' expense), other than that I am glad to live in the country that I live in. I am also glad to live in the certain part of the country that I live in. If I lived in, say, Toronto, I would bake during the summer and freeze during the winter. My city not only has a good climate, it's the right mix of urban, suburban, and wilderness features. I am well settled in the city, and have been for quite some time. It wasn't always like that, of course. As I think I've told you, I grew up in a small town, something that at times drove me crazy. I used to imagine what life would be like for me in a larger city over and over. That's probably why when I did move to my present city I was able to adjust pretty quickly. But I think another reason was because while growing up, I had smaller but challenging experiences with new environments. One obvious one was when I was pushed out the door of my home and into kindergarten. For the next thirteen years, I had one bad experience after another in the school system, and I was glad when I finally graduated from high school. I knew upon getting my diploma that nothing further in the rest of my life could be as bad as grade school, so I felt pretty prepared for what challenges would come ahead in my life. True, there definitely were some challenges in the various new environments I subsequently plunged into, whether it was university or holding down a full time job. But I knew I was a survivor of small town and grade school hell, so I knew if I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.

Despite what I said in the last paragraph, I have to admit that upon a lot of thinking there are some environments I don't think I would be very good at jumping into from my present comfortable environment. Namely, environments that don't exist anymore. I am talking about environments in the past such as the Dark Ages. If I were thrust into that particular environment, I would not only have to deal with issues like the bubonic plague, but a populace that would probably view my modern perspective as the work of the devil. Another environment that I would probably do very badly in would be the American west of the late 1800s. If you have seen the movie Back To The Future Part III, no doubt you remember the problems Marty McFly had in this environment despite having advantages of future knowledge. But if you ask me, Marty had it pretty easy. Having personally watched many movies about the American west of that era, I know how tough it was to live in that environment. Plenty of people back then were looking for a fight, and most of them were carrying around guns everywhere that they went. And if you got hurt by one of these people, there wasn't much in the way of high quality medical care out there in the west. Modern conveniences like refrigerators, televisions, and automobiles either didn't exist or were in serious short supply. But one of the biggest problems being out in the west was if you didn't conform to the ways of the majority. Certainly, being a minority like an African American or a Native American had its burden, but even if you were Caucasian, you'd likely be in serious trouble if you acted in a way much different than your neighbors.

Clearly, real life in the west wasn't a picnic if you didn't conform. But that's not to say that a funny side cannot be found with the idea of someone much different from the norm entering the environment of the American west of the 1800s. I recall that Back To The Future Part III managed to mine a good deal of gags from the idea of a non-conformist entering that environment, my favorite Man Of The Eastscene being when Marty was forced to dance in front of some rough cowboys. On the other hand, the Seth MacFarlane movie A Million Ways To Die In The West, while occasionally funny, for the most part managed to botch the same basic idea. Like all comic premises, the idea of a non-conformist entering the Wild West needs to be done with care. That's the idea behind the movie Man Of The East, though my hopes were up with this particular telling. The movie had the talented Italian comic actor Terence Hill (Mr. Billion) in the title role, and the movie was directed by Enzo Barboni, who in his career directed some funny movies like Crime Busters and They Call Me Trinity. The movie takes place in the late 1800s, with Hill playing an Englishman nobleman by the name of Sir Thomas Fitzpatrick Phillip Moore. Years earlier, Thomas' father had left England and traveled to the American west, where he became part of an outlaw gang with fellow outlaws Holy Joe (Harry Carey Jr., Sunchaser), Bull Schmidt (Gregory Walcott, Ed Wood), and Monkey Smith (Dominic Barto, Keaton's Cop). The gang eventually broke up, and Thomas' father passed away, but before dying he instructed Thomas to travel to America and become a man in the west. Thomas' father's former criminal cronies hear of their comrade's death, and when they manage to find Thomas, they are determined to make their friend's son a man. It's not going to be easy, since Thomas is a true English gentleman who knows nothing about such things as riding horses, shooting guns, and getting into fist fights. However, when Thomas falls for Candida (Yanti Somer, Monsignor), the daughter of the local land baron, he is determined to become a man in order to win her over. But Morton (Riccardo Pizzuti, Crime Busters), the baron's right hand man, also has his eye on Candida, and is determined to do anything to stop that English twit from reaching his goals.

Although Terence Hill was no stranger to comedy when he starred in Man Of The East, his previous comedies (like the two Trinity movies with Bud Spencer) mainly had him sharing equal lead time with one or more other co-stars. With this comedy, fresh from his gaining international superstar status from the two Trinity movies, he was the lone lead towering over the rest of the cast and getting the most to do. You are probably wondering how Hill does suddenly out front and center in a comedy. Well, I will say that Hill does give a reasonable amount of effort. Hill is blessed with the ability to bring in the movie some instant charisma, as he has done so with his other comedies, and he even gets to show off his acrobatic skills in a couple of scenes. He makes his character generally upbeat, while at the same time careful not to lay on the enthusiasm too thick and become a caricature. Yet despite all of this, I got the feeling from watching him that he was kind of phoning in his performance at times. I think that's because it soon becomes clear that his character has been underwritten enough to be pretty thin. For starters, we follow the character of Thomas as he travels at length by train, stagecoach, and wagon to his late father's home for some time, but by the time he arrives, we don't know that much about him except that this guy likes Walt Whitman. All that may have been excused if we subsequently got scenes that exposed the character's inner workings, but we really don't get that. We get scenes that show he's a nonconformist, like choosing to ride a bicycle instead of a horse, but we don't really learn why he seems reluctant to follow the lead of his father's friends and embrace the strange ways of this new land that he's in.

But it's not just the character of Sir Thomas Fitzpatrick Phillip Moore that is kind of underwhelming in Man Of The East, but also the supporting characters. A look at the three outlaw friends of Thomas' father shows that little was done to make them strong and memorable characters. In the opening scenes of the movie, it is established that Holy Joe has a religious streak despite his outlaw ways, that Bull Schmidt has the talents of fighting and brute strength, and that Monkey Smith is a kind of befuddled simpleton. But after all of that is established, the screenplay pretty much forgets what it has established, and makes the three men not only pretty much interchangeable, but missing any color with their characters. You will wonder why writer/director Barboni went to the trouble of making three characters instead of just one. The other supporting characters in the movie aren't any better constructed. Thomas's sweetheart Candida doesn't have that many scenes, and the entire romantic subplot is one of those "love at first sight" things that is utterly devoid of character development. Even worse is that by the end of the movie, we have no idea if the romance is going to continue or not. That's not the only story flaw to be found in the movie. The movie eventually makes clear that Candida's father Frank (Enzo Fiermonte, A Man Called Blade) is a land baron, and he desires the land that Thomas inherited from his father. He tries to buy Thomas out, but Thomas refuses. Ah, we think, Thomas is soon going to be in trouble with Frank! But then Frank's desire for Thomas' land is quickly forgotten about, and is never mentioned again. Instead, Thomas finds himself worrying about Morton, Frank's right hand man, for the hand of Candida. Morton doesn't prove to have much more depth than Frank, being one of those stereotypical western villains who are mean from the start and don't show much more dimension as the story progresses.

I could go on for a bit longer about how weak the characters are in Man Of The East, but I think you get the idea. Instead, I want to spend the last paragraph discussing two big problems that the movie has, problems that if they did not exist could have meant the movie would be saved. The first of these problems is how unbelievably slow the movie moves. It takes almost a half hour before Thomas and his father's friends meet, it takes even longer for the three men to start giving Thomas lessons on being a cowboy, and it takes almost the rest of the movie for Thomas to start taking the lessons seriously and in depth. There is stuff that happens in-between, of course, but it seems just as aimless and with no clue as to where things are going. To make matters worse, the movie runs over two hours long, making all this padding even tougher to sit through. Plenty of really funny humor may have made the thin story (and thin characters) easy to bear, but that's where the second problem comes along: The movie isn't really that funny. Oh, there's a smile here and there, like when Thomas picks up a clump of "dirt" to feel the richness of the soil, but the majority of the humor falls flat. The problem seems to be that Barboni and his cast don't seem to be trying very hard. When the outlaws rob a stagecoach, they make a few mild quips during the hold up, and then simply ride away. The outlaws later think that Thomas, being an entomologist, means he has some disease. The movie even trots out the old gag of someone wondering if the Corinthians wrote back to Paul. Even moments of slapstick are botched; while there are some inevitable fight scenes (this is a Terence Hill movie, after all), they are executed with almost no energy. That pretty much sums up Man Of The East - it's a tired and passionless production that will make you wonder why anyone connected with the movie signed on for anything other than a paycheck. And if you don't like spaghetti westerns or Terence Hill as much as I usually do, you can darken that judgement stated in the previous sentence by several shades.

(Posted June 8, 2021)

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See also: The Bang Bang Kid, Evil Roy Slade, Mr. Billion