During the 1960s, Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone popularized the “spaghetti western” genre by directing the “Dollars trilogy” (a.k.a. the “Man with No Name trilogy”): A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This trilogy turned Clint Eastwood into an international superstar and was such a fresh, stylish take on the traditional Hollywood western that it pretty much created its own sub-genre. After Leone hit his peak with the 1968 epic, Once Upon a Time in the West, the spaghetti western’s popularity started to die down a bit, but it would find a bit of new life through the use of comedy and satire. In 1970, Italian stars Terence Hill and Bud Spencer teamed up to make They Call Me a Trinity, a slapstick comedy which lampooned the traditional spaghetti western and became a huge box office success. Hill and Spencer would re-team for an equally successful sequel, Trinity is Still My Name, and become such a popular duo that they starred in nearly 20 movies together. Of course, many other Italian filmmakers attempted to emulate the success of the Trinity films by doing broad slapstick western comedies, and by 1973, the spaghetti western had pretty much become a parody of itself. So it seemed almost inevitable that Sergio Leone himself would decide to make the ultimate spaghetti western satire. The end result was My Name is Nobody, where Terence Hill would be teamed up with one of the biggest western stars ever.
At the beginning of My Name is Nobody, we are introduced to Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda), a legendary gunslinger who is constantly having to defend himself against younger gunslingers who want to kill him and make for themselves. Since Jack is getting up there in age and is tried of the constant gunplay, he just wants to escape to Europe and retire in peace. Right before the opening titles, a character is asked if there is anyone out there faster than Jack Beauregard and his response is: “Nobody”. Well, it turns out that “Nobody” just happens to be the name of a much younger gunslinger (Terence Hill), who may actually be more talented on the draw than Jack. Nobody and Jack soon cross paths, right around the same time that Jack learns he is being hunted by a gang of 150 gunslingers known as “The Wild Bunch”, who run an extensive operation laundering stolen gold. Jack’s brother used to be involved in their operation before they he was double-crossed and killed, and Nobody hopes that Jack is planning to seek revenge. In fact, he flat-out encourages Jack to take on all 150 members of the Wild Bunch by himself. Of course, Jack becomes suspicious that Nobody is planning to kill him afterwards, as gunning down the man who single-handedly defeated the entire Wild Bunch would only increase Nobody’s legend. Whatever Nobody’s true intentions are, the climactic confrontation with the Wild Bunch will still be an epic one.
The sight of Jack Beauregard taking on all 150 members of the Wild Bunch is a perfect demonstration of the uniqueness of My Name is Nobody, as it functions as both an hilarious parody of the genre and a standalone kick-ass action sequence. After the success of the Trinity films, many of the comedic spaghetti westerns became so broad and juvenile with their slapstick humour that they became painfully unfunny to watch (for a prime example of this, just click this link), but My Name is Nobody manages to find a perfect balance. The film was directed Tonino Valerii, who worked as an assistant director to Sergio Leone on the Dollars trilogy, but Leone’s fingerprints are all over this film. Leone served as co-writer, executive producer and even directed some of the scenes, and no one would be better qualified to lampoon the genre he helped popularize. The fact that the villainous gang is known as “The Wild Bunch” indicated that the film is going to be peppered with inside jokes and there’s even a scene where Nobody finds a tombstone with Sam Peckinpah’s name on it. (Appropriately enough, the Clint Eastwood-directed western, High Plains Drifter, was released this same year and had a scene where Sergio Leone’s name was displayed on a tombstone) Of course, this is a none-too-subtle commentary on the death of the old traditional western, as the plot revolves around younger, flashier gunslingers like Nobody attempting to replace old-school western heroes like Jack Beauregard. Nobody’s ridiculous, physics-defying skills are displayed in this extended drinking contest sequence, which cleverly manages to both spoof and pay tribute to the concept of the western gunslinger.
The teaming together of Terence Hill and Henry Fonda is the film’s biggest stroke of genius. Of course, Fonda was known for playing the traditional hero in several classic westerns until Leone turned that image upside down by casting Fonda as one of the most memorable screen villains ever in Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s only appropriate that Fonda would be brought back to play a unique variation on his traditional gunslinger roles in My Name is Nobody, which ultimately turned out to be Fonda’s final western. In fact, even though My Name is Nobody is a comedy, Fonda’s presence helps give the plot a surprising amount of depth and poignancy, particularly during his final scenes. Another masterstroke was bringing in Ennio Morricone to do the movie’s score. Of course, Morricone was responsible for some of the most iconic film music of all time in the Dollars trilogy. His score for My Name is Nobody is very eclectic, over-the-top and sometimes plain goofy, yet it still manages to pack a punch when the action onscreen requires it. In essence, Morricone is pretty much spoofing his own iconic film scores, and how many legendary composers would be willing to do something like that? In the annals of the spaghetti western genre, My Name is Nobody is nowhere near as well known as the films it satirizes, so it remains a rather underrated piece of cinema. However, it is still a very entertaining and fascinating movie to watch, as it somehow succeeds at finding the right balance between parody and genuine affection for the genre.