My Name is Nobody
By 1973, the heyday of the Italian Western had already crested and was beginning to fade along with the Western itself. This was, after all, the year before the release of Blazing Saddles (1974), Mel Brooks' spoof that made it hard to take the genre seriously for a long time thereafter. Even before Brooks' movie, the Western was mutating into something else. Sam Peckinpah with The Wild Bunch (1969) had pushed Western violence to its limit in slow-motion bloodbaths. Meanwhile Italian Westerns, or "Spaghetti Westerns" as they were sometimes called, stopped being copies of American Westerns and became parodies of themselves. The most popular Italian Westerns of the early 1970's were the "Trinity" series starring Terence Hill (real name: Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (real name: Carlo Pedersoli) as frontier ruffians who used slapstick to bring their opponents down.
In his first effort as executive producer, Leone chose to take all these changes head-on, making a Trinity film that sent up Peckinpah while saying something serious about his beloved West. The idea came from screenwriter Sergio Donati who wanted to create a Western hero modeled on Ulysses who defeated the Cyclops in Homer's The Odyssey by claiming that his name was "Nobody". Leone embellished the idea making this "nobody" into a young gunslinger who wants to become a "somebody" by helping an old gunslinger retire in style - and with his respect intact.
Henry Fonda, one of the stars of Leone's Once Upon a Time in t he West (1968), was cast as the aging gunslinger in what would be Fonda's last Western. For the young man, Leone cast Trinity himself, Terence Hill, for what would be a tip of the hat from the new Western to the old. Hill, representing a new, more comical brand of frontier hero, would help the old West, represented by Fonda, go out in a blaze of glory by defeating "The Wild Bunch," a gang of 150 outlaws, in a parody of Peckinpah's perceived excesses.
Valerii, Leone's former assistant director on For a Few Dollars More (1965) and a director on his own since 1966, would be in the driver seat, or so he thought. As Christopher Frayling recounts in this Leone biography Something to Do with Death (2000), "Tonino Valerii had been warned by Claudio Mancini of Rafran that `if Leone shoots a single frame of film, everyone will say he made the entire movie', which is precisely what happened." While Valerii was shooting Fonda's scenes in the Spanish desert, in order to free up Fonda for another acting job, Leone offered to shoot some of Terence Hill's scenes since the actor desperately wanted to be directed by Leone. The surviving participants still disagree about who directed what in the movie but Frayling's best guess is that "Leone helped out on a duel, then took charge of second-unit work on `the battle' (in Almeria), as well as directing the opening scene and the carnival section of the film."
Battles over credit led to Leone and his director falling out after the movie's release and they never worked together again. The results, however, were an interesting addendum to Leone's body of work. Interestingly enough, Steven Spielberg, another director whose projects as an executive producer often overwhelm the directors working under him (Tobe Hooper in Poltergeist, 1982), declared My Name Is Nobody to be his favorite Sergio Leone movie.
Director: Tonino Valerii
Producer: Fulvio Morsella
Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Leone
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cinematographers: Armando Nannuzzi, Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Editor: Nino Baragli
Art director: Gianni Polidori
Cast: Terence Hill (Nobody), Henry Fonda (Jack Beauregard), Leo Gordon (Red), Jean Martin (Sullivan), Geoffrey Lewis (Leader of the Wild Bunch), R.G. Armstrong (Honest John).
by Brian Cady