Starring: Henry Fonda, Terence Hill
Director: Tonino Valerii, Sergio Leone
Mood: If you’ve had a terrible week and need a serious pick-me-up right away OR if you’ve had a great week and want to keep the party going with a Western so funny it will have you questioning why all Westerns aren’t comedies.
I absolutely love when a movie surprises me, and My Name is Nobody surprised me in more ways than one.
On a recent work trip to Vancouver, my dad and I exchanged a pile of Western DVDs. Yup, my family is oldschool like that; we love our DVDs. Anyway, I legit only chose to watch My Name is Nobody the other night because it had the shortest runtime of the Spaghetti Westerns in the stack.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know I haven’t had a great experience with Spaghetti Westerns, or any Westerns from the 1970s. I still haven’t forgiven A Fistful of Dollars. I wasn’t expecting anything from My Name is Nobody either – and certainly not the “rollicking shoot ‘em up” good time promised on the DVD jacket.
HOLY SHIT, this movie is friggin’ hilarious. Yes, I know it’s technically a spoof of Spaghetti Westerns, but it doesn’t matter because I’m obsessed. I’m going to stalk Terence Hill’s movies. And lucky for me, I spotted more of them in that pile of DVDs.
My Name is Nobody takes place in 1899, in that typical dusty, desolate Old West. Although much of the cast and crew is European and the original language is Italian, the majority of the outdoor scenes are actually shot in New Mexico, with only some parts filmed in Spain.
But from the quirky opening theme to the dramatic closeups, lack of dialogue, and intense focus on individual sounds – seriously, these movies could be the origin of ASMR – you immediately know you’re in a Spaghetti Western. Sinister men ride into town. The men attempt to kill aging gunslinger Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda), but he’s too quick and takes them out.
A kid asks the stunned barber if there’s anyone in the world faster, to which the barber says, “Faster than him? Nobody!”
Beauregard, who is intent on a peaceful retirement, comes across a charming drifter (Terence Hill) with lightning-fast reflexes clubbing fish. When they next cross paths it’s over a ticking time bomb. Beauregard asks his name, and the drifter says, “Who me? I’m nobody.”
He turns out to be Beauregard’s biggest fan, with a dream: to see Beauregard take out the infamous Wild Bunch and become a true legend. But Nobody is no ordinary drifter, and Beauregard is in for one hell of a ride. Literally.
I don’t even know what’s the best thing about My Name is Nobody. It all just WORKS.
- The writing is absolutely brilliant; it’s based on an idea by Sergio Leone that passed through three other writers, and even the nonsensical moments that leave you utterly perplexed still make you laugh
- The cinematography will definitely give you Leone vibes at times (especially the handful of scenes that Leone himself shot), but there are plenty of unique, surprising angles and sequences – the balance of tense closeups, sweeping landscapes, ‘70s trippiness, and sped-up action fits perfectly with the story
- The acting is absolutely on point at all times; from the leads to every single minor character, everybody knows their character and delivers
- There’s also some seriously impressive, jaw-dropping stunt riding in the final scenes
- What’s crazy is how great the story is when there’s no villain; you have a few bumbling baddies trying to thwart Beauregard and the elusive Wild Bunch, but good vs. evil isn’t the point here
And then to top it all off, My Name is Nobody is laughing at itself and the genre the entire time.
In one of my favourite scenes, Nobody and Beauregard are in a cemetery. Nobody starts reading the names on the tombstones, and he goes, “Sam Peckinpah. That’s a beautiful name in Navajo.”
It doesn’t even say ‘Peckinpah’, it looks more like ‘Pekimpek’, but that’s what he says and I laughed out loud so f*cking hard! Peckinpah of course directed 1969’s self-indulgent The Wild Bunch. Was there beef between the directors that led to Valerii putting Peckinpah ‘in the ground’? Was it a prank? A respectful nod? Who knows! Apparently that same year, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter had Leone’s name on a tombstone.
- Fun Facts: The real Wild Bunch, aka the Doolin-Dalton Gang, did their last bank robbery in 1895. There were only 11 known gang members as opposed to the impressive 150 in the movie. And one member’s name was ‘Arkansas’ Tom Jones which I find endlessly delightful because now I’m picturing Vegas singer Tom Jones in a Western.
I can’t talk about My Name is Nobody without spending at least a minute on the actors. Fonda and Hill have the perfect chemistry for this script, and I don’t know who else could have made it so awesome.
This was Fonda’s last Western, and he gives you so many more layers than you’d expect for this type of role. His portrayal of Beauregard is tired, but also as sharp as ever. He radiates this ‘been there, done that’ attitude, and then you start to see these glimmers of hopefulness in his eyes as Nobody strokes his ego, and fierce determination that shows you exactly why Nobody is such a fanboy. It’s quite a performance.
Terence Hill is just so damn likeable and chill, you want to hang out with Nobody. He demonstrates powerful comedic chops, and his timing is flawless which is not what I expected to see in this kind of movie. He expertly paces himself to make each punchline pay off.
From his ridiculous facial expressions and physical comedy to his cheeky delivery of one-liners, he keeps you entertained every moment he’s on screen. There’s this hilarious scene where he keeps grabbing a man’s pistols, slapping him in the face with them, and putting them back, over and over and over and that was when I realized just how ridiculously fun this movie was.
As mentioned, even the lackeys and henchmen are great characters. R.G. Armstrong is particularly strong as the grim-faced, determined leader Honest John, whose attempts on Beauregard turn cartoonishly bad. And there’s an old failed gold miner in the middle of the movie whose name I couldn’t pick out of the cast, but he’s so good he steals his scenes from Fonda and Hill.
Although My Name is Nobody was the third highest-grossing film of the year in Italy, it flopped hard on its eventual release in the United States. But it seems to have gained a bit of a cult following, because it now boasts some impressive online rankings including 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (although for some reason it’s not on their 100% Fresh list).
There’s also some gossip and drama surrounding the shooting. At one point, director Tonino Valerii either got an ear infection and Sergio Leone took over for a day OR they had to switch to two filming units because Fonda’s costumes vanished and Leone took the second unit… either way, there’s a lot of dispute over exactly which scenes Leone shot and how much credit he deserves.
One extra said Leone shot the entire final battle scene on horseback. A screenwriter said Valerii shot the whole movie on his own. It’s hard to find anything concrete, but hey – I love me some on-set drama, it only adds to my enjoyment of a movie.
If you love comedies, and you love Spaghetti Westerns, you absolutely cannot lose with My Name is Nobody. Drop everything you’re doing, cancel plans with loved ones, don’t stop to feed your pets or children, don’t even feed yourself – just watch this movie.