Monday, June 28, 2010

Antar The Black Prince (Egypt, 1961)



Antar The Black Prince comes to us in searing Eastmancolor, as befits a swashbuckling adventure of such epic scope. The film is based on the life and legend of Antarah ibn Shaddad, a 6th century poet and hero whose poetic works have come to be considered among the greatest in the Arab language. As the title indicates, Antar was indeed black, the son of an Arab tribal leader and a female Ethiopian slave. However, he is here played by a light-skinned Arab actor in black face. Given the movie's frequent admonishments about not judging men by the color of their skin, this makes for a bit of cognitive dissonance; it's sort of like watching Al Jolson sing "Fight The Power".

The aforementioned actor is Farid Chawki, a popular star of Egyptian action films during the 50s and 60s who crowned himself with the title "The King of the Terzos". The term "Terzos" refers to Egypt's third class movie theaters, the lowest level in the Egyptian cinematic food chain. From what I can tell, these were essentially the same as America's grindhouses, being somewhat disreputable urban movie houses running a constant program of second and third run films for the benefit of a largely male, working class audience.

That largely male, working class audience had their own name for Chawki: "The Beast". And any mystery surrounding that moniker can be easily dispelled by watching a film like Antar The Black Prince. The young Chawki is gifted with both imposing physical stature and brute intensity, as well as a seething, street level machismo that makes him quite the credible screen brawler -- though less so when he is trying to portray a mastery of the sword than when he is simply tossing people around with his bare hands like Dara Singh. When angered or cornered in Antar, he frequently lets out a loud, guttural roar, making for quite a contrast to those moments in the film when he spontaneously gives voice to florid romantic verse.







As depicted in the film, Antar's struggle to free himself from slavery, win the acknowledgment of his nobleman father, and the hand of his highborn cousin, A'abla (Kouka, wife of Antar director Niazi Mostafa, who cast her as a series of Bedouin heroines in his films) is a tough row to hoe. It is only after he saves A'abla from a gang of rapacious bandits that his father, Shaddad, deigns to relieve him of his lowly sheep herding duties and make him a knight in his army. Even so, it takes yet more instances of Antar single-handedly saving the collective asses of his tribe before Shaddad will agree to publicly admit to being his father, and then more acts of selfless heroism before the tribe will recognize him as a suitable mate for A'abla.

And even then the battle isn't over, as the romantic designs of the foppish Prince O'Mara -- smitten with A'abla -- and Shaddad's adulterous wife Somaiyah -- likewise with Antar -- lead the two to resort to every kind of chicanery imaginable in order to derail the relationship between Antar and A'abla. Finally, A'abla's father schemes with O'Mara to get rid of Antar once and for all by demanding that Antar supply for A'abla a dowry of one thousand red camels, which can only be obtained after a lengthy journey into hostile territory via a particularly treacherous stretch of desert. Honestly, it's a wonder that Antar didn't just tell everyone to get stuffed and go off to form a tribe of his own.







In short, being the lover of a woman of legendary beauty like A'abla proves to be nothing but trouble for Antar, as she is relentlessly being carted off by one lustful bandit, unscrupulous nobleman or another -- invariably screaming "Antar! Antar!" as she goes -- throughout the film. This has the potential to give the story a sort of Perils of Pauline repetitiveness. But, despite being limited by an obviously modest budget, the filmmakers manage to keep thing lively through the use of lots of aggressive color, frequent fight scenes, rousing Bollywood-style musical numbers, and the occasional jolt of surprising gore. The film may not provide a lesson in tolerance for those who are otherwise inclined, but it at least might demonstrate to them the inadvisable nature of keeping down a black man who could easily snap their necks with his bare hands.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Operation Thunder Thighs

Is it at all possible that there could be another person on this Earth who is as big a fan of Telegu action starlet Jyothi Laxmi as I am? If so, maybe they should consider bidding on this poster for her 1972 thriller Miss Chal Baaz, Tingoo Agent 000 that recently went up for sale on eBay.



(Thanks to Durian Dave at Soft Film for passing this along.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speak the Dr. Gori way!


Soon the Earthlings will feel my power.


Behold, all is proceeding according to plan


Your days of spoiling this green and fruitful planet
will soon be at an end.


My flying whale is perfect in every detail.


Spectreman will not win.


This time, Karis, failure will not be tolerated.


(Evil laughter)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Maula Jat (Pakistan, 1979)



It could be said that I sort of backed my way into Maula Jat. I’ve reviewed a few of Pakistani superstar Sultan Rahi’s films in the past, but all of those were merely trying to recapture the magic of this, one of the most popular films -- if not the most popular -- in the history of Pakistani cinema, and certainly the most popular in the Punjabi language.

In my review of Changhezah, I touched upon a few of the things that contributed to Maula Jat becoming the extraordinary phenomenon that it was, and to Rahi becoming something much more than a mere movie star. True, the actor was already a known quantity by the time of making the film, and had in fact already played the title character in a previous movie, 1975’s Wehshi Jatt. But while Wehshi Jatt met with a considerable amount of success, it was Maula Jat -- arriving at a time when General Muhammad Zia-ul-Hag’s repressive martial law rule had instilled a sense of powerlessness in much of the country’s populace -- that found an audience hungry for exactly the type of righteous and ferociously masculine hero that Rahi so ably personified. As a result, Rahi came to carry the burden of not only portraying the outrage and wrath of the common man, but also of being their living, breathing -- and, most importantly, yelling -- embodiment.







In keeping with that, Maula Jat maintains an almost absurd level of intensity from its very first frame to its very last -- even more so than in those already quite fevered Rahi vehicles that I’ve reviewed before, if you can believe it. Between its ceaseless, thundering soundtrack, shouted dialogue, pushed-into-the-red sound effects (Thunderclaps! Sirens! Face slaps that sound like thunderclaps!), restless camera work, aggressively stylized performances, and furious violence, it’s enough to blow your hair back just watching it. While all of this -- as well as the film’s suffocatingly narrow conception of masculinity -- might sound as if it would invite easy mockery, in aggregate it speaks to a level of rage too deep to be so glibly dismissed.

The film hits the ground running -- literally -- as we watch a young woman desperately fleeing on foot from a leering bandit on horseback whose intentions couldn’t be any more obvious. This chase goes on for quite some time, and as the woman runs through street after street, she cries out for help, only to go unanswered by the many bystanders who are too intimidated to raise a hand. That is, until she arrives in the village where Maula Jat (Rahi) lives with his mom and best buddy. (The Jatt, by the way, are a Punjabi tribal group with a historical rep for fierceness in battle.) Maula and his pal give the rascal -- who, it turns out, is a member of the notorious Nath clan -- the thumping of his life, after which he goes scurrying home to his sister, Daro (played with some serious crazy eye by Chakori), who summarily executes him for shaming the family with his unsuccessful rape attempt. Her attacker vanquished, the young woman then begins doing a frenzied, triumphal dance, one that she continues even as her feet begin to spurt blood everywhere, and which eventually results in her collapsing dead from her exertions.

After this bucolic and low-key little prologue, we are introduced to the Nath clan’s leader, Nuri Nath, who’s played with googly-eyed menace by Mustafa Qureshi. It’s a portrayal that’s every bit as iconic as Rahi’s, which spurred producers to pair Qureshi off against Rahi in literally hundreds of films afterward. Another frequent screen partner of Rahi’s present here is leading lady Aasia, who, thanks to the tendency among Pakistani actresses of disappearing from the screen after marriage, was later replaced by Anjuman as the actor’s female co-star of choice. I guess that Aasia could be said to be playing Maula Jat’s love interest here, though, in truth, Maula has less than no time in his schedule for romance. The closest approximation that these two do of pitching woo is in those scenes in which Aasia sings to Maula -- scenes in which he stands by impatiently, looking as if he’s waiting for her to finish so that he can go kill some more people.



In his history of Pakistani Cinema, author Mushtaq Gazedar seems to suggest that the ensuing battle between Maula Jat and Nuri Nath is a clear cut one of good versus evil, resulting in a triumph of the oppressed against the forces of tyranny, represented in this case by the marauding Nath clan. Hampered as I am by a lack of fluency in Punjabi, I am in no position to disagree with him, but it did appear to me that there might be more than that going on. Maula and Nuri’s ongoing clashes are periodically interrupted by the police, who, clearly making no moral or legal distinction between the two of them, keep either throwing them in jail, or, worse yet, riddling them with bullets and causing them to spend forced down-time simmering in adjacent hospital beds. At the same time, the two men’s fierce tribal affiliations, as well as their identical obsessions with proving their manliness, certainly put them at equal odds with the authorities, and, as such, in relative alignment with each other. Again, I am probably misinterpreting, but it seemed at times that, in between the bouts of savage brawling, there were moments in which you could see an at least grudging sort of camaraderie between them.

Beyond my own linguistically blinded maulings of the text, an even more compelling argument for not judging Maula Jat without the benefit of translation is the fact that, like so many of Rahi’s films, it relies very heavily on those screaming verbal sparring matches known colloquially as barrak. Consisting largely of colorful threats, extravagant boasts, and bloodcurdling oaths, these dialogs -- best delivered with finger pointed accusingly, and in a voice that sounds like a methed-up Rottweiler strangling on a bone -- usually serve as the prelude to a physical fight, even though they end up taking up much more screen time than the fights themselves. It is, reportedly, the particular pithy-ness of these exchanges in Maula Jat that accounts for a lot of the film’s enduring appeal. Much as Indian film fans over the years have delighted in quoting Amjad Khan’s lines from Sholay (and, hey, Americans in quoting Al Pacino’s from Scarface, for that matter), it is not uncommon for Pakistani filmgoers to be able to recite these heated exchanges between Rahi and Qureshi verbatim.

All of this is not to say that a lack of translation will prevent you from enjoying the film. After all, it works on such a visceral -- perhaps even primal -- level that it’s difficult to resist getting drawn in. However, you should keep in mind that the rigors of the experience might leave you trembling like a Chihuahua who’s had someone angrily yelling into his ear for two-plus hours. This is filmmaking at its most rough and raw, and anyone hoping for moments of meditative beauty or transporting flights of lyricism should probably run very far away.



At Maula Jat’s conclusion, our hero faces off against Nuri Nath and a dozen of his men, armed only with his Gandaasa, a gnarly looking farming implement that is his character’s signature weapon (basically comprised of a long staff with a razor sharp, cleaver-like blade on the end). The rapid-fire carnage that follows -- with Maula bloodily slicing, dicing and chopping his way through the lot until his shirt is transformed from white to deep red -- is awe inspiring, but apparently not as much so in the currently available cut as could have been. Omar Khan over at the Hotspot Online provides an account of attending a screening of the pre-censor-approved, original cut of the film, with producer Sarwar Bhatti in attendance, and confirms that that version contains enough tossing around of viscera and severed appendages to please even the most bloodthirsty gorehound.

Even with the aforementioned offending footage excised at the censor’s request, it was Maula Jat’s violence that provided the Zia government with the excuse to attempt a ban on it. Fortunately, producer Bhatti succeeded in winning a court ordered, two-and-a-half year stay on that ban, during which Maula Jat played in theaters continuously, ceasing it’s monumental run only after the prints were forcibly removed by authorities. Meanwhile, Sultan Rahi had already embarked upon the hard work of being the personification of righteous fury for an entire, apparently pretty pissed off populace, keeping a staggering schedule that had him working on up to thirty-five films at a time -- among the fruits of which would eventually be two official sequels to Maula Jat. Certainly, numbers like that don’t frequently produce art, but, as Maula Jat demonstrates, with the right ingredients, they can still produce works of undeniable, raw power.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jumping the shark

"Fairly or not, Eurospy films are generally regarded as cheap knock-offs of the James Bond movies. But there is cheap, and then there is cheap."

See my full review of Operation White Shark, just posted over at Teleport City.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bits n' bobs

When I learned that there was a new book out called The Golden Age of Crap, I immediately thought to myself, "Say, that must be a book about direct-to-VHS horror, sci-fi and exploitation films from the 80s and early 90s". And, eerily, that turned out to be exactly the case. More importantly, The Golden Age of Crap is a book written by Nathan Shumate, webmaster of Cold Fusion Video, a long running cult cinema website that is, like Teleport City, one of the esteemed members of the B-Masters Cabal. If you’ve ever read any of Nathan’s reviews over at CFV, you know just how entertaining and informative his writing can be. So why not head over to the official Golden Age of Crap website to find out how you can secure a copy of the book for your very own?

Over at Memsaabstory, the delightful Memsaab has just reviewed one of my all time favorite Bollywood B movies, the secret-agents-meet-flying-saucers-a-go-go extravaganza Wahan Ke Log. But the fun and prizes don’t just end there. Memsaab also supplies details on how you can get your hands on a copy of a newly tweaked and English subtitled version of the film. I have often expressed the wish that someone would produce just such a version of this film, and the fact that one now exists is just further testimony to my awesome psychic powers. Tomorrow: Bourbon rain! Paychecks for watching TV! Universal donut coverage! All you have to do is believe!

In other news, there have been some big changes over at the TarsTarkas.net Blog in recent weeks. Once the only place on the web where you could go for both info about super obscure foreign trash cinema and snarky, progressively minded political commentary, the blog has now moved its political content to a new, separate site: Politisink.com. There you will find all of those features that made the TT.N blog an increasingly popular destination point, including Wingnut Web, which essentially takes extreme right wing internet chatter and gives it the MST3K treatment. Meanwhile, back at the TarsTarkas.Net main site, Tars is still doing the good work of giving unrecognized gems like Beauty’s Evil Roses the attention they so righteously deserve.

Lastly, I’d like to celebrate the fact that Yasuharu Hasebe’s gritty 1966 expose on the world of go-go dancing, killer bubblegum-wielding female ninjas, Black Tight Killers, has finally come home where it belongs. BTK is one of a small handful of films that, while seeming as if they were crafted by a benevolent god for the express purpose of being covered on Teleport City, have yet to actually be reviewed on the site. Keith has finally corrected that oversight, with a brilliant, freshly posted review that can be read here.

I’ll be back with more film reviews next week. It’s not so much that I’ve been busy, it’s just that this week I’ve been breaking in some new pants that are particularly uncomfortable, and it’s hard for me to focus on world pop cinema when all I’m really thinking is “ghuuuu…”. Look, it’s about priorities, people.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Aadi Yug (India, 1978)



My years of Bollywood crate digging have taught me that, if you dig deep (and cheap) enough, you’ll find that India produced films in every genre and subgenre, no matter what the country’s mainstream output might have you believe. As evidenced by the Z-grade Aadi Yug, that even extends to caveman movies. And who doesn’t love a good caveman movie? Not that that’s what Aadi Yug even remotely is, mind you.

Aadi Yug (whose title, I think -- and forgive me if I’m wrong -- translates to something like “Year One”) rather ambitiously starts at the beginning, with some dodgy animation that I think is supposed to represent the creation of the Earth. Then the credits roll over a graphic depicting the evolution of ape into man. Finally, as the movie proper begins, we see Man, freshly evolved and in his full adult form, waking up on a rock with no idea where the hell he is. (Parents: I must note at this point that making your child watch Aadi Yug is in no way a substitute for a proper education in Earth sciences.) Man, whose personal evolutionary process seems to have involved all of the hair on his body migrating onto the top of his head in one towering Kid-from-Kid-n’-Play-like mound, wanders around a bit before discovering Woman, floating unconscious in what looks like a giant bird’s nest that’s somehow been set sail on the primordial sea.

Man and Woman then wander around a bit before doing it, which is represented by them going into a clinch and sinking down behind a convenient rock, after which the camera zooms in and out rapidly a few times to make sure we get the idea. It should be noted that Man and Woman appear to be naked in these scenes, though their nudity is shielded throughout by stunningly crude matte paintings that obtrusively block off the lower 60% of the screen for the entirety of Aadi Yug’s prologue.





Even this minimal effort at propriety is later rendered mysterious by Aadi Yug with the inclusion of a skinny-dipping scene in which we are offered fleeting glimpses of that rarest of rarities in Indian cinema: naked female boobs. Mind you, said scene really doesn’t have any value beyond that rarity, although the thought of you seeking out a desperately obscure Indian caveman movie just to see a brief moment of female nudity makes me cry inside a little.

An abrupt jump in the mangled VCD print later, we see that Man and Woman’s couplings have produced a whole flock of grubby little cavechildren, and, not long after that, a whole tribe of -- presumably inbred -- cavemen. And then it’s time for us to watch six uninterrupted minutes of footage from Ishiro Honda’s Frankenstein Conquers the World. (For all you Bollywood-only folks who are making one of your intermittent visits, Ishiro Honda directed the original Godzilla -- or Gojira, as real and wannabe Japanese people, as well as white nerds, refer to it.) Once the giant Frankenstein from Frankenstein Conquers the World has defeated the man-in-suit monster Baragon, the two cavemen who are supposed to have been watching the whole spectacle play out wander off without so much as an “ugh”.

However, this will not be the last instance of Aadi Yug serving up pilfered special effects scenes from other movies in order to fulfill its dinosaur quota. It even wheels out that crusty old granddaddy of stock monster footage, the fight between the monitor lizard and the alligator with a fin glued to its back from the 1960 remake of The Lost World, and then resuscitates that even hoarier bit from the original One Million B.C. in which the cavemen defend their cave from a giant iguana. All in all, Aadi Yug borrows so much footage that it almost seems like it wishes it were another movie entirely, which is completely understandable. This is not to say, however, that it’s entirely incapable of working a little movie magic of its own when it comes to presenting monsters onscreen –- as is evidenced by this Bigfoot that shows up to cart off a screaming skinny dipper at one point.





When the stock footage runs out, and Aadi Yug is forced to just be its homely old self, it depicts its caveman protagonists engaging in an endless cycle of rutting, fighting, and raping, while at the same time undertaking a journey of discovery that sees them learning how to use things like tools, weapons and fire. Sadly, along the way director Prasad doesn’t discover any way in which any of this could be made the least bit interesting. Fittingly, what we have here is filmmaking at a pretty primitive level. Even the music by Vipin-Kishore is awful enough to have conceivably been performed by people with only a dawning conception of music, consisting of random percussion accompanied by shrill and repetitive riffs pawed out on a cheap synthesizer. No songs are included, which might be for the best, as the film’s “all grunting all the time” dialogue probably didn’t lend itself to lyricism.

So, for all the trouble we took in doing all of that evolving, learning to walk erect, make sandwiches, operate a TV remote and work as greeters at Wal-Mart, this was how the folks behind Aadi Yug sought to reward us: with a terrible, terrible movie that is both ugly to behold and noisome to the ear. On my darker days I might think that Aadi Yug is exactly the movie that the human race deserves, but today I’m going to rise above that. Michael Barnum has hipped me to the existence of another Bollywood caveman movie, Purana Purush, made the same year as Aadi Yug. And in the indefatigable human spirit of blind forward motion coupled with unfounded optimism -- and a determination to turn dumb choices into dumb-portunities -- I plan to find and watch that as well. I know I’m tempting the fates here, but I sincerely believe that there is no way it could possibly be worse.


Friday, June 4, 2010

The Arizona Kid (Philippines, 1971)



Calling The Arizona Kid a “Filipino Spaghetti Western” might seem a little glib, but, honestly, I can’t think of a more accurate way to describe it. The film -- which sees the unlikely pairing of famed Pinoy exploitation producer Cirio H. Santiago with a script co-written by Lino Brocka, the man who would go on to become the Philippines’ most internationally recognized art house auteur -- seems to consciously strive to combine the Filipino penchant for broad comedy and melodrama with all of the most distinctive markers of the typical Italian oater of its day.

To begin with, there is the movie’s international cast, a must-have for any Spaghetti Western. Probably the most telling inclusion here is that of Gordon Mitchell. One of many American born actors who made their living in Italian genre cinema during the boom years of the 60s and 70s, Mitchell started out in Peplums and, by the time of making The Arizona Kid, had become a mainstay in European Westerns, often -- as is the case here -- playing bad guy roles. Further adherence to the Italo-Western norm is evidenced by the presence in the cast of a post-expiration-date, minor U.S. star, in this case 50s B-Movie bombshell Mamie Van Doren. And rounding out the film’s assemblage of low wattage, non-Filipino star power is former Miss Venezuela -- and 1967 Miss Universe runner-up -- Mariela Branger as our heroine.

Of course, The Arizona Kid’s most prominent roles are reserved for players from the home country. Thus we get a lead performance from Chiquito, a man who holds a place alongside the likes of Dolphy and Panchito as one of The Philippines’ most beloved screen comedians. And to carry out the more traditionally heroic duties there’s Bernard Bonnin, a popular action star who first made his mark as the hero of a series of films based on the exploits of the Diabolik-like Filipino comic book character Palos.

But The Arizona Kid’s bid for Spaghetti Western cred doesn’t end with its casting. Composer Restie Umali provides a score rich with insistent strings and strident guitar strumming, and there is also the requisite use of Spanish locations as a stand-in for the American West. It is this last, I think, that has lead some to describe the film as either an Italian or Spanish co-production, even though my feeling is that that’s not the case. Aside from the sequences shot in those Spanish locales -- as well, reportedly, as some actually shot in Arizona -- the majority of the film appears to have been filmed on sound stages back in the Philippines, with Pacific Islanders standing in for Mexican villagers. In any case, it’s clear that said location shooting constituted a dear enough expense to Santiago’s Premiere Productions that they wanted to get the absolute most out of it for their money, as the film suffers from a few overlong establishing shots and instances of the camera sticking with a rider’s traverse across the horizon far longer than necessary. You could literally take a brief nap and wake to find the journey still in progress.

Despite all of this, there is one, I think very Filipino way in which The Arizona Kid departs significantly from the Spaghetti Western formula. Whereas the majority of such films strove for either a vague feeling of “American-ness”, or, at least, a limbo-like non-specificity in terms of place and nationality, The Arizona Kid exploits to the hilt its star and protagonist’s identity both as a Filipino and an outsider in the film’s turn-of-the-century American setting. Here Chiquito plays Ambo, a cheerful, fresh-off-the-boat immigrant from the Islands who arrives in San Francisco with hopes of reuniting with his uncle. Unfortunately, Ambo learns that his uncle has since moved on to Mexico, and so must make the long stage journey across the border -- along with some white fellow passengers who regard him as if he were some kind of entirely new, and completely distasteful, life-form. (“What nationality are you”, they wonder. “Chinese?” “Japanese?” Once given an answer, it turns out that none of them has even heard of the Philippines.)

After the stagecoach is robbed and all of Ambo’s money is taken, he’s left by the coach driver to fend for himself. He finds shelter in a small border town, which he soon learns is being terrorized by the bandit Coyote (Mitchell). Don Jose, the kindly cantina owner who has taken Ambo in, has put the call out for a legendary gun-for-hire by the name of the Arizona Kid, in hope that the gunfighter will not only aid in the fight against Coyote, but also embolden the timid townsfolk to take up arms in their own defense. Unfortunately, while being escorted into town by Ambo, village belle Ramona (Branger) and dashing Leonardo (Bonnin), the Arizona Kid is quite handily dispatched by Coyote’s men in an ambush.

So what to do? Inform the townspeople of The Arizona Kid’s death, and thusly dash their last hope of having their sorrows lifted? Or should a stand-in for the gunslinger be found? Perhaps even a comically mismatched one who not only has no inclination to fight, but who could make no plausible claim to being from anywhere even remotely near Arizona? (Note: There will be no prize for answering correctly.) Another newcomer in town, the buxom ranch owner Sharon Miller (Van Doren), has ideas on the matter, and while Ambo -- gentle and carefree soul that he is -- is not entirely on board with things, it seems Sharon need only aim her el grande boobs in his direction to at least temporarily gain his acquiescence.

In the version of The Arizona Kid that I watched, all of the supporting players spoke or were dubbed in English (in Van Doren’s case, in the disconcertingly shrill tones of a Talking Tina doll), while Chiquito spoke all of his lines either in pure Tagalog or with a mixture of fragmented English (i.e. “Taglish”). I guess it’s possible that there exists an “international” version in which his dialogue is also dubbed in English, though it’s hard to imagine how that would work. While the film’s story is easy enough to follow as is, most of its humor derives from the misunderstandings generated by the language gap between Ambo and his English, Spanish and, at one point, Chinese speaking co-stars. (For one thing, everyone seems to assume that he is speaking their language.) The result is that, while the English-only viewer can easily engage with the simple cowboy movie plot, the film’s language-based humor is such that it can likely only be appreciated by a speaker of Tagalog. And this is not to mention the movie’s other “culture clash” based riffs, such as Ambo’s coach-mates highly displeased reaction to the fragrant pot of bagoong that he’s got secreted away in his luggage.

Now, as any regular reader of this blog knows, the Filipinos love their spoofs, and have certainly lampooned the Western genre on more than a few occasions. Given that, I think I need to make clear that The Arizona Kid is indeed, for the most part, a straight forward Western, albeit one with comedic elements, and not a parody. At least for the first hour or so, the character of Ambo is presented in a plausible, if broad, manner, with the instances of humor arising naturally out of his circumstances. In fact, the air of merriment that the film weaves around Ambo’s ability to create confusion in all around him -- merely by being himself -- comes across more than anything else as a gleeful expression of pride in the peculiarity of Filipino culture. Meanwhile, the traditional Western elements of the story unfold in about as grim and violent a manner as you might expect from the real Spaghetti Western article, with wild eyed and blood thirsty villains praying on the innocent, and bloody vengeance being sworn in return.

Sadly, The Arizona Kid ultimately disrupts this delicate balance, and tips the scales just a bit too far in the direction of comedy during its final act. Ambo’s sudden transformation from gentle innocent to cowardly reluctant gunfighter results in him becoming a tiresome caricature -- and his constant cries of “me no like!” are borderline offensive. Even more disappointing, the final showdown with Coyote ends up being played for laughs despite a sustained dramatic buildup. Still, The Arizona Kid is an odd and interesting film -- perhaps even more so than I initially thought, since I ended up writing a lot more about it than I had planned. There definitely seems to be a war going on within it between the rote and the thoughtful -- to the extent that one could probably make of it several very different films (which in fact might have indeed been the case). Yet there is something singular in its combination of elements, no matter how clangorous their coming together, and that alone is enough to grant it some value.