There are several reasons to love Italian westerns — ranging from the spectacular gunfights and the violent men wielding those guns, down to the stylized filmmaking itself — but my personal favorite has always been the exposition. These genre gems come with unusually long beginnings which patiently, while also quite methodically and rhythmically introduce audiences to the story's central protagonist. The well-ordered and beautifully edited sequence slowly builds the suspense into an inescapable situation where the last man standing turns out to be our gunslinging hero, a man so fast to the draw that he fires as if from an innate instinct, like breathing or eye-winking. In those few moments, we're in awe and envious all at once.
In 'My Name is Nobody,' a minor classic of the genre but longtime favorite by Tonino Valerii, the fairly slow and methodical beginning takes place inside the barbershop of a dry, lonely chantey town where three questionable-looking cowboys are up to no good. The man they're waiting for is silver-screen legend Henry Fonda, who casually walks in for a shave and doesn't appear to suspect he's about to be ambushed. But the joke is on the bad guys — and on us as well — because it turns out Fonda is fully aware of what's about to go down. In the middle of the shave, our soon to be hero points his gun at the crotch of the man pretending to be a barber, forcing him to finish and deliver the cleanest shave of his life. Then, BAM! He shoots all three cowboys so fast it seems as if from a single shot.
Although not at the level of operatic beauty and genius as 'Once Upon a Time in the West,' the opening is nevertheless one of the coolest in the genre, especially when considering what Valerii's film is trying to accomplish. 'My Name is Nobody' is a comedy western with a satirical tongue very firmly and slyly pressed against the cheek; it's a self-aware film that regularly and ironically pokes fun at itself while also taking jabs at the genre as a whole. By the mid-70s, the Italian western had pretty much run its course, falling into the same trap as American westerns: a hokum, repetitive imitation of itself with little room for originality. Working with Sergio Leone, who also takes writing credits with two others, Valerii delivers one of the greatest and most gratifying sendoffs to the genre, adopting its limitations while also forging ahead to embrace the new.
When two witnesses of the gunfight comment that nobody is quicker that Fonda's character, the credits roll with Ennio Morricone's music playing loudly while we're shown scenes of a nameless stranger (Terence Hill) fishing with a big stick he uses like a hammer. The entire opening, as we soon learn a few minutes further into the movie, is one big charade, because this goofy-looking clown of a gunslinger is the plot's actual hero. In the Wild West, men are always looking for ways to make a name for themselves. This mysterious man is a nobody and even calls himself as such, so the comment about "nobody is quicker" becomes the film's running gag because this guy is pretty damn quick. A hilarious scene with a shooting contest inside a saloon demonstrates just how quick he is.
On a grander scale, while the film slings a couple jabs such as 150 bad guys known collectively as "The Wild Bunch" and Morricone's score turning Wagner's Valkyries into a comical motif, 'My Name is Nobody' also offers wry commentary on what eventually happens to most all genres. The sight of Sam Peckinpah's name marking a gravestone is telling (almost blatantly) of the plot's wonderfully-amusing overarching theme. A Hollywood legend plays an aging gunslinger who is a legend in his own right and idolized by "Nobody" since childhood. We know these types of movies come with the requisite showdown, so Fonda's Beauregard from the older generation (of westerns) is given one last blaze of glory before handing the reins over to the younger, quicker generation. Out with the old and in with the new, and Valerii's film pays homage to that theme with a marvelous western in both serious and comical tone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment releases 'My Name is Nobody' as a 40th Anniversary Blu-ray edition inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase. The Region A locked, BD25 disc goes straight to the main menu at startup with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Nobody' rides across the desert plains of Blu-ray territory with a passable but somewhat disappointing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Considering its age, the film actually looks to be in fairly excellent condition although a complete restoration of the original elements would have likely yielded some stunning results. A few splatters of dirt and specks occasionally litter the 2.35:1 image while a couple scratches also quickly flash in a frame or two. However, the video is pretty stable with good clarity and several great sequences of sharp detailing. A very thin layer of grain is consistent while contrast is mostly spot-on and black levels are true. Colors are bold and cleanly rendered with natural skin tones throughout. The biggest and most apparent gripe is a good chunk of the picture looking a blurrier and poorly-resolved, especially when Nobody shows off to others. But other than that, the high-def transfer is an improvement to previous releases and will please fans.
Although the video could be better, at least Nobody still manages to put on a good show with a strong and generally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack. As we would expect from an Italian western, the ADR work is apparent and sometimes a smidge distracting, but overall, vocals are cleanly delivered in the center and intelligible from beginning to end. Dynamics and acoustics are not quite ideal, as the upper ranges displayed some minor clipping and distortion, or they simple felt restrained and somewhat hollow. Thankfully, this only happens once or twice. The rest of the lossless mix exhibits great clarity and detail, which is most appreciated during Ennio Morricone's wonderful score. Low bass is a bit lacking, but there's just enough kick for the music to show some depth. Overall, the high-rez track gets the job done without too much complaint.
This is a bare-bones release.
During a period when producers of Italian westerns were churning out stale, hokey productions that were more like parodies of themselves, Tonino Valerii and Sergio Leone made a comedy western that wryly satirized the genre as a whole while embracing its waning popularity. From the title and music down to the characters and obvious plot devices, 'My Name is Nobody' is an excitedly amusing farce about a Wild West where every gunslinger is out to make a name for themselves and be a nobody. The Blu-ray rides unto town with passable picture quality and a good audio presentation. In the end, the bare-bones release will attract fans of the film and genre, but others are encouraged to give it a rent.