CHUD Challenge: Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003) dir. Prachya Pinkaew

Don (Wannakit Sirioput) had one job. Go to a remote village in Thailand, buy an ancient amulet at way below market price, and return it to mob boss Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai) for sale on the black market. He failed because the village chief is saving the amulet for his son Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao) to wear when he finally returns to the village to take up his priestly role. Not wanting to return empty-handed, Don steals the head of Ong-Bak, the village's guardian statue. The village is stricken with drought, and there are only six days left before the festival of Ong-Bak must be held to save it. The villagers turn to their tree-climbing champion Ting (Tony Jaa) to go to Bangkok and retrieve the head.

Ting is also skilled in the art of Muay Boran (an older form of Muay Thai) but has been warned never to use it except in self-defense as his master once killed an opponent in the ring and has been consumed with guilt ever since. The villagers pool their meager resources to aid Ting in his quest.

Once in Bangkok, Ting looks up Humlae to assist him. But Humlae has become the grifter George, perpetually losing at gambling and in debt to thugs. George's only ally is his girlfriend Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol) who is allegedly a college student but mostly helps George with his scams. George has no interest in anything having to do with his hick home town or tracking down stolen stones. That is, until Ting stumbles into an underworld fight club and turns out to be awesome at kicking butt. Now, if he can just get Ting to make him some money....

This was the first Tony Jaa film to make it big in the West, and sparked a renewed interest in Thai films in general. Part of the attraction was that Jaa did all his own stunts without the aid of wires or computer graphics, which had come to dominate larger budget martial arts films at the time. Mix realistic-looking kickboxing and some parkour-style jumping, and you've got some very nice action scenes. I especially liked the Tuk Tuks (minicabs) chase sequence.

Komtuan puts in a strong performance as a man who doesn't let the fact that he's lost his larynx to throat cancer and is confined to a wheelchair stop him from villainous hubris.

One of the themes of the movie is "country good, city bad." Ting is pure of heart and the villagers wholesome. The city dwellers are pretty much all jerks, most of the visible ones being mobsters or mobster-adjacent. Humlae/George has lost sight of what's truly important in life, Muay is only slightly nicer, and even Ting darkens and becomes more violent as he spends time in Bangkok. A more direct contrast is when Ting chews natural herbs to refresh his energy before the final fight (good) while his opponent injects artificial chemicals (bad.)

If the movie has a flaw, it's that the plot is a bit thin. This is the kind of story where the movie would have been a good hour shorter if George hadn't kept trying to trick Ting into making money for him, or the bad guys simply turned over the stone head that was worthless to them.

Content notes: Violence, not usually too graphic. Don and a woman of negotiable virtue start a sex scene, but when Ngek mentions she wants to get clean, he murders her with a cocaine overdose. Also, one of the villainous fight club opponents molests a waitress and insinuates that Thai women are prostitutes. Komtuan smokes through a hole in his throat.

Ong-Bak gave martial arts film makers a kick in the pants and upped their game, so other movies since then have surpassed it. But it's always good to go back to films that set off a trend and enjoy them on their own merits.

CHUD Challenge: One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

One-Eyed Jacks (1961) dir. Marlon Brando

We first see Rio (Marlon Brando) and Dad Longsworth (Karl Malden) in Sonora, Mexico in 1880 when they are robbing a trading post with the aid of a third man. Foolishly, they stop in a town only a few miles away so that Dad and the third man can visit a cathouse and Rio can woo a more respectable girl. The rurales catch up quickly and the third man is shot down. The remaining two's escape goes poorly and they are down to one horse and one pair of shoes between them. Rio knows where there's horses for sale and generously allows Dad to go for them while he prepares to slow down the cops.

Dad decides to cut his losses and run once he has a fresh horse, and Rio is captured. On the way to prison, he learns the story of Dad's betrayal.

Five years later, Rio escapes from Sonora Prison with his new best friend, Chico Modesto (Larry Duran). After learning that Dad is no longer in his usual haunts, he hooks up with a pair of bank robbers who inform him that Dad is now known as Sheriff Dad Longsworth of Monterey, California, which also has a back ripe for the picking. Get rich and get revenge, what could be better?

The plan starts going south when first, it turns out the entire town is shutting down for a fiesta, so the bank won't be open to rob for a day, and second, Rio meets Dad's new family. The former partners lie to each other about what happened after they parted, Rio doing a better job. Sheriff Longworth shows off his wife Maria (Katy Jurado) and stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Rio and Louisa fall hard for each other, which complicates matters considerably.

This was the first and only movie directed by Marlon Brando after he and planned director Stanley Kubrick fought. It's very loosely based on The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider, which was itself a loose retelling of the life of Billy the Kid.

To be honest, the movie tells us little about Brando's possibilities as a director. After he overran costs by several million dollars trying to make a five hour long treatment, Paramount seized control and ruthlessly cut it down to 2 1/3rd hours. It still feels very long.

The movie is best for several fine performances, including the brooding Brando (though looking kind of chunky for someone nicknamed "Kid"), affable until pushed Malden, a sneering Slim Pickens as a cruel deputy, and realistic Pellicer (who alas would be taken too soon.) There's some pretty beach scenery shot in the Monterey area.

There's a strong theme of lies and deception throughout, as the title refers to people who show one face to the public, but another in private.

Some lengthy dialogue scenes tend to drag, particularly the love scenes.

Content notes: torture (whipping and a man's hand being crushed), unwanted sexual advances, sexism, racism (this last mostly from the two bank robbers Rio has hooked up with.)

This isn't one of my favorite Westerns, but there are a lot of good bits if you're patient.

CHUD Challenge: Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch

Snake Girl and the Silver Haired Witch (1968) dir. Noriaki Yuasa

Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) has mostly been okay with living at the Catholic orphanage with the Director nun (Kuniko Miyake) and handsome "big brother" Tatsuya (Sei Hiraizumi). But now she's been adopted by the Nanjo family, and she's determined to be a good daughter to her new parents. Perhaps the overnight death of one of the maids by heart attack is a bad omen, but it could have been a coincidence.

Sayuri's new father, Goro Nanjo (Yoshiro Kitahara), is a noted herpetologist, and is called away to an urgent find in Africa on the very night she arrives, leaving the new daughter in the care of her new mother, Yuko Nanjo (Yuko Hamada) and head servant Shige Kito (Sachiko Meguro). It soon becomes evident that there's another person living in the house, and Sayuri is introduced to her new sister Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi). This person was not mentioned to Sayuri during the adoption process, but she's willing to be a good sister as well.

Tamami is...odd, and is hostile to Sayuri. She may or may not be a snake person, but her behavior is explained away as selfishness or jealousy, and any physical evidence vanishes whenever Sayuri tries to show it.

Sayuri tells her woes to Tatsuya, who is not convinced anything supernatural is going on (some of Sayuri's experiences are obvious dream sequences) but does suspect that all is not on the up and up. He consults with the Director, who tells Tatsuya that Tamami wasn't mentioned as living in the Nanjo home, because she isn't supposed to be. She was institutionalized two years ago after a mental breakdown where she started thinking she was a snake. Yuko must secretly have sprung Tamami and hid her in the house without Goro's knowledge.

Tamami's getting more and more openly hostile to Sayuri, but there may be a more sinister force lurking in the shadows.

This movie was loosely adapted from the horror manga of Kazuo Umezu ("Cat-Eyed Boy") and includes some of his trademark bizarre imagery. It uses its dark house with darker secrets setting well, and is just vague enough about the supernatural bits that you're kept guessing through most of the film whether they are actually happening, faked, or Sayuri's just hallucinating.

The big twist towards the end you may have seen coming, but doesn't answer the question of why that person went to such elaborate lengths when the only people that needed fooling was the audience.

Content notes: bullying, many scenes with snakes, and one very vivid multiple spider scene.

The film is fairly rare, and you might have trouble tracking down a good print, but if you like an old-fashioned spooky movie, this one has its charms.

CHUD Challenge: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) dir. Sergio Leone

Our title characters are introduced in reverse order. The Ugly, Tuco (Eli Wallach), is an outlaw with a price on his head, guilty of a long list of crimes that have more than earned him a hanging. He's a survivor who's always thinking of his own hide and interests. The Bad, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), is a hired killer who's discovered a bigger payday than his client had hinted. And the Good, Blondie (Clint Eastwood), is the Man with No Name, whose goodness is shall we say relative?

Tuco and Blondie are running a scam where Blondie turns Tuco in for the bounty money, then saves his partner from the noose at the last moment. Blondie is smart enough to quit while they're ahead, but keeps all the money from their latest sting and strands Tuco in the middle of nowhere. Tuco is understandably enraged and seeks revenge. However, just as he's about to finish Blondie off, they learn clues about the location of the chest of gold Angel Eyes has been searching for. Since they now each need each other to get the big score, they must now cooperate.

However, they soon stumble upon Angel Eyes' trap for the original thief, and the killer learns half the secret. Now a series of side-switches and double-crosses will lead all three men to a final showdown.

Oh, and I should mention that this is all happening in 1862, during the Arizona campaign of the American Civil war, so the Confederate and Union Armies are fighting all around this.

This was the third film Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood, and the most epic. The American importers were the ones who decided to market all three films as though Clint's character was not just a very similar type, but actually the same person. In which case, this is a prequel to the other films which take place after the Civil War.

Ennio Morricone wrote the soundtrack music, which is excellent, especially when it switches up to a soft, beautiful piece the Confederate prisoners of war are forced to play to cover up the sounds of Tuco being tortured by Angel Eyes and his goons.

Lots of great visual sequences, long non-speaking scenes and nifty dark humor, particularly from Tuco. Speaking of which, we learn the most about Tuco of the three main characters. We meet his old friends and his estranged brother, and his version of why he became a criminal. Even though he's a bad person, we can sympathize with Tuco a bit, as opposed to the cold Angel Eyes.

In addition to the aforementioned torture, there are a couple of ugly wounds on display, and some male nudity. (There are almost no women in the movie and they're all fully clothed bit parts.)

The restored version runs almost three hours, and is not for the impatient.

One of the great Westerns, worth seeking out if you haven't previously seen it.

CHUD Challenge: Metropolis (1927)

Metropolis (1927) dir. Fritz Lang

Metropolis is the city of the future; brightly lit skyscrapers connected by sky highways, and grand gardens where the children of the elite play. Metropolis is the city of the future; workers spend half their days working at dangerous machines they do not fully understand the function of, then shuffle off to their sunless dormitories far below the surface of the earth. Metropolis is both these cities, and a city divided against itself cannot stand.

Freder (Gustav Frolich) is one of the most privileged people in Metropolis. His father Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) is the head of the government which is run like a business. But Freder knows nothing of what has to be done to run the city, spending his time on sports and cavorting with girls trained for the purpose. That is until one day he sees Maria (Brigitte Helm), who has brought a gaggle of workers' children to the sky gardens to see how their brothers live. This appears not to be actually illegal, but is. not. done., so Maria and the kids are quickly sent off by the servants. Freder, however, is intrigued by this young woman who is unlike anyone he's ever met.

While searching for Maria, Freder learns for the first time of the inhumane working conditions inflicted on the city's laborers, and witnesses an industrial accident caused by overwork. The machine is directly compared to Moloch, whose fiery belly requires human sacrifice. Freder goes to confront his father, who assures him that the workers are being treated as they deserve.

Joh Fredersen is not, however, entirely unaware that the city's treatment of its labor force is unjust. He fears unrest, and knows that something is going on underground. His plan, however, does not involve allowing unions or compliance with OSHA regulations. Instead, he turns to his old friend and former romantic rival, the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge.)

Years before, the two men had competed for the affections of the beautiful Hel, who wound up marrying Joh Fredersen and died giving birth to Freder. Rotwang has since lost a hand (replacing it with an apparently mechanical prothesis) and creating a Machine-Man that can be given a human appearance. Rotwang's plan is to make the robot into a copy of Hel for his very own. Joh Fredersen has other ideas. He orders that the Machine-Man be turned into a copy of Maria. It seems that Maria has been preaching the idea that the workers and owners can be brought together by a mediator that has the best interests of both sides in mind. Joh Fredersen wants the workers to revolt in a controlled manner so that he'll have an excuse to crack down on them and replace them with robots.

Rotwang is aware, as Joh Fredersen is not, that Freder and Maria have made contact, and Freder is the long-awaited mediator. He kidnaps Maria and creates the False Maria, but with instructions to turn both the elite and workers into mobs that will between them destroy the city and get Rotwang's revenge.

This film is one of the classics of science fiction cinema, directed by Fritz Lang from a script/novel written by his wife, Thea von Harbou. The special effects are amazing by 1927 standards, and are still very watchable today. The film was heavily influenced by German Expressionism, and is full of symbolism that does not attempt to hide its nature. If you are used to the language of silent film acting, it does a good job of conveying emotion and character.

The version I watched was the 2010 Kino restoration with about half an hour of footage restored from an Argentinian print. It's still quite good without that footage, but some plot points get obscured in the shorter cuts. Unfortunately, since the Argentine film was badly damaged, the clarity of the picture suffers. This cut also uses a close version of the original film score.

Younger audiences might find this movie a harder pill to swallow. Between having to read intertitles, the peculiarities of silent film acting, and the substantial length, middle schoolers and below may find their seats squirming. High schoolers who've been eased in with shorter silent films should be okay. On the content front, there's suicide, and an extended erotic dance by the False Maria.

Highly recommended to science fiction fans and cinema fans.

CHUD Challenge: Jaws 2

Jaws 2 (1978) dir. Jeannot Szwarc

It has been four years since the island community of Amity suffered a series of attacks by a great white shark. Most of the people have recovered, and things are looking up, with a new Holiday Inn (tm) opening, and Len Peterson's (Joseph Mascolo) real estate business is booming. But some disturbing incidents are occurring. Some scuba divers go missing, a speedboat explodes for no apparent reason, and a killer whale washes up on a beach with huge chunks bitten out of it. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) becomes convinced that another man-eating shark has taken up residence in the local waters.

Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is not convinced. After all, the one shark being near Amity was the result of a once in a lifetime fluke. All these incidents could be other things unconnected to each other. And Amity's economy is finally back on track, another shark scare could kill the tourist trade. Even Ellen (Lorraine Gary), Chief Brody's wife, is a little skeptical. And Mr. Peterson, her boss, is downright derisive.

When Chief Brody overreacts to a mysterious shadow in the waters off the public beach, shooting (cyanide bullets!) at a harmless school of bluefish, the town selectmen fire him.

Meanwhile, the older Brody son Michael (Mark Gruner) is in high school now, and participates in the local teen culture of sailing small, often improvised boats. (Even the stereotyped nerds sail!) His little brother Sean isn't ready to help sail, but is old enough to want to tag along. When his father's worries about the possible shark beach Michael with a terrible land job, Michael is easily convinced by a hot girl to go sailing with the gang anyway, and Sean is taken along because he threatened to fink.

Of course, as the audience has known all along, the killer shark is very real, and it's up to ex-chief Brody to save the teens...or what's left of them.

When the original Jaws was a huge success, the studio insisted on a sequel. Steven Spielberg refused to return as director, having done everything he wanted to do with sharks. The substitute director didn't work out and relative newcomer Szwarc was tapped. After floundering around for a while, the director, writer and crew were able to cobble together a workable story. They were fortunate enough to get several key actors back, though Richard Dreyfuss refused, so marine biologist Hooper is "in Antarctica" for the duration.

The movie itself is pretty good, nicely shot and uses John Williams' music well. Chief Brody's emotional trauma from the first movie resurfacing and affecting his judgement is portrayed well, and it's believable that the people around him begin to have doubts about his fitness for duty.

On the other hand, the shark's behavior is ludicrously unrealistic, more like a serial killer than a wild animal. This peaks when the shark manages to take out a helicopter! I mean, it's cool, but no.

Content notes: A couple of gruesome corpses, a touch of swearing, the camera lingers over swim-suited women's butts. Peterson's behavior towards Ellen is uncomfortably touchy-feely; in-movie it's mostly treated as inappropriate because she's married to the protagonist, but it's also inappropriate behavior toward an employee in general and society's attitude towards that has hardened.

Oh, I should mention that the reason that I'm reviewing this movie is because there was a big sticker covering up the "2" on the DVD cover, and I thought I was getting the original.

Still, this is an enjoyable summer blockbuster film and welcome in a time when most of us can't get out to the beach.

CHUD Challenge: The Giant of Marathon

The Giant of Marathon (1959) dir. Jacques Tourneur

The year is 490 B.C., and the mighty Phillipides (Steve Reeves) has just won the Olympics. Back home in Athens, Phillipides is appointed the leader of the Sacred Guard. Their job is to ensure that Athens remains a democracy, even with the threatened invasion of King Darius of Persia. But not everyone in Athens is opposed to the idea of being ruled by Persia. In particular, Teocrito (Sergio Fantoni) and his crony Creuso (Ivo Garrani) would bend the knee to Darius in exchange for local power. They plot to bring Phillipides to their side to neutralize the Sacred Guard.

As part of the plan, Teocrito orders his kept woman Karis (Daniela Rocca) to seduce Phillipides. This fails because Phillipides has just now fallen in love with a mysterious girl he recently met. This turns out to be Andromeda (Mylene Demongeot), daughter of Creuso and involuntary betrothed of Teocrito. When Teocrito attempts to offer Andromeda to Phillipides (since he doesn't actually love her and sees her as a bargaining chip), it doesn't sway our hero, but does sour him on Andromeda (because he thinks she's voluntarily going along with this) and he retires to his farm.

King Darius' fleet arrives along with the traitor Hippia, and Phillipides is called out of retirement. He quickly realizes that the Athenians cannot defeat Persia alone and goes to request the aid of Sparta. Teocrito tries to stop him, but ambushes having failed, defects to Darius with a plan to circumvent the defending army.

It's up to Phillipides to save the day by running from Marathon to Athens!

This Italian/French peplum (sword and sandal) movie is loosely based on events surrounding the Battle of Marathon. The "giant" part is metaphorical, with Phillipides being merely a reasonably large human with excellent muscles.

The acting is reasonable for a B-movie, Reeves has some good wrestling scenes, and the dancing girls move nicely. Both men and women wear skimpy outfits, though the men are on screen a lot more.

The version I watched is the one put out by The Film Crew, a riffing group that included MST3K alumni Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy. They skipped the silhouettes and just did quips during the movie, most fairly funny. The mid-movie break sketch was tedious, though.

Both the original and riffed versions are fun time-wasters.

CHUD Challenge: Zootopia

Zootopia (2016) dir. Byron Howard

Once upon a time, the mammals of the world ran solely on instinct. Predators ate prey, and that was the way things were. But over time, evolution happened and now you no longer have to be defined by your species. Mammals live in peace with each other, and anyone can be anything! Especially in Zootopia, a city built on species diversity. That's why Judy Hopps wants to go there and become a police officer, helping make the world a better place.

The first of her hurdles is that culturally, bunnies aren't police officers. They're agricultural workers, to be blunt, farmers. Traditionally the police force draws from predators and the larger prey species for their physical prowess. Judy isn't going to let being the first rabbit police officer candidate stop her, though. Despite struggles with the physical demands of police academy, Judy persists, and becomes the valedictorian of her class. Mayor Lionheart exercises his authority and assigns her to District One, the central police station of Zootopia.

Chief Bogo is not impressed by his new affirmative action rookie and assigns Judy to meter maid duties while most of the rest of the force is working missing mammal cases, of which there's been a rash. Judy does pretty well on her first day, exceeding her quota for tickets issued before noon. But then she runs into petty hustler Nick Wilde, who tricks her into participating in one of his money making enterprises in a small way. A cynical sort, Nick predicts Judy will soon lose her idealism.

Officer Hopps stumbles her way into being asked to solve one of the missing mammal cases within the next 48 hours, a task that has baffled the entire police force for two weeks. Her badge is on the line, and she has to proceed without the police computers as she's never been given access. The case file on Emmett Otterton is nearly empty, but Judy does spot a clue that places Nick near the scene, and she manages to blackmail the fox into assisting her.

Nick's not very helpful at first, pranking Judy a couple of times, but some leads are gained, and the two begin to have some grudging respect and empathy for each other. When Nick realizes just how serious the situation is (the missing citizens turned into violent "savages" before disappearing) and how badly Chief Bogo treats Judy (similar to how he's been treated in the past, though for different reasons), he talks the Chief into letting Judy have her full 48 hours.

And they crack the case! However, the mystery of why some mammals, all predators, have been turning savage is not cleared up, and during a disastrous press conference, Judy's own prejudices lure her into making some comments that sow discord between predators and prey. Nick breaks off their new friendship because of her bigotry. Tensions increase in Zootopia as more predators turn "savage." When Assistant Mayor Bellwether, now acting mayor, wants to make Officer Hopps the new face of the ZPD, Judy resigns instead.

But as often happens in cop movies, this temporary leave of absence allows Judy to realize what's really going on, reconcile with Nick, and save the day. Everybody dance!

This nifty Disney movie manages its metaphors for racism and ethnic prejudice by not having any of the species directly map on to a real-life group. Instead, much of it is based on animal stereotypes that the various mammals defy, embrace or subvert. And no one is immune. However idealistic Judy may be about everyone living peacefully together, she still harbors prejudice, especially against foxes, and that leads her to some poor choice of wording. Some of her struggles read more as sexism or prejudice against rural people. Nick faces a lot of negative stereotypes, but leans into some of them, and is not above touching Assistant Mayor Bellwether's hair without asking when he gets the chance.

The scene where desk sergeant Clawhauser is asked to move from the reception desk to the basement records department because he's not the image the police department wants to project right now will resonate with many adult watchers.

There's good voice acting, nice music (though I am less impressed with Shakira's big number than Disney might have expected) and the setting with its multiple climates and size accommodations is really cool.

The joke with the naturist (not wearing clothes) mammals goes on a bit too long, and some viewers may question whether having Nick join the police force at the end is really a happy ending.

Overall, this is going to be a good movie to revisit every five years or so so that new layers of meaning will resonate with the viewer. Recommended.

CHUD Challenge: The Man They Could Not Hang

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) dir. Nick Grinde

Dr. Henryk Savaard (Boris Karloff) has a radical idea to improve the chance of successful surgery. Much of the risk of an operation comes from the fact that the patient is alive, their body still functioning. Make a mistake, and you kill the patient. But suppose, now hear me out, suppose the patient was already dead? The surgeon could take as much time as he liked and cut where necessary without worry. The only problem then would be returning the patient to life. And as it happens, Dr. Savaard has invented an external artificial heart which, in theory, will jumpstart the body's functions, bringing the "dead" patient back among the living.

Dr. Savaard's student Bob has volunteered to be the guinea pig for an experiment to test the device. Unfortunately, nurse Betty Crawford (Ann Doran) gets cold feet and goes to the police. The cops arrive just as Dr. Savaard and his assistant Lang (Byron Foulger) are figuring out the details of the pump's operation. Despite the pleas of Dr. Savaard, his daughter Janet (Lorna Gray) and sympathetic journalist "Scoop" Foley (Robert Wilcox), the police refuse to let him continue the reanimation process. The ensuing autopsy kills Bob for real, but it's Dr. Savaard who's placed on trial.

An unsympathetic judge and prosecutor, as well as several scientifically illiterate jurors, make it an open and shut case against Dr. Savaard. You can see the milk of human kindness draining out of him. When he is sentenced to be hanged, Dr. Savaard makes a "you'll all be sorry" speech. He seems unusually calm as he faces his doom.

And no surprise there, for a disguised Lang claims the hanged man's body, fixes the broken neck, and uses the pump to revive Savaard. Unfortunately, it looks like the oxygen deprivation to the brain has done some damage, and Dr. Savaard is no longer interested in benefiting mankind.

Six supposed suicides by hanging of the jurors later, the remaining people who were responsible for Savaard's death (plus "Scoop") are called together at his old mansion. There the now mad scientist reveals his existence so that he can enjoy killing them one by one.

This horror-tinged thriller holds up pretty well, though actual medical researchers may quarrel with Dr. Savaard's experimental protocols. There's ingenious use of death traps and psychology, and Dr. Savaard shifts between sympathetic and maniacal with ease.

None of the hangings take place on-screen, and there's no blood. Some viewers may agree with the prosecutor's attitude towards the prospect of wholesale organ transplants. And because this movie was made under the Hays Code, evil cannot prosper in the end.

This is a short film, just over an hour long, and will work well as part of a double feature, or when you want a complete shock story in a limited amount of time.

CHUD Challenge: A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) dir. Sergio Leone

San Miguel, a village near the Rio Bravo in northeast Mexico, is an unhappy place. There are more widows than wives, and the only man making an honest living is Piripero the coffin maker (Joseph Egger). The trouble is that there is not just one criminal gang in town, but two, the rumrunner Rojo brothers, and the gunrunner Baxter gang. Into this tense situation rides the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood). He sizes up the village, and realizes that he can manipulate the gangs and earn...a fistful of dollars.

With the bartender Silvanito (Jose Calvo) as his only confidant, the Man skillfully plays both sides, offering his services first to the Rojos, and then secretly to the Baxters. With a chestful of Army gold at stake, it's easy to make the bodies pile up. But the Man takes pity on Ramon Rojo's (Gian Maria Volante) captive Marisol (Marianne Koch, who gets second billing despite a relatively small part) and arranges her escape, which leads the Man into the hands of the enemy.

This was the first of Sergio Leone's "spaghetti Westerns" made in part because Hollywood had started moving away from the dominance of Westerns in the American film industry, and the Westerns that were coming out from the U.S. were "thinky." Leone wanted plenty of action and surprises, and he certainly delivered! Much of the movie's structure, plotline and characters were lifted from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) which was in turn a very loose adaptation of Red Harvest (1929) by Dashiell Hammett. Leone made this movie his own with connotations of Italian and Spanish history, particularly their involvement in World War Two.

This was a very different sort of Western than American audiences were used to, with a morally ambiguous protagonist who winds up being actively punished for momentarily thinking of someone other than himself. Although not overly bloody, it's brutally violent--more people are shot in the opening credits than in most Hollywood Westerns' entire plots. The Man was no invincible hero, having to literally crawl and hide and beg for help at one point due to his injuries.

The movie is well shot, and Ennio Morricone's music is justly famous (though a couple of scenes early on have a bit too much of it.) Clint Eastwood was born for the part of the Man with No Name, and the other actors do a good job. Sadly, some of the dubbing isn't quite up to snuff.

Content notes: some of the violence is bloody and it's generally brutal, there's an extended torture scene, and while it's not called rape and not on screen, it's pretty clear what's happening to Marisol.

Recommended for Western fans who enjoy moral ambiguity and a plot that cuts out a lot of explanation in favor of moving ahead.