When Sergio Leone’s western masterworks were blowing up European box offices, an enterprising young man named Tony Anthony had the foresight to bring Italy’s sense of style to America before the real deal was being distributed here. He talked an acquaintance at MGM into helping him produce a spaghetti western, with him in the starring role. The rather successful business move would prove to be little more than that, but with the financiers at MGM happy with the returns, Anthony’s character would return, as well, for three more films. So, The Stranger Tetralogy was born, and the first three, MGM-backed movies are now living at The Warner Archives. I can’t possibly understand how the series took off, but if only for the sake of The Stranger Returns, I am happy it did.
A STRANGER IN TOWN
Partially thanks to my mostly false preconceived notions, I could barely make it through this film. In fact, I didn’t. I feel asleep… twice. So, the third time was the charm, and I powered through this charmless stinker with the aid of coffee, daylight, and an upright position. To be fair, I admit I misunderstood The Stranger’s role in the cinematic universe. I was lead to believe this was a kind of send-up, or spoof, or gag on the revisionist genre. So, when I sat down to a completely straight forward and dreadfully boring garbage movie, I was a little surprised. Yes, Tony Anthony’s character could be considered a less competent and more human twist on Eastwood’s stoic badass, but if it doesn’t make for a good watch, who cares? A Stranger In Town plays like nothing more than a bad spaghetti western. It’s so poorly made, I’m surprised it didn’t spoil things for the yet-to-be-exported masterpieces. It plods along like a blind snail. Sure, the pace and editing of spaghetti westerns were slow (and sometime odd), but that mood upheld the operatic theatricality, the grandiose visions of directors like Leone. Here, the blocking is so careless, the action so dull, and the characters so empty, you almost have to wonder if these scenes were assembled without any creative input from experienced filmmakers.
THE STRANGER RETURNS
Things change drastically when The Stranger teams up with a bottle rocket-launching prophet to capture a solid gold stagecoach from an evil rifleman who can’t miss. This is more the movie I was expecting. Riding into frame with a pink parasol on a horse named “Pussy”, The Stranger begins developing the tone, charm, and humor for which I was so hoping. The gun fights are imaginative, the characters are appealing (especially Marco Guglielmi as The Preacher), and the script is quite funny and entertaining. All of this could be thanks to Tony Anthony, who is credited for the story. This MacGuffin-centric power struggle plays almost exactly how this franchise was advertised. The climactic gun battle has Anthony wielding a four-barrel turret shotgun, which is used to delightfully dispatch the badguys.
THE SILENT STRANGER
Then, things go back down hill… but not all the way. We’re off to a great start. The Stranger is either desperately lonely, or has lost his horse, because we catch up with him on a snowy mountain, shouting “Pussy” at the top of his lungs. He is shortly there after tasked with returning a tiny scroll to its alleged owner in Japan, for the fair sum of $20,000. So, he is off to Japan, but trouble follows, and he is soon embroiled in a family feud surrounding a child princess, corrupt uncles, bloodlust massage girls, and a cutting-edge machine gun. This one brings the tone and creativity found in its predecessor, but it brings a few unwanted characteristics, additionally. The title couldn’t be less appropriate. The Stranger has maybe never been this much of a talker. We are even privy to his running commentary in a weirdly omniscient voice-over narration. That gets old as soon as it begins, and almost as though he could tell, it more or less stops about halfway through. This is also a surprisingly plot-heavy film, somehow making this 90-minute trifle feel like it will never end. We don’t come to The Stranger for the storytelling, we come for the funny shootouts with weird guns.
The series would continue with Get Mean (1985), a film not affiliated with MGM. I can’t speak for that one (although I may now be convinced to track down a copy), but this collection is worth picking up for the middle two installments of the series.