The Great Silence (1968)

greatsilence_6The Great Silence [Il grande silenzio] (1968)
AKA The Big Silence

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Vonetta McGee, Mario Brega, Carlo D’Angelo, Marisa Merlini

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Expectations: Low.


The Great Silence must be pretty high on the list of the bleakest films in existence. So if you’re not going to be OK with a movie that doesn’t contain a single shred of hope, optimism or happiness, then The Great Silence is one to avoid. But for those willing to take the plunge into this snow-covered land of darkness ruled by ruthless bounty killers and their greed, then you are in for one of the greatest Italian westerns of all time.

The Great Silence opens by introducing us to Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunman who lives by a strict code of only firing on a man in self-defense. He is a good man living in a cutthroat world, but his quickness on the draw and his code allow him to stay within the bounds of the law. On the other side of the proverbial coin is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a bounty killer who will kill anyone, anywhere without a second thought… as long as there’s a reward to be collected. He is an evil man, but like Silence he is also technically operating within the confines of the law. The film inevitably puts these two men against one another, but to describe the film in such simple terms makes it sound a lot more average and unremarkable than it actually is.

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

aguirre-wrath-of-god-german POSTERAguirre, the Wrath of God [Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes] (1972)

Starring Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Del Negro, Ruy Guerra, Peter Berling, Cecilia Rivera, Daniel Ades, Edward Roland

Directed by Werner Herzog

Expectations: High, but I’ve got a bad, pretentious feeling for some reason.


There aren’t many movies you could call both boring and captivating, but Aguirre, the Wrath of God is just that and more. It’s an enigmatic film, incrementally drawing you into its slow-moving and somewhat surreal world, and testing your sanity along with the characters’. From what I’ve seen of Herzog’s filmography, he’s long been fascinated with characters that push the bleeding edge of the human mind, characters that left the point of no return behind long, long ago. Aguirre, the Wrath of God is simultaneously a stunning Herzog film and an impenetrable one, reminding me of how I felt after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, which is to say I’m a bit perplexed and will need to watch this one again to really get down on it.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is about a 16th century expedition up the Amazon to find the city of gold, El Dorado. It’s a fool’s errand, of course, but that doesn’t stop these Spanish conquistadors from relentlessly pushing forward in spite of every odd stacked against them. Klaus Kinski plays Aguirre, the group’s second-in-command and lead nutjob. He quickly asserts his power and controls the men through wild promises of untold riches that await them ahead.

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The Return of Shanghai Joe (1975)

The Return of Shanghai Joe [Il ritorno di Shanghai Joe] (1975)
AKA Che botte, ragazzi! & Zwei durch dick und dünn

Starring Klaus Kinski, Cheen Lie, Tommy Polgár, Karin Field, Claudio Giorgi, Tom Felleghy, Paolo Casella, Fortunato Arena

Directed by Bitto Albertini

Expectations: Low. It can’t live up to the first one.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:

For those expecting a film on the level of My Name is Shanghai Joe, you should look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a total and utter piece of shit, then The Return of Shanghai Joe is the movie for you! It’s offensive in its sheer audacity to take boredom to new heights. And to think I had some expectations that this would only be half as good a movie as the original. It’s not even fit to be in the same state as that film; it’s literally so boring and pointless that I’m having a hard time staying focused enough to get my thoughts down.

The plot, if you could call it that, involves a tonic salesman who falls into a bad crowd when a dying bandit hides out in his wagon. I honestly can’t remember what happened next, because there’s literally no reason to. The plot moves from point to point alright, but without any sense of what a story is or should be, so it’s incredibly hard to re-tell. I forget exactly how, but at some point the salesman gets duped out into the wilderness where some evil fuckers are planning to rob and hang him. Shanghai Joe happens to be taking a nap behind a tree and saves the salesman’s life, so now they’re pretty much buddies for the rest of the film. That might sound like it has potential or is perhaps vaguely intriguing. It’s not, and lest you be fooled by the title, Shanghai Joe is barely in the film.

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My Name is Shanghai Joe (1973)

My Name is Shanghai Joe [Il mio nome è Shanghai Joe] (1973)
AKA The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe, The Dragon Strikes Back, Knochenbrecher im wilden Westen (literally translates to: Bone Crusher in the Wild West), Shanghai Joe, To Kill or to Die

Starring Chen Lee, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, Claudio Undari, Katsutoshi Mikuriya, Carla Romanelli, Carla Mancini, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, George Wang, Federico Boido, Piero Lulli

Directed by Mario Caiano

Expectations: High, this one looks great and I’ve heard good things.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:

Usually in films where two distinct genres are mashed together, the end result is less than it could have been. In My Name is Shanghai Joe, I am happy to say that everything comes together in the best, most satisfying way possible. It is a western first, then a kung fu film, but it truly delivers on both levels. It is also nearly non-stop action, with Shanghai Joe moving briskly through the baddies in one great scene after another. I always go into mixed genre films with apprehension, especially ones that mix two of my favorite genres, but My Name is Shanghai Joe does it so well that I had an absolute blast watching it and will definitely be watching this one again.

There isn’t much of a plot to speak of. Shanghai Joe arrives off a presumably slow boat from China in San Francisco of 1882. He quickly buys a stagecoach ticket East to Texas. At every turn, Joe meets up with some of the most racist fuckers ever put onto celluloid, spouting shitty Chinaman jokes one after another. After working his way through tons of these bastards, Joe finally pisses off the wrong dude, who in turn hires four assassins to track down Joe and take him out. These assassins, with such names as Scalper Jack and Pedro the Cannibal, each go down in interesting and fun ways. My Name is Shanghai Joe is a revenge film, but not one to linger on the pain or the regret such killing might lead another hero to contemplate. Instead most of the scenes follow this general framework: Joe enters, the bad guys say some racist shit and attack, Joe fucking annihilates them. It’s truly gratifying to watch and literally never gets old.

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Mini-Review: Crawlspace (1986)

Starring Klaus Kinski, Talia Balsam, Barbara Whinnery, Carole Francis, Tane McClure, Sally Brown, Jack Heller, David Abbott, Kenneth Robert Shippy

Directed by David Schmoeller

Expectations: It looks like it has potential, but I’m not expecting much.

To say that Crawlspace is a weird movie is an understatement. Instead of creating characters you love and then slowly killing them off as most horror films do, Crawlspace focuses its attention almost entirely on the murderer played by Klaus Kinski. Don’t worry about spoilers, the first scene lets you in on his dirty little secret. By focusing on Kinski, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to identify with him and that later in the film he might perform some redemptive act with his dying breath. Thankfully, Crawlspace isn’t nearly so predictable and Kinski is all evil, fulfilling the premise of following his character to the bitter end.

Beyond Kinski crawling around the giant ventilation system of his apartment building spying on/killing people, there’s not much of a plot in Crawlspace. This makes the film pretty hard to enjoy and be interested in. If the FX moments were more plentiful than I could forgive the lacking plot, but there’s not nearly enough for this. In addition to being rather bare in the story department, the fact that Kinski is an ex-Nazi continuing his deranged work and fulfilling his sick desires comes off as clichéd and obvious. Of course he is, because every wild-eyed film German since WWII has been. Nazis are the ultimate on-screen villains, but they need some innovation or variation once in a while to keep it interesting. Perhaps Crawlspace was an innovator in the “crazy German who fled the war crimes rap to become a serial murderer in America” genre at the time, but if so, its magic doesn’t hold up.

With that all said, Kinski is easily the most interesting actor and character, so it only makes sense to focus on him. No one else in the film is really given anything to work with. This really hurts the film in the end, as during its climax the viewer doesn’t care about the fate of the girl in any way other than a gut primal instinct. Crawlspace is similar to an empty coloring book in this way. If I colored in her character in my head the scenes could have had an emotional impact, but without that extra work on my part the scenes are but outlines of their potential. Visually, the chase through the crawlspace was pretty awesome though, I gotta say. Technically the film is shot very well and it definitely has some great moments of terror and thrills, but overall it’s kind of boring and lacking in a lot areas.

Next week, I take on Full Moon’s sci-fi western flick from 1994, Oblivion!

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