His Name Was Holy Ghost (1970)

Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato... Parola di Spirito Santo / Blazing Guns

As regular readers of this site probably know by now, I'm not a fan of the comedy western, an attribute which characterized many of the spaghettis in their later years. I can pinpoint exactly the moment where I first experienced that dislike. It was in Tonino Valerii's My Name is Nobody, one of the first spaghettis I saw, when Terence Hill's Nobody character goes into a saloon, gets drunk as a skunk, and then proceeds to have a bit of a "brawl" with a baddie that primarily involves him playing with the guy's gun in his holster and then slapping him in the face, and the whole slapstick scene is done with a sped-up camera, making it even more ridiculous. I was, quite frankly, horrified, as it seemed so out of place in this otherwise serious (and otherwise superbly acted, shot and directed) film. Hill would go on to make this annoying schtick part of his act in the Trinity films and others. I've seen very few comedy spags, but perhaps I need to keep a bit more of an open mind, as I found Giuliano Carnimeo's His Name Was Holy Ghost quite funny, for the most part, surprising myself..

Garko's a rather bright one, eh?

Gianni Garko stars as Holy Ghost (his name is actually Harold, but His Name Was Harold doesn't make for a very intriguing title, does it?). As the film starts out, we see some Mexican peasants being rounded up, some are killed, as their tormentors seem to be looking for someone, a Don Fermino Mendoza. They finally capture him, and we learn that his captors are working for a General Ubarte. Apparently, both Ubarte and Mendoza are holding claim to the presidency, and Ubarte is about to have Mendoza killed, when Holy Ghost comes in and lays waste to Ubaret's men with a rather unusual looking maching gun. Of course, Mendoza's people want him to help fight the Revolution.

It turns out that he's in town because he has a treasure map that he won in a poker game, and he's trying to find the other person that knows the whereabouts of it, as his map has a hole in it. It turns out that the gold happens to be beneath the fort that General Ubarte (Poldo Bendandi, looking more like a Mafia don or Columbian drug lord than a generalissmo). He falls in with his old pal Chicken (Chris Huerta) who is now supposedly a preacher, and they set out to get the gold. After a series of rather funny misdventures, they eventually get the gold (don't they always in these things?).

Now, this is by no means a Zapata western à la Duck You Sucker or A Bullet for the General. The Mexican Revolution, although a backdrop, is treated quite superficially, with someone always going on about "doing it for the Revolution" so much that it almost starts to sound like a punchline to a joke or something. Although there is a scene where Umbarte rounds up and captures the intellectuals, bankers and such, it doesn't go into any kind of underlying sociopolitical commentary, it's more to set up a scene for the Holy Ghost to come to the rescue.

That said, I think what made the comedic elements of it work for me was that there were quite a few rather witty lines of dialogue in the film. For example, when Holy Ghost is captured by Umbarte's men, a small dialogue ensues, and then there's a silent minute as people look around. Holy Ghost asks if they're going to get on with killing him, and his captor, half-looking to the camera, says, "I thought we would all enjoy the suspense for a second." It was then that I realized this film wasn't so serious. Garko is great, as he usually is, and in many ways, his Holy Ghost character is really just a funnier Sartana, dressed in white and a lot less serious and intense. He has a few interesting gadgets, such as a mirror-lined coat (see above), which he uses to blind a firing squad, he has a dove he carries around with him, and he has that rather interesting looking machine gun, too. Although one doesn't really get the idea that he's actually a ghost, he does pull the quick appearing/disappearing act several times, like Steffen in Django the Bastard, without the sinister vibe. There's quite a few zany situations, one in which he finds himself threatened with a pot of horseshit-laced beans:

Shitty beans

The Holy Ghost is not going to take any shit, even if it's in a pot of beans.

... which he then proceeds to feed to his captors after turning the tables on them. The only scene that really went over the top for me involved him, in diguise, sneaking two wagons of whores into Umbarte's castle, one of which is full of some of his revolutionary buddies in drag:

Of course, the big gag involves a lot of ugly men in drag fighting Umbarte's men. It was a bit more ridiculous than anything else in the movie and went on a bit longer than it should have, but it didn't kill the film for me. The witty, humourous dialogue peppered throughout the film (often coming out of nowhere from some unassuming, minor character) gave me enough chuckles to overlook the drag fight scene.

In terms of actual filmmaking, there is some quality here, with some fantastic cinematography from Miguel Fernández Mila, the acting is good, and Carnimeo does his usual good job in the director's chair. And I'd be remiss not to mention Bruno Nicolai's score. Other than a bit of incidental music, it primarily consists of a song, Libertad, and a softer instrumental variation of the song. I'd heard the song before, and although it's not normally something I'd listen to, I love it. I don't really know the words other than libertad and revolucion, but it is a very uplifting, hopeful-sounding song that would be very appropriate in a serious film about the Revolution. It's very catchy, so much that the day after I saw the film, I took some time and figured it out on guitar, much to the chagrin of my wife, as she had to listen to it the many times it took for me to figure it out.. It's in the Fistful of Pasta jukebox, too, if you'd like to hear it.

Ok, so perhaps not all spaghetti comedies are brainless slapstick affairs. If there's a few more out there like this one, I'll be pleased to see them. We're not talking highbrow British comedy here, but it's not the Three Stooges, either. There is a Spanish DVD release by Suevia Films out there, according to the SWDB, but the version I watched was from an old video tape. If you can handle comedy westerns, without too much over-the-top slap happy madness, this is definitely worth a look.

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