Yankee (1966)



I was going through some of my unwatched Koch Media releases, and decided to go with one I knew little about, Tinto Brass' 1966 outing, Yankee. I was familiar with Brass' 1980 flick Caligula, an overblown epic with top-tier names that wasn't sure if it wanted to be a porno film or not (due to the proclivities of producer and Penthouse magazine editor Bob Guccione), but other than that I knew little of his work. Although not a fantastic film in terms of story or acting, Yankee is still worth seeing due to its highly stylized cinematography.

Philippe Leroy stars as Yankee, your typical stranger-in-town that we've all grown so accustomed to in these films. The film starts off with a rather tense scene in a saloon, where Yankee thwarts a robbery, establishing that he's not one to be messed with. We soon find out that he's a bounty hunter. And the bandito who runs the town, El Grande Chucho (Aldolfo Celi), a rather ruthless guy who talks about himself in the third person, has a lot of people in his gang with some serious bounties on their heads. The sheriff in town is pretty useless, as he's a rather spineless guy, so Yankee intends to collect on those bounties, and is also interested in the shipment of gold that the gang has its sights set on, as well.

Philippe Leroy as Yankee

Philippe Leroy is Yankee.

Yankee is a pretty bold guy, taunting El Grande Chucho by insisting he's going to be his business partner. When that doesn't work out, he sneaks in and cuts up El Chucho's many self portraits, and taunts him by leaving them tacked to buildings all over town. Chucho's response is rather shocking in its cruelty - he goes and burns down every building with a painiting on it, and shoots the residences as they flee, even an elderly couple. This in-your-face violence in a film made in 1966 is once again a reminder to the viewer that one is most definitely not watching an American western, as American director Sam Peckinpah really wouldn't break that barrier for another three years, with his hyper-violent The Wild Bunch.

As these things usually go, Yankee is captured and tortured on a wheel of fire. He eventually escapes, and proceeds to wipe out the entire gang.

Is this the Ring of Fire that Johnny Cash sang about?

Is this the Ring of Fire that Johnny Cash sang about?

Leroy is a rather unusual fit for a spag western. His demeanor and appearance seem much more suited for a 1960's spy film than a western - he doesn't have that edge that we have come to expect from most of those characters. As deadly as his character is, often his facial expressions say otherwise, as he looks worried or scared at times. Overall, he's not a bad actor. Adlofo Celi undoubtedly steals the show, with his overwhelming, unbelievably arrogant presence. There's none of the joking around that Fernando Sancho would've brought to the role, had he been cast. When he gets his just rewards at the end of the film, we are relieved.

As I said before. the story and such was nothing that serious fans of the genre haven't seen before. But Brass' direction, ably aided by Alfio Contini's cinematography, is what makes this film enjoyable. There are many odd camera angles, almost giving the film a surrealistic feel (like Matalo! or Django Kill! If You Live, Shoot!). Yet, unlike those films, tinted with avant-garde psychedelia, Yankee is still a pretty conventional spaghetti western, which makes the unique cinematography more profound.

Tortureing a scorpion

Lens flare

As you can see from the above stills, there's quite a bit of unconventional camera work at play here. I particularly liked the bottom shot, in which the camera lens flare, almost overpowering at times, dominates the scene, adding a disconcerting feel to the whole thing. There's also a lot of those Leone-esque facial closeups that Demofilo Fidani overused to the point of parody in his films, but Brass makes them a bit more unique, using depth-of-field or perhaps a closeup of just one eye. Nino Rosso's soundtrack is exceptional, as well, with some variations on a twangy theme, complete with that oh-so-familiar whistling.

Another thing that really struck me was the first-class exceptional restoration that Koch Media did on this film. The sound is crisp, and the colors are exceptional.

All in all, I'd recommend it to fans of the genre, as it's a slightly different twist on a familiar story.

The trailer:

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