They Call Me Hallelujah (1971)

Testa t'ammazzo, croce... sei morto... Mi chiamano Alleluja / Heads You Die... Tails, I Kill You/ Fistful of Lead

poster for Heads You Die Tails I Kill You

As I watch more and more Eurowesterns, I'm slowly coming to the realization that to fully appreciate the genre, one must have a wider understanding of the genre. And part of that understanding involves acknowledging, for better or worse, during the later era of the genre, there were quite a few westerns with comedy as a prevalent theme. Sigh. I've never been a fan of the comedy westerns. My first taste of it was the much-derided face slapping scene in My Name is Nobody, in that it took a great deal away from what otherwise would have ranked in the upper-tier of the genre.

That said, I sort of knew what to expect before watching Giuliano Carnimeo's (as "Anthony Ascott") They Call Me Hallelujah (also commonly known as Heads You Die... Tails I Kill You). And I decided that since I've got many more films to watch (as well as a bit of input from some that I'm a bit harsh on the genre, overall), I decided to watch it with a more open-minded perspective. And ya' know what? I was surprisingly entertained at times.

George Hilton as Hallelujah

George Hilton as Hallelujah

George Hilton stars as Hallelujah. He's hired by a Mexican revolutionary general named Ramirez (Roberto Camardiel) to get a hold of some jewels that are in route to be sold for weapons for the Emperor Maximillian. Along the way, Hallelujah has to deal with banditos (surprisingly, no sign of Fernando Sancho this time around), a secret agent posing as a nun, and an incredibly annoying and horribly overacted Russian guy. He ends up finding out the jewels are counterfeit, but lo and behold, the real jewels are hidden inside them. Long story short, there's a lot of double-crossing, but eventually things work out for all the good guys.

Roberto Camardiel as General Ramirez

Roberto Camardiel as General Ramirez

So.. I had mixed feelings, as I was trying to learn to like Spag comedies. This was my first film with George Hilton, and I have to say, I like the guy, he's got a good presence and I'm looking forward to seeing him in more serious fare. The first half of the film is a bit more serious than the second half, when all the slapstick and such is in full force. One thing we started to see in the later westerns was the clever and not-so-clever use of gadgetry. This one has one of the silliest gadget's I've ever seen, a sewing machine gun:

Sewing machine gun

I don't get it. First off, what guy goes around the old west carrying a sewing machine? Wouldn't something like a machine gun hidden in a cane or even a big liquor bottle made more sense? Talk about big, bulky, and unwieldy...

And of course, no comedy spag would be complete unless it had a completely annoying character that you'd never, ever see in the old West (like Sabata's acrobat), especially dressed like this:

annoying Russian guy

I vill annoy da living hell out of you before dis film is over, comrade!

Yeah, this Russian guy, annoyingly portrayed by Charles Southwood, was a bit too over the top for me. Everytime he was on the screen, I found myself wishing he would just go away. Or die a horrible death. A few other notables... there was a scene that took place in a "Chinese Laundry", or so the sign on the building said. It was filled with Italians and Spaniards dressed up like Chinamen. There was also a surprisingly gruesome scene where Hallelujah remove a bullet from Ramirez's leg... with a corkscrew:

Surgery by corkscrew

Okay, who let Lucio Fulci in here?

And I found a blooper! You know I love looking for these things, don't you? There was a scene where Hallelujah cuts the straps on some horse saddles, with the intention of having the bandits fall off when they go to chase him. Well, it worked, but the ropes the stunt coordinator tied to the saddles helped, too:

blooper from Hallelujah

And lastly, there were some Mexican federalistas with, shall we say, some rather familiar-looking helmets:

Separated at birth?

But ya' know what? What made this movie watchable is that there were some real pros working on it. Carnimeo's got a lot of spags under his belt. In fact, the last one I watched before this was the excellent They Call Him Cemetery, also by Carnimeo. Carnimeo also had cinematographer Stelvio Massi on this one, a true master of the lens. So, aside from the increasingly over-the-top silliness in the film (such as when Hallelujah puts something in the bandits' food to give 'em a nasty case of diarrhea, or the birthday cake with the dynamite candles), there's still an overall sheen of professionalism that keeps the film watchable.

This was the Japanese SPO release. It looked decent and sounded pretty good, too.

So, the verdict? I'm still no fan of comedy westerns, and if you need them serious at all stages of the game, you probably won't like this. But if you're looking for an hour and a half of watchable silliness, it's not a bad one, as far as the comedy westerns go. And thankfully, nobody sped up the camera.

The trailer:

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