Jasper loves vintage spaghetti westerns - a guest blog by August Krickel

Jasper loves vintage spaghetti westerns. But would you believe...a paella western?

By Saturday, you may already be worn out after attending the Jasper Launch Party, openings of three plays (at Workshop, the USC Lab Theatre and the Trustus Black Box) and the new H. Brown Thornton exhibition at if Art Gallery.  So before you head out to the Greek Festival or the USC game, you might be looking to relax with a good ol' fashioned movie to watch on tv.

AMC runs the Charles Bronson-Toshiro Mifune film Red Sun at noon on Saturday 9/17, and yes, we did say Bronson and Mifune!  Technically an Italian/Spanish/French co-production, the movie was shot in the Andalusia region of Spain, but in English, with an almost entirely European cast, by a British director, and released overseas in 1971 as Soleil Rouge.  And did we mention Toshiro Mifune turns up as a lethal samurai warrior?

It's unclear exactly how this film came together, whether the story was the brainchild of its four credited screenwriters (most with backgrounds in American television including westerns, and one, William Roberts, who co-wrote the screenplay for The Magnificent Seven) or if the producers simply had some available international stars and a location, and started from there; Ted Richmond was a veteran American producer of westerns, who had recently done Villa Rides and Return of the Seven, and went on to produce Papillon with the same French partner as this film.

All of that said, the international cast actually works very well. Bronson - who wasn't quite enough of a pretty boy in his youth to be a big leading man in the US, but made a fortune playing Americans in European films - portrays a traditional, loveable bad guy named Link, on the trail of an even badder bad guy, "Gauche," played by French actor Alain Delon. A reference is made to Gauche (i.e. a French version of a cowpoke named "Lefty") being from New Orleans, but it's unclear if he's supposed to literally be a Cajun or Creole, or just a Frenchman who has come to America. Either way, he dresses as more of a slick, refined gambler, while Bronson has more of the traditional cowboy look, and so it works just fine.  Along the way they interact with several ladies of the evening, played by French temptress Capucine and Swiss beauty Ursula Andress. Again, it makes sense for foreign girls to be working as prostitutes in a new nation of immigrants, and Capucine has a fairly Latin look anyway, so honestly, you assume she's Mexican (her character is called "Pepita") and the nuances of her accent don't matter.  Many of the supporting cast are clearly Italian, with names like Barta Barri, Guido Lollobrigida and Gianni Medici.

(You can just imagine that pitch to distributors:  'We've got Lollobrigida!"  "Great!  Gina?"  "Errr...no....Guido Lollobrigida.")

Since only the leads and a very few supporting cast members have any lines, and since the scenes alternate between regular "desert" scrub brush, snowy Rocky-ish mountains, and some really convincing tall grass (I mean convincing as in "wow, we have grass just like that in Missouri") you really would assume this was shot in the US. It's directed by British filmmaker Terence Young (best known for Bond films like Thunderball, From Russia w/ Love and Dr. No, which introduced the world to Andress a decade earlier.)   Mifune turns up when visiting Japanese dignitaries are robbed, and he vows to avenge them.  If you think he and Bronson may cross paths, fight, engage in several clashes of culture, and eventually develop respect for each other, you know not just Hollywood, but film conventions in general.  Both were in their early 50's when this came out, and it's interesting to note that it's the only time that a member of the 7 Samurai and one of the Magnificent Seven did a project together.

Oh, and did I mention that Comanches attack, and everyone has to band together to fight them off?  There's a really neat climactic battle scene in the middle of that tall grass that's extremely well shot and edited.   Music is by Maurice Jarre (The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, even Fatal Attraction) and is excellent. Parts are the very familiar "western" type theme we hear in so many films, with swooping strings, punctuated by French horns and trumpets. But at other times there's an intriguing jazz score, much like the Planet of the Apes theme, with primarily percussion, possibly a little bass, I think some percussive banging on the very lowest keys of a piano, possibly even some xylophone in there, but all sharps and discordant notes.

According to Mifune's IMDB bio, "Even though Mifune worked hard to learn his English-speaking roles phonetically, his voice was always dubbed in the American films in which he appeared."  If that is indeed the case here, it's an excellent dubbing job; Mifune was speaking every word, and matching them with appropriate emotions just perfectly.

Red Sun, aka Soleil Rouge, airs this Saturday (9/17) at high noon on AMC.

-- August Krickel