A Soilsub Cine TV production
Story: Rod Graham, Gesualdo Bufalino
Screenplay: Rod Graham, Gesualdo Bufalino, Aureliano Luppi
Cinematography: Oberdan Troiani
Music: Elio Polizzi
Art director: Giuseppe De Paolis
Cast: Maurizio Arena (Sammy Mania), Charles Pendleton [Gordon Mitchell] (Frank Stilo), Sonia Viviani, Ugo Bologna, Giacomo Furia (Stilo’s lawyer), Salvatore Furnari, Claudio Ruffini (Nelson, worker ar Sammy’s factory), Paola Franchi, Sergio Abati, and Fausto Signoretti (Brother Candido), Pietro Torrisi (Jo Monumento), Richard Lloyd (Leo Coppola)
Uncredited: Fortunato Arena (a gangster)
Following the release of Wanted Johnny Texas in 1967, Emimmo Salvi seemed to simply vanish off the face of the earth. What happened to him is a mystery, and the reasons for his disappearence from the Italian film industry are unknown. Considering he’d been so busy over the past decade in such a variety of roles – writer, producer, director – the abruptness with which he stopped being involved with cinema is strange. Although his films weren’t particularly succesful, they certainly weren’t any less succesful than the works of the many other directors who continued churning them out with abandon until the downturn in the industry some years later. It is true that the late sixties did see some problems for small-to-mid range Italian productions, with the number of productions dropping slightly as the western genre lost some of its lustre and tax laws changed, but Salvi’s films were cheap enough to have remained relatively unaffected. So why did he stop making films, and quite what was it that happened to him?
Only adding to the whole conundrum is that fact that, after remaining incognito for over ten years, he suddenly resurfaced in 1979 – by which time most b-grade directors had pretty much given up trying to find financing in an increasingly stagnant industry – with a new film, Pugni, dollari e spinaci, made for Italian TV. It would nice to be able to say that the wait was worth it but, apart from reuniting a bunch of familiar faces from the director’s previous productions, it’s a pretty desperate affair, much influenced by the knockabout style of the Bud Spencer and Terence Hill films. And these were already beginning to look rather tired by the time of it’s release; their greatest period of success being a good five years or so previously.
Sammy Mannia (Maurizio Arena) is the boss of a down-at-heel farm stroke ‘international spinach centre’, who happens to think that the Popeye speaks to him from the pages of the cartoon books. His operation, however, comes to the attention of a mob boss called Frank Stilo (Gordon Mitchell), who is desperate to buy it up for his own nefarious purposes. His generous offers of cash, however, are rebutted; Sammy is only interested in helping out his employees and making a success of his spinach trade.
Frank, though, isn’t a man who is used to being turned down, and starts piling on the pressure to sell by having a number of the farm’s debts called in. Faced with increasing financial problems, it looks like Sammy will have no option but to concede defeat. But he’s a wily character, and much loved by his staff, who are willing to do anything they can to help him out. With the situation looking increasingly like a stalemate, it’s decided that the only way to settle their differences is for there to be a big boxing match: Sammy’s right hand man, Jo Monumento (Pietro Torrisi), is to take on Stilo’s champion, Leo Coppola (Richard Lloyd), and the victor wins the farm for their respective boss.
If this all sounds rather familiar, that’s because it is: the entire plot is basically a replay of Salvi’s previous film, Un gangster venuto da Brooklyn, and it wasn’t really that great shakes even back then. Here, though, the songs are dropped in favour of yet more fight scenes, so it ends up being a production that’s literally jam-packed with wildly gesticulating morons and big guys bopping smaller guys on the head to the accompaniment of irritating comedy sound effects. When even the shred of plot that it started off with becomes too difficult to maintain, it drops any pretence of having a coherent narrative and degenerates into a lengthy boxing match, lasting what seems like about 15 minutes.
In its favour, it’s not actually supposed to be all that serious, and it at least it has a concept -the entire farm is populated by characters that seems to have escaped from the pages of the fumetti – that is vaguely novel. Despite the obvious budgetary restrictions, it also doesn’t look quite cheap as some films of the time; by the late seventies, even films made by talented Italian directors tended to have production values that were only a step above the level found in porn films. Apart from that, though, it’s pretty hard going, mainly due to the inane scripting (by former actress Maria Carla Bufalino).
Despite his ten year absence, Salvi still seems to exhibit many of the same trademarks that distinguished his previous films. The majority of the film is made up of interiors, and even the location work seems to have been done on a Cinecitta lot. The art direction is familiarly haphazard, with the bizarre costuming and props giving the impression that the set designer simply broke into a studio archive and nabbed whatever was easily available. And, of course, there’s a ‘comic’ midget, a vital ingredient to be found in just about every Salvi film.
The cast is packed with familiar faces from previous Salvi movies, and it’s interesting to see how they’re all looking some fifteen years after their prime. Pietro Torrisi, who appeared as a stuntman and extra in the earlier films, looks almost exactly the same, whereas Gordon Mitchell and Richard Lloyd – of whom very little was seen after the heyday of the peplum – seem to have developed extremely wild haircuts that look in need of a little taming. Mitchell is good fun, though, and it counts as one of his more substantial and better roles (and some of it looks as though it could have been shot at his western village, Cave, on the outskirts of Rome. The was the last performance for Maurizio Arena, a popular comedy star since the early fifties, who died in the same year as its release.
This marked the conclusion of Salvi’s directorial career, and he disappeared back to whatever he’d been doing throughout the 1970s. There were reports of him hawking around a project called Zeus in 1984, but this either seems to have been an unrealised project. According to La reppublica: “Poor Zeus, the once powerful and vengeful god, but who knows if he is able to defeat the violence of today: Italian director Emimmo Salvi, perhaps hoping to resurrect the Italian mythological genre, making the film with Fox”.