Sergio Leone Pulls The Strings, Damiano Damiani Take The Fall: The Fiasco That Is “A Genius, Two Partners, and a Dupe”

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In a strange follow up to last week’s review of Bertrand Blier’s “Calmos,” is the Blier inspired 1975 spaghetti western, “A Genius, Two Partners, and a Dupe” (Un Genio, due Comparu, un Pollo) directed by Damiano Damiani by way of Sergio Leone. Leone had been an admirer of Blier’s awkward sex comedy “Les Valsuses” and was determined to make a western based on its themes. Leone had just also come off the success of the comedic “My Name Is Nobody” (ghost directed by Tonino Valerii) and was interested in making a sequel but with more of a Blier touch. Here enters Damiani, a serious political auteur (director of the superb “Quien Sabe” in 1966) who wasn’t going to be down with the endless slapstick and fart jokes of a “My Name Is Nobody”, and Terence Hill (Mario Girotti), the star of “My Name Is Nobody” who was not OK with the awkward sexuality of “Les Valsuses.” According to Alex Cox, director of “Repo Man” and the writer of the superb book “10,000 Ways To Die”, Leone then decided that this sequel to “Nobody” was going to be his take on George Roy Hill’s con film, “The Sting.”

A clip from “A Genius, Two Partners, and a Dupe”

The comedic plot centers on “The Genius,” Joe Thanks (Terence Hill), and his friends “The Partners,” Lucy (Miou Miou from Les Valsuses) and Steam Train (Robert Charlebois), who concoct a plan to steal $300,000 that belongs to the Navajo but is currently controlled by Colonel Pembroke (Patrick MacGooghan, yep from BBC’s The Prisoner). Damiani had never directed comedy and would further undermine Leone’s comedic intentions by bringing in the all too serious MacGooghan, and everyone’s favorite spaghetti western heavy and total psychopath, Klaus Kinski. My first issue after an hour of watching the film was that I wasn’t sure as to whom the “genius” actually was, as three of the main set of characters was called “a genius” on several occasions. I did find myself laughing at some of the setups and dialog but the script from Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote “A Genius” as either a political film or slapstick comedy, becomes neither comfortably.  For example, “A Genius” tries to make statements on racism that fall flat and even play into racial stereotypes that kills comedic moments. Lastly, the film’s score, done by the brilliant Ennio Morricone, is very jovial and fits the mood of what could be a comedy, but there is only so much merriment that his talent can add.

I will hold back on condemning the acting and visuals because the original negative to “A Genius” was stolen, along with Pasolini’s “Salo” and Fellini’s “Casanova,” and held for ransom. Producer Fulvio Morsella refused to negotiate with the thieves and thus a version of the film was cut together using outtakes (gulp). This goes beyond a small problem, so I will be kind about performances, which go from Hill’s usually solid, cute, and charming characterization of “Joe Thanks” to Robert Charlebois’ almost bored portrayal of “Steam Train” to Miou Miou’s “Lucy” who offers the viewer little more than her adorable face and constantly radiating smile. The visuals unfortunately suffer even more, as there are what looked like an overabundance of 2nd camera wide shots, many of which are usually washed out and tough to watch.

Being that “A Genius” was labeled as a sequel to the very successful “My Name Is Nobody,” the film did well on its European release despite being hammered by critics but was not successful here in the U.S. Leone claimed to have never directed a scene (though photographic evidence of him and Damiani on set exists) and that means that the failure of “A Genius” was stuck on Damiani, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 90. So, for those of you who are completists like I am and just need to see everything that Leone ever touched that is a western, do watch “A Genius, Two Partners, And a Dupe.” Though almost two hours, you’ll still get a few laughs out of it. For the ladies, Terence Hill is pretty handsome, and for the gents, Miou Miou is nothing to sneeze at, but most of all, you’ll be reminded that even the greats can misstep every now and then.

Hell, here’s the whole film.  I don’t think that Leone’s going to miss it.

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