Once Asian cinema began to overwhelm the action film landscape in the 1970s, the days of the spaghetti western were numbered and thus the genre had to get crafty or else ride quickly into the sunset. To the rescue comes actor Tony Anthony, an American living in Italy at the time of Leone, who was well known for The Stranger character that first appeared in 1967’s “A Dollar Between The Teeth.” That film was successful, but Anthony was one of the first to see the writing on a wall in realizing that the genre needed some fresh ideas, so a year after that film debuted, Anthony and director Luigi Vanzi took The Stranger way east for “The Silent Stranger” (aka A Stranger In Japan), mixing the western with the samurai film. Tony wasn’t done yet with the Japanese sword epic, as he teamed up with veteran sword and sandal director Ferdinando Baldi and brought in ex-Beatle Ringo Starr to play the heavy for a spaghetti treatment of the blind swordsman, Zatoichi, in 1971 called “Blindman,” about you guess it, a blind gunfighter. For years“Blindman” was next to impossible to get here in the States, and for that reason, it was pushed into cult film status along side Anthony’s fourth entry into the Stranger series: a bizarre, genre-bending spaghetti from 1975 called “Get Mean.”
For “Get Mean,” Tony Anthony reunited with director Baldi and his co-star from “Blindman,” Lloyd Battista for this fantasy western where The Stranger, shortly after being dragged for a few miles by his dying horse past an ominous Phatasmesque silver orb, is offered fifty grand by a witch to escort a Princess back to Spain where she can regain her throne from the hundreds of Vikings and Moors who are battling it out back home. After a train and ship whisk him off to Spain from America, The Stranger must go to battle with the Vikings and Moors (what year is this?), find a treasure that is being hidden by ghosts, save the princess, and collect his money from the witch who offered him the money in the first place. All of this done with several hundred explosions, wild modes of torture, and a demonic freak out scene by The Stranger that would only be matched by Bruce Campbell as “Ash” from “Army Of Darkness.” Yes, there is much in “Get Mean” that makes you think that a VHS copy of this film made it into the hands of a young Sam Raimi sometime along the way. There are some huge plot holes and moments that leave you scratching your head, but there is almost a post-modernist element to the goings on here. Does it matter that The Stranger saves the princess or finds the treasure? After a while it doesn’t, but you just revel in the messy joy anyway.
Besides the above-mentioned weirdness in plot, what makes “Get Mean” so enjoyable are the performances of our Tony Anthony, whose “Stranger” distinguishes himself from the Franco Neros and Giuliano Gemmas in the way that he is more a wisecracking Brooklyn Bugs Bunny figure than a silent stare Clint Eastwood type, and Lloyd Battista, one of the films many villains, who reminds me of a demented late 1970s Ollie Reed doing Richard the Third with dynamite in hand.
On June 8th at The Silent Film Theater/Cinefamily I had the honor of seeing a restored version (courtesy of Blue Underground) with Anthony, Battista, and executive producer Ronald Schneider in attendance that included one of the liveliest Q&A sessions I have been to in some time. In this clip that I shot from that evening, Lloyd Battista expresses his opinion on the excellent producer work of Tony Anthony. Seen on the video from left to right is Tony Anthony, Lloyd Battista, Ronald Schneider, and the moderator, Rob Word:
If you thought that the description of the film was beyond logical, for the predominance of the evening, Anthony, Battista, and Schneider made it abundantly clear as to the almost surrealistic efforts that were needed to be made in order to secure the funding to finish “Get Mean,” as well as the shortcuts that were made in order to get most out of the short money that they had to work with for the time in which they had to shoot. As Battista states in the interview I posted above, “every penny that Tony came up with, ended up on the screen.” For example, in an early scene in which The Moors are about to battle the Vikings, director Baldi had to shoot his extras dressed as The Moors in one shot, and because he did not have enough money to get more extras, Baldi then made the extras put on the Vikings costumes in a different shot on the opposite end of the battlefield to make the scene look more epic. Once the Vikings and Moors begin to clash, Baldi redressed some of his Vikings as Moors and relied on close-ups so that the scene looked like two large armies battling. “More work” Battista said, but it came out looking real. There were also stories of weird financial transactions that kept Anthony on location while everyone else bailed in fear of retribution from investors, or the story of twelve thousand dollars that came just in time to feed his enormous cast before things “got ugly.”
Despite all of the tribulations, forty years later this film was restored to its nutty brilliance and I am glad to have been there to see one of its first public screenings since the restoration. As someone who adores the spaghetti western mostly for its admiration but irreverent take on the American western, I have to applaud “Get Mean,” for the genre rarely gets more irreverent and downright deranged than this.