Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turn the Other Cheek

Porgi l’altra guancia; Comedy, Italy/ France, 1974; D: Franco Rossi, S: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Robert Loggia

19th Century. Missionaries Father J and Father Pedro have stirred up quite a commotion in Church circles with their unorthodox methods on a small island in Latin America: instead of converting locals to Christianity, they respect their beliefs and help them materially. One day, they depart for their usual sail to mainland to sell pepper in order to buy goods for the locals, but are shocked to find out that Gonzaga, Governor of Maracaibo, established a monopoly with colonialists and now a bag of pepper can only be sold for 100 pesos. They clash with his men citing Bible that states that greedy people do wrong. They save three people who helped slaves escape from execution and return back to their island.

The 9th out of 17 Bud Spencer-Terence Hill films in total, "Turn the Other Cheek" is one of those examples of comedy of the famous comic duo that still had some fresh and vibrant ideas to offer, irreverent of the story as a whole, maybe also because it was produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Untypically, here the duo played - two missionaries. In the opening scenes, Spencer's Father Pedro is holding an improvised mass in the jungle, giving hosts to locals. Hill's Father J, hanging from a tree, diverts his attention to one particular guy who is laying on his knees in front of him. Pedro looks at the guy and discovers a stolen watch hanging from his pocket. He takes it, says: "You shall not steal" and catapults him away with his classic slap, accompanied by the 'sound of fisting'. If one can accept such a type of humor incorporated in two "out of character" missionaries, who roughly and ungainly, but honestly do good deeds, then the film can actually be quite a good fun.

In another funny moment, while sailing on their ship, the two protagonists meet some British colonialists who exchange these lines with Pedro: "God bless the Queen!" - "Why, is she sick?" - "No." - "So why should God bless her?" The funniest gag is probably the one involving the queue of people who visit the missionaries because of health concerns: one man complaints how he has tooth-ache, so J tells him they need "anesthesia". Pedro just washes his hands in a bowl of water and tells the man to "count to 10". The man goes: "1...", Pedro already knocks him unconscious and extracts his bad tooth with his bare hands while J is holding him in his arms. Robert Loggia is solid as the bad guy whereas the story juggles with a critique of church that remains passive at injustices of colonialism (even touching at themes of exploitation of workers and slavery) as well as too rigid dogmas which, though heavy handed, come across as rather brave for such a light comedy. Still, the delight is diminished due to a confusing story that is all over the place as well as the fact that the film loses a lot of steam towards the end; it is not a good sign when a comedy does not have a single good joke in the last 30 minutes of its running time. However, it is non the less pleasant to watch the duo in the roles of unorthodox priests who correct injustices "their own way".


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