A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe aka Nobody’s the Greatest; Un genio, due compare, un pollo; Nobody ist der Größte; Un genie, deux associés, une cloche (Dir Damiano Damiani, 1975)
Basic plot: Joe Thanks teams up with Steamengine Bill and his girlfriend Lucy when he hears that $300,000 of government funds have been stolen by Major Cabot. The money rightfully belongs to the local Indian tribe. Joe has worked up a complex plan to get the money back – For the local Indian tribe? For himself? Who knows? He calls on Bill and Lucy for their help but with so many confusing double-crosses, twists and turns it’s never clear who can be trusted. Try and work out who is the Genius, who are the Partners and who is the Dupe!
Cast: Doc Foster – Klaus Kinski; Joe Thanks/Nobody – Terence Hill; Lucy – Miou-Miou; Steamengine Bill/Bill Locomotiva – Robert Charlebois; Major Cabot – Patrick McGoohan; Sergeant Milton – Raimund Harmstorf
Filming location: Monument Valley, Utah, USA
Release date: 16 December 1975
Availability: The Nouveaux Pictures issue of the DVD is currently available from Amazon for about £6.25 including postage. The DVD has some interesting, informative biographies and film notes provided by Ian Fryer.
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
I must admit I found this film quite difficult to follow, mainly because it’s impossible to actually cotton on to all the twists, turns and double-crosses – unless I’m really thick (Hey! It’s always possible!) you just cannot work this film out, so I’d say don’t bother trying. I’d suggest you just sit back and enjoy the view – there’s the great scenery to look at, Klaus Kinski looking menacing, sexy and silly all at the same time, and last but not least Terence Hill, who is a nice bit of eye candy for one and all.
The film starts with an extended pre-credit sequence played out at Thomas’s Trading Post. Tom is in a state of utter paranoia out there alone in the wilderness, hearing noises, imagining that he’s being watched or pursued. Maybe he’s not so paranoid after all because a character called Jellyroll finally reveals himself and scares the bejesus out of him.
The double-crosses feature throughout the film and even during this sequence I found myself wondering at times whether Tom and Jellyroll were friends or enemies. In fact, it’s difficult to know if Jellyroll is anyone’s friend. But Jellyroll turns out to be quite key to the main plot as well so although I began by wondering how this was all relevant to the main story, it dawned on me later that it’s just a delay in the hermeneutics. So do pay attention and, anyway, the cinematography during this sequence is so good you will want to watch it attentively.
The main gist of the story is that Major Cabot has stolen $300,000 of government money from the Indians. Joe Thanks has heard about this and decides to steal the money from Cabot. He has help along the way from Bill and Lucy and Jellyroll and the men from the Western Railroad Company. But along the way everyone appears to be double-crossing someone or other. For example, Jellyroll appears to be in cahoots with Major Cabot at one point and you never know whether it’s people playing each other off, seeing who winds up on top, before truly revealing their cards.
The theme of racism crops up right from the beginning of the film (we hear the rumour that Major Cabot might just possibly have put poison in the Indians’ wells) but thankfully those characters who are openly racist – for example, Major Cabot and Tom – are eventually made to pay in one way or another for their misguided behaviour.
Steamengine Bill is the son of the former chief of the local Indian tribe but he is in denial about his heritage and refuses to acknowledge it. To the extent that he derides the Indians himself as if this distances him from them and proves that he cannot possibly have Indian blood in him. He claims that he is a white man with “a sun-burnt face”. Lucy does not understand why he is so ashamed of his background: “What’s wrong with being an injun? So your father’s got feathers and your mother was white, so what? Black, white, red, what difference does it make? We’re all somebody’s children.” For now he claims that he doesn’t run with any pack – he’s a “lone wolf”.
The idea of “the genius” occurs in this opening sequence too – Jellyroll tells Tom that he and Major Cabot have “both got the evil genius in ya”. Later Steamengine Bill will, with reference to himself, speak of “the loneliness of genius” (with the right gang behind him, he claims he could “screw America”) and he will tell Lucy, “Now you realise who the real genius of the situation turns out to be.”
But all the while, because he seems to be the only one who really knows what is happening and the only one who really knows “the plan” (if there is one), Joe Thanks appears to be the Genius. When it comes to the film’s ending, the matter is debatable of course as, despite all his plotting and scheming and hard work, he ends up without the money and without the girl.
Lucy is Steamengine Bill’s girlfriend but she also loves Joe Thanks and can’t work out which one of them she loves the most. This love triangle forms one of the sub-plots to the film and ties in with the double-crossing element of the story too. Bill doesn’t want Lucy to leave him for Joe and yet he offers to sell her to him for a price; Joe says Lucy is “priceless” and it’s therefore impossible for him to make an offer – but once they have their money, Joe offers Bill his share for Lucy and Bill turns it down. He realises at that point that money is not everything and that he doesn’t want it. So Lucy gets the best of both worlds – Joe has offered to buy her and Bill has said he does not want to sell her; she can choose who she wishes knowing full well that they both love her now.
Ultimately Lucy chooses Bill, who ends up with everything – he has reconciled himself to his Indian heritage and is part of a gang now (no longer the lone wolf); the tribe (and by association Bill too) have all the government money and the territory they conned out of Major Cabot with Joe’s and Bill’s help; and in their position they can now “screw America”. Lucy tells Joe, “Now you know why I’m going with him.”
But, still, I cannot decide who is who – if Bill is the Genius, then Lucy would definitely be a partner and Joe could either be the other partner or the dupe. But Major Cabot could also be the dupe. And “grandpa” from the Indian tribe could be the other partner. I give up trying to work it out!
The film is full of silly jokes, slapstick humour and references to the Western genre and its stereotypes – a posh lady wants to kiss Joe Thanks because she believes he’s an “outlaw” and that her friends will die with envy when they find out; the local folks sing My Darling Clementine; everybody gathers around to see a duel in the manner that Joe Thanks describes:
“Two fellas come out of the saloon, stand opposite each other, one of ‘em usually got his legs spread apart. And the folks in the town get scared and they inch backwards to a safe distance. Somebody starts playing the funeral march on a bugle in the background…”
It’s all very amusing though, especially the scenes with Klaus Kinski, who plays a character called Doc Foster. But before I tell you about Doc Foster (save the best ’til last), I’ve just got to show you some of the supporting actors – here’s a Justin Lee Collins lookie-likie who plays a smug clever-clogs, taken down to size courtesy of Joe Thanks:
When Joe Thanks arrives in town, Justin Lee Collins and his friends poke fun at him because he’s sleeping off a rough night in the middle of the street. JLC, instead of bearing the brunt of Joe Thanks’ annoyance, somehow puts Doc Foster in the frame when Joe is looking for someone to incorporate into one of his “risky shows”.
Joe finds Doc Foster in the saloon, surrounded by his cronies who are so scared of him that they dare not leave unless he gives them permission. They are playing cards and appear to have been doing so for some time; one of the men says his wife has probably given birth to their child and he wouldn’t know about it as he’s been stuck in the saloon on Doc Foster’s orders.
One of the men says to Doc Foster: “Doc, one of these days you’re gonna have to get up from this table and go on out and see what’s goin’ on out there.” Cool as a cucumber, Doc replies: “Not a thing going on there; never will be. This town’s one long Sunday afternoon.”
The man who is expecting his wife to have given birth by now asks if he can go home but he’s told that Doc is “waiting for somebody.” On cue Joe Thanks arrives, to which one of the men says: “Looks like somebody’s already here.” Doc Foster throws a slow casual glance in Joe Thanks’ direction and calmly says, “He ain’t somebody.” To which Joe Thanks says, “Nobody at all.” Bringing in yet another reference to My Name is Nobody. Very clever.
But then Joe Thanks is very clever, he plays tricks on Doc Foster constantly – starting with telling the other players that he has an excellent hand, “What happens in this game when a fella’s got four cards alike?” “What happens is, I’m out”, Doc’s card playing friend says. Although Doc’s angry, he’s not angry in a Klaus Kinski kinda way – he’s absolutely flabbergasted that someone would dare to ruin the best hand he’s ever had in his life. But when he stands up to face Joe Thanks, his gun comes flying out of his pocket – Joe’s been using his coin-on-a-string device to hook the gun whilst Doc’s concentration was elsewhere.
With the gun now dangling in front of him, Doc is left humiliated – I wouldn’t say totally humiliated yet as there’s more to come – when he goes to retrieve a couple of times and each time Joe Thanks pulls it out of his reach.
But Doc can see the humour in this – or so he wants everyone to believe – so he laughs and at that Joe Thanks lowers the gun and allows him to take it back.
Then he announces that all the folks are gathered around to see the duel – “What duel?”, says Doc Foster, but he must know what duel as soon as the words come out of his mouth as it’s now obvious that Joe Thanks has been angling after rousing the Doc into action ever since he walked into the saloon.
Joe Thanks helpfully describes what usually happens at a duel but the Doc, who has not yet given up, replies: “Let me tell you the rest – in a couple of minutes you’re gonna be one of the deadest men that ever lived. Outside! My time is precious!”
But you just know that although Joe Thanks plays the fool – or to use Doc Foster’s words acts like a booby – he’s very canny and a slippery eel and that unfortunately for the (in this instance) totally innocent Doc Foster, he has been selected to play a role in one of his “risky shows”.
Naturally Joe Thanks shoots Doc Foster’s gun out of his hand and at the same time shoots the hat off his head. Joe won’t let Doc get his gun back and when Doc tries to get his hat back, it blows away from him in the wind. Joe takes the hat and passes it around for contributions from those who watched “the show”. Joe eventually gives Doc his hat back, minus the money but offers him a little something “for your collaboration.” The shame! And it’s not yet over.
Joe Thanks asks Doc, “Why don’t you just go home?” Doc Foster, ashamed but still not submissive, says, “You’ve been lucky friend. I got a job to do.” Yes, he was waiting for “somebody” and it looks like that “somebody” has arrived…
…Unfortunately, that “somebody” – Colonel Pembroke – is also the same person Joe Thanks has been waiting for. So when Doc Foster makes an impromptu visit to the Colonel’s room to make him pay for “raping” his little sister and not marrying her, Joe Thanks intervenes by throwing the Doc out of the window; although he would no doubt deserve what Doc had in mind for him, Joe Thanks has got other plans for Pembroke.
Thanks tells Pembroke that Doc “is not a maniac – he’s an ass.” The last we see of Doc Foster is him riding off into the sunset, legs akimbo, on back of the horse he landed on when he was thrown out of the window!
It’s not a long appearance from Klaus in this film, but it is significant – a good 15 minutes or so of him looking absolutely amazing, acting very restrained and being the fall guy. I would definitely recommend this film.
Kinski’s acting methods:
Ian Fryer’s notes on the DVD make an interesting point about Klaus Kinski and his performances: “Appropriately, his scenes can be seen as representing Kinski’s entire career in miniature: He looks wonderful, outshines everyone else by dint of sheer ability and screen presence, and is abruptly sidelined.” He also refers to Klaus as having a “fascinating ugly/beautiful face” – I get the point and it’s a nice way of putting it but I don’t ever see him as being unattractive at all; I find him wonderfully photogenic and the reason I like him is because he always makes compelling viewing, even when he’s doing nothing much.
Dubbing is a pet hate for me, so Fryer is right to say that the dubbed voices ruin the performances somewhat: Klaus “looks hip and deadly, but the effect is already ruined by the dubbing before he is humiliated by Joe.”
For me the best thing about Klaus’ performance is the tiny gestures – the tilt of the hat, the use of his hands, the slight smirk etc.
Other information about the film:
The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is joyful – and very similar to the soundtrack to My Name is Nobody (for British readers, the music from My Name is Nobody was recently used as the theme tune of the comedy show Nighty Night). And apparently the film was alternatively titled Nobody’s the Greatest in order to promote the film as a sequel to My Name is Nobody, even though it wasn’t.
Sergio Leone produced the film. It’s a much debated point, but rumour has it that he was also an uncredited director of the pre-credit sequence of the film; it certainly seems possible stylistically. Especially as the rest of the film has a very different feel to it.
A very strange story is related on the DVD notes by Ian Fryer about how the film’s negative was stolen after post-production and held to “ransom”. The producers would not pay the ransom fee so the negative was never returned: “The film which audiences were eventually to see was reconstructed from alternative takes and a new negative struck from the only existing print. Such a major calamity was impossible to keep quiet and prejudiced distributors against the film, which proved difficult to sell.” Who’d be a film director/producer, eh?
Terence Hill appeared in another western with Klaus Kinski back in 1964 – Harald Reinl’s Last of the Renegades aka Winnetou II. A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe film was both Klaus Kinski’s last Italian western and Sergio Leone’s last western.
The film won a Golden Screen Award in 1978.