BRUTAL! VIOLENT! SAVAGE! DARIO ARGENTO WRITES A WESTERN

BARGAIN BINNED DIGS DEEP INTO THE RANDOM AND FASCINATING TITLES FOUND IN THE CLEARANCE AISLE

When I first happened upon the Dallas-based retail chain, Half Price Books, the movie selection at the stores I would frequent were a glorious array of used product sold by customers and a slew of discounted titles straight out of an Oldies.com catalog. Ridiculously-cheap Mill Creek compilations, nearly the entire Alpha Video catalog, and innumerable other titles for $5.98 or less were readily available, all sealed and brand-new, aside from the occasional hole drilled through the UPC code. Some of my favorite finds – such as Dark Sky’s The Flesh Eaters and a DVD/t-shirt combo of Monstrosity (aka The Atomic Brain) – were snagged there.

Now, the selection of used material has grown far greater, while the chances to grab brand-new discs at closeout prices has declined, but there are still opportunities to be had, here and there. When I popped into the Westport location in Kansas City after a meeting one afternoon, I was on a strict time limit, so I made my way to the clearance shelves immediately. While there wasn’t much to be found in my usual genres, I was struck by the appearance of three sealed copies of a Spaghetti Western title with which I was unfamiliar – Today We Kill…Tomorrow We Die!

The price was $3, and the description on the back mentioned Bud Spencer, so I would’ve bought it just for that. But the mention of “outstanding Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai” really had me intrigued. However, it wasn’t until I got home and was reading the plot summary to my wife that I also noticed that it was written by Dario Argento! Color me intrigued.

Before watching it, I did some research online, but couldn’t really find much out there other than the standard reviews, but — fun fact! — I did figure out why the title seemed naggingly-familiar. In the third season episode of The Simpsons, “Homer Alone,” Troy McClure’s welcome video for Rancho Relaxo mentions Today We Kill…Tomorrow We Die! as one of the films we might remember McClure from, along with Gladys, The Groovy Mule.

So, there’s that, but what of the actual history behind Tonino Cervi’s 1968 directorial debut? After watching the movie, I was really curious to discover more about the film. Today We Kill is an interesting creature, because it’s different than the usual man seeking revenge pictures I’ve seen over the years. The most famous Spaghetti Westerns, like Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name films, the Gianfranco Parolini and Giuliano Carnimeo Sartana series, and Sergio Corbucci’s Django, all have a certain stylized aspect to them, as described in Christopher Frayling’s Once Upon A Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone:

“All these gunman-heroes combined the resilience of Hercules with the ingenuity of James Bond in a style that was all designer-Italian […] The gunman-trickster was distinctively dressed, he posed a lot, and he had distinctive weapons as well.”

While Montgomery Ford (aka Brett Halsey) as Bill Kiowa is definitely distinctively-dressed, the film doesn’t engage in so many of the standard Spaghetti Western tropes to which we’ve all become accustomed: there are no close-up zooms of eyes or twitching trigger fingers, the music is only rarely in danger of overcoming the on-screen action, and there’s no working on behalf of the common people as a means to redeem our fallen hero.

To sum it up, Today We Kill is stylish, but not stylized. The plot moves efficiently along, with Kiowa being introduced, released from prison, getting a gun, showing his prowess as he walks out the doors of the shop where he purchased the gun, then assembling a crew to take revenge on the man who killed his wife and framed him for a crime he didn’t commit. There are few digressions from this storyline, aside from the occasional flashback, and it’s this straightforward path which makes the film so enjoyable.

Because Cervi never directed another Spaghetti Western, and due to the fact that Bud Spencer’s O’Bannion is akin to, but not actually named Hutch Bessy – the character he made famous in the Trinity series – Today We Kill isn’t especially documented in the literature of the genre. Two books, Aliza S. Wong’s Spaghetti Westerns: A Viewer’s Guide and Austin Fisher’s Radical Frontiers in in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema, carry not a mention of it.

The Fisher-edited anthology, Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads: Studies in Relocation, Transition and Appropriation, mentions Today We Kill in the context of its lead villain, Elfego, as portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai. In Ivo Ritzer’s essay, “Spaghetti Westerns and Asian Cinema: Perspectives on Global Culture Flows,” the writer takes on the idea that “Italian Westerns never were exclusively an Italian product” and “has to been seen as a global product” in the context of the international cooperation of their production.

Ritzer puts Today We Kill‘s Asian villain on par with The Stranger in Japan, and Have A Good Funeral, My Friend…Sartana Will Pay, writing, “The Italian Westerns featuring Asian villains almost consistently apply racial stereotypes orientalistically discriminating against the ‘Asian’, in order to advance the Causcasian hero.” Given that when Elfego is in action, he’s using a long machete much like a katana, with Francesco Lavagnino’s score working with Asian musical stereotypes, his point is right on the money, as far as Today We Kill goes.

Howard Hughes’ Once Upon A Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns, makes a brief mention of the film as part of a discussion of 1964’s Django, in the chapter, “‘I Was Away, Too Far Away’,” describing the film – here referred to by its other name, Today It’s Me…Tomorrow You – as one of the many Italian Westerns which “took Django’s outfit and name in vain,” part of a “plethora of black-garbed, black-hatted heroes (wearing grey scarves and fingerless gloves).” On the money, yes, but a bit reductive. Thankfully, Hughes would go on to praise the film for its “autumnal feel, especially the sequences in which bandit Elfego and his Comancheros tracked the five heroes through a leafless, grey forest.”

In Spinegrinder, Clive Davies kind of concurs, referring to the film as “uninspired but pretty good.”

Per the IMDB, “The US DVD release by VCI Entertainment is packaged under its US title ‘Today We Kill Tomorrow We Die.’ However this disc contains the 95 minute Canadian version with the title ‘Today Its Me Tomorrow You’ and is pan-and-scanned although the box claims to be a ‘widescreen’ version.” Whoops. It also claims on the back of the case to be “[d]igitally re-mastered from a 35mm print,” but while it looks pretty decent, there’s definitely some vinegar syndrome present, as well as some daylight scenes which are tinted blue.

Thankfully, it appears that Today We Kill…Tomorrow We Die! should be getting a decent release. A recent post from the folks at Dawn of the Discs featured a coming soon postcard included in Synapse’s Watch Me When I Kill Blu-ray lists Today We Kill as part of their upcoming slate of titles. No idea as to when it might actually be available, and lord knows that things can fall through, but hopefully, we’ll have a chance to see the movie as it was meant to be seen, not in a $3 clearance rack disc.