For about the first few minutes of “My Name is Nobody”, the viewer doesn’t really understand what is going on.
A bunch of scary-looking riders ambush a barber and his son in a small town. Then they set up business with one of them pretending to be the barber. A middle-aged man walks into the barber shop and sits down for a shave (he is famous gunfighter Jack Beauregard, but we don’t know this yet). The villain is about to slit his throat…
But then we see that the middle-aged man already has a pistol pointed at the fake barber’s crotch. A lightning-quick gunfight ensues. Jack Beauregard triumphs over the three bad guys, looking satisfied with his shave, and the barber and his son are liberated.
“How’d he do it, Pa? I only heard one shot!” the child asks in amazement.
“It’s a question of speed, son,” the barber replies.
This is only the beginning of the mockery this movie doles out to the western convention of gunslingers who are miraculously fast on the draw. There are slapstick duels, shooting-the-hat-off-opponent’s-head scenes, and incredibly fast draws made possible by fast-motion editing. Paradoxically, despite the ridiculousness of some of the scenes, the idea of gunfighting heroes is embraced in this film as something essential to a person’s spiritual survival.
“A man who’s a man needs something to believe in,” says the main character, a scruffy young man who calls himself Nobody. (Hopefully, if this movie had been made twenty years later it would have made some mention of women too!)
The man known as “Nobody” looks up to aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard, though Jack himself doesn’t seem to understand or want this adulation and the danger that comes with it.
Directed by the master of spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone, this epic film moves at a slow pace, but keeps you riveted to the screen, trying to figure out what the nameless, scruffy young man is looking for.
The 70s were a time for experimenting with the Western genre, and this movie is perhaps the most interesting experiment of them all. It is funny, self-reflective, but at the same time very much a real, plot-driven western.
You could say it is a western within a western. The character “Nobody” acts as the audience to Jack Beauregard’s “heroic” story, but at the same time he constructs the plot of the adventure that he wants his hero to live. “Nobody” manipulates the other characters to achieve his cherished fantasy: he wants to see Jack Beauregard to face off against The Wild Bunch, 150 well-armed desperados.
Unlike The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which questions the whole “good guy” concept, My Name is Nobody seems to reaffirm the need for a hero, even if the hero is not the person you’d expect. It’s a remarkable film that always keeps you guessing until the very end whether Nobody is trying to help Jack or get him killed.
Have you seen “My Name is Nobody?” Would you like to see it?