Paramount // 1968 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 19th, 2004
Not good or bad -- just ugly.
Giuseppe Colizzi's Ace High boasts an all-star Euro-western cast, in which Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, the stars of the popular "Trinity" films, team up with Eli Wallach, who more or less reprises his role as the disreputable outlaw Tuco from Sergio Leone's genre-defining achievement, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Despite a fan-pleasing "Tuco meets Trinity" premise and a buoyant tone, Ace High remains a fairly minor entry in the genre; a generally agreeable, but undeniably patchy spaghetti western.
While making off with the proceeds of a daring $300,000 bank heist, wayward scoundrels Cat Stevens (Terence Hill, My Name is Nobody) and Hutch Bessy (Bud Spencer, Four Flies on Grey Velvet), are ambushed by Cacopoulos (Eli Wallach, Companeros), an underhanded death row prisoner who was set loose by the town in a last ditch effort to get back their savings. Cacopoulos quickly relieves the pair of their riches, but instead of returning it to the rightful owners, he rides off to settle a score with the two double-crossing partners who framed him for murder 15 years ago.
Cat and Hutch's pursuit takes them across the border into Mexico, where the bandit has been spreading their ill-gotten wealth around to the poor villagers. Cacopoulos promises to repay his reluctant friends if they help him kill his first partner while dodging bullets in the midst of a Mexican/Texan confrontation. The deed done, Cacopoulos tricks the pair a second time and returns to Mississippi to confront his last cohort, Drake (Kevin McCarthy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers). When Cat and Hutch finally arrive, they discover that Cacopoulos has lost the remainder of the cash to Drake's crooked casino. Together, with a tightrope walker named Thomas (Brock Peters, Major Dundee), Cat hatches a plan to get their money back and to help Cacopoulos get his revenge.
Terence Hill and Bud Spencer may have found their greatest success as Trinity and Bambino in Enzo Barboni's popular and influential slapstick Italian westerns They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is Still My Name, but Giuseppe Colizzi was the first to pair the duo up in a trilogy of picaresque Old West adventures as Cat Stevens and Hutch Bessy, sparking off an acting partnership that would last over two decades. Mixing occasional humor with a few action set pieces, Ace High falls between Colizzi's God Forgives, I Don't and Boot Hill as the second installment of the "Cat and Hutch" series.
Although the film takes some cues from Sergio Leone's epics, Ace High is a much more lighthearted western, an almost entirely character-driven piece that focuses on the somewhat comic adventures of Cat and Hutch as opposed to the grittier, violence-driven plotlines more associated with the genre. Those expecting a straight-forward revenge film will find themselves disappointed, as Ace High's lackadaisical approach to plot structure and storytelling makes the film meander perhaps a little too much, a direction further complicated by the seeming randomness of many of the digressions. One scene has a masked Cacopoulos taunting the boys at a strange Mexican festival, and another has Hutch in a giant brawl after a photographer's pet dove is shot and killed; lengthy detours that do little to advance the story. But even when a major plot point hits, such as the battle between the Mexicans and the Texans, it's never clearly explained what is happening, or why the characters are there.
However, those who manage to get past the convoluted action in the first half and stick it out until the end will find that Ace High ultimately tones the humor down and delivers the expected goods. The well-plotted and executed casino heist at the end of the film makes up for any earlier confusion, topped off with a climactic shoot-out, captured beautifully by cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi. The last thirty minutes alone make the entire film worth viewing for any spaghetti western fan.
Wallach really sinks his teeth into the character of Cacopoulos, enjoying the looser style as a chance to hone his characterization and ham it up a shade, which works well with Colizzi's style. Far less notable are Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, who exist in a middle ground between the action-driven Euro-westerns and the more comedic roles they would take on in They Call Me Trinity. An anti-hero in the tradition of Franco Nero and Clint Eastwood, Hill fails to really convince as a badass, gun-slinging desperado, but Spencer's hulking Hutch is a slightly more unique character, and commands some attention. Perhaps the lack of distinct characterization for Cat and Hutch in Ace High can be attributed to the fact that this film is a sequel, but even still, it would have been nice to have them fleshed out a little more.
Like most of their recent mid-priced catalog releases, Paramount's latest vault plundering results in only a basic, bare bones release. The good: an almost pristine anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer really opens up the earlier, badly cramped, VHS release. A few noticeable source artifacts do pop up and grain levels vary a little throughout the film, but generally this DVD offers a beautiful, film-like image. Colors are deep and detail levels are excellent. The bad: no extras, not even a theatrical trailer. The Ugly: the soundtrack, presented here in mono, is a little muddled. Dialogue and effects are generally acceptable, but Carlo Rustichelli's score is dull and confined. A slight disappointment, especially when compared to the restored image.
I suspect that most, if not all, of the logic problems in the English dubbed version of the film stem from inadequate dubbing. I really would have liked to see a subtitled Italian soundtrack, which no doubt would have connected some of the disparate scenes, and helped the first half of this film make a whole lot more sense. Additionally, the Italian version is listed as ten minutes longer than the English version presented here.
Spaghetti western fans will definitely find Ace High a rewarding genre exercise if they can wait it out until the spectacular finale, but in its present English dubbed version with no extras, it's hard to recommend more than just a rental.
Paramount is to be hogtied until they add at least a trailer to their next Euro-western release. Dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13