For most spaghetti western fans outside of Italy, the name Bud Spencer is synonymous with the name Terence Hill. Best known for their partnership in the incredibly popular They Call Me Trinity (1970) and its sequel Trinity Is Still My Name (1971), the two appeared in, produced, and directed over 20 films together — most of which are burlesque comedies that lovingly lampoon the genre.
In Italy, Spencer is a bonafide star in his own right. Before embarking on his acting career, he swam for his country in the 1952 Olympics, and after he retired from acting he, as recently as 2005, began working in politics as a regional counselor to the Forza Italia party.
Movies such as Buddy Goes West (1981), which he stars in without Hill, are a testament to his popularity in Italy but also to his talent as a comedic actor. His persona, a macho but laid-back beast of man with charm who pursues food with incredible passion, conjures up aspects of the Italian culture that is all too often ignored in this entirely Italian genre.
Buddy Goes West follows Buddy (Spencer) and his Native American friend, Cocoa (Amidou), after they steal a bag they believe contains gold, but is actually a doctor’s bag. When they’re seen carrying this doctor’s bag around and are assumed to be doctors, they play the part rather than revealing themselves as thieves. Buddy takes on the doctor role and Cocoa his assistant, and when Buddy realizes the perks of his new profession — such as free feasts — they open up shop in a small town. This town, however, is terrorized by a gang of bandits and left unprotected by the corrupt Sheriff Bronson (Joe Bugner, the prize fighter who has the distinction of lasting 12 rounds with both Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraizer).
Although Buddy and Cocoa are unaware of this fact, the town has a large sum of gold buried underneath it; this is why the bandits and Sheriff Bronson are working in cahoots to run all the citizens out. While most of the townsfolk are eager to give in to these money-hungry tyrants, Buddy becomes accustomed to his life as a well-fed doctor (even though he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s doing), and he single-handily, though haphazardly, disrupts the bandits’ plans, saves the town, and makes its citizens rich.
Written by the legendary screenwriter Sergio Donati — The Big Gundown (1966), Face to Face (1967), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Duck, You Sucker (1971) — this plot is designed to showcase Spencer’s unique style of comedy that involves him playing the protagonist and facing his foes with a nonchalance that is contrasted completely by his seriousness when it comes to the consumption of food. Although Hill isn’t present to compliment Spencer’s antics as is the case in their classic Trinity films, the character of Cocoa is there to take on a similar supportive role.
Amidou as Cocoa is the weakest part of the film. He isn’t worthy of a comparison to Hill in the Trinity movies. In fact, his character is ridiculous at best and racist at worst. The language barrier that his character must overcome to converse with Buddy, which causes him to use an assortment of exaggerated hand and facial gestures while piecing together words like an infant, might produce a smile in a few viewers at first, but it quickly gets tiresome and, by the end of the film, it is cringe-worthy.
Luckily, the bad acting of Amidou and his disaster of a character in Cocoa is balanced out by Donati’s well written, gag filled story, Spencer’s larger than life persona and seamless line delivery — “The secret behind eating is to approach it scientifically,” he says as though he believes it with all his heart — and, more than anything, by Ennio Morricone’s score.
Morricone is a musical genius, and the fact that he manages to evoke such unforgettable sounds not only for brilliant works of art like Sergio Lenone’s Dollar trilogy, but also for unambitious comedies proves it. Buddy Goes West is definitely one of these unambitious comedies, but it is an easy and fun viewing, and sometimes that’s exactly what you what.