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“They Called Him Amen”: 1972’s slapsticky spaghetti western comedy was a “Trinity” knock-off
1972’s They Called Him Amen (Così sia) – a mostly-forgotten spaghetti western comedy co-written (uncredited) by horror maestro Dario Argento, now streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel — was just one of many Italian-made exports which arrived after Enzo Barboni’s They Call Me Trinity (Lo chiamavano Trinità), the western buddy comedy pairing Terence Hill (Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) together for international box office success, and spawning a host of “Trinity” sequels and similarly-titled knock-offs.
There had already been a few of the sequels — including Trinity Is Still My Name (..continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità) (1971) — when They Called Him Amen was released into theaters, hoping to cash-in on the continuing popularity of the “Trinity” films, which had maintained a moderate level of violence, surely an undeniable part of the genre’s popularity, but had begun to shift away from the bloodshed to scenes of lighthearted comedy.
Even the movie poster clearly resembled artwork that was meant to remind us of They Call Me Trinity and its follow-up film.
They Called Him Amen — also known as A Man Called Amen and Therefore It Is during its various theatrical releases — features no one named “Amen” — a religious surname meant to remind us of “Trinity” — and instead the lead role here is a bandit who describes himself as having the same name as Hamlet’s most loyal and trusted friend, Horacio.
He’s played by French-born Luc Merenda, who was not yet one of the stars of Italian Cinema at the time, and had only recently returned to Europe after pursuing a modeling career in America to pay for his college tuition at Columbia University, which ultimately led to his being offered acting roles, beginning with his film debut in 1970 in Pierre Kalfon’s OSS117 prent des vacances, followed by subsequent appearances in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans (1971), and the bizarro samurai western Red Sun, starring Charles Bronson, Ursula Andress, Alain Delon and Toshiro Mifune.
Merenda then moved to Italy, saying that it was a pasta dish he’d eaten that made him want to move to the country. His starring role in They Called Him Amen as Horacio, a sharp-shooting, kung fu-fighting lovable rogue who shows up in the first scene in the film, riding a thirsty mule and wearing a sombrero down over his eyes with a large cutout space in the front of the hat so he can see where he’s going.
He tells a grizzled old bearded dude named Grampa or Gramps that he’s looking for his former partner, a man now posing as blacksmith and the town’s preacher, calling himself Reverend “Ladrone” Smith. The Rev is using his church as a “front” for his illegal activities.
Horacio must assemble a new bunch of thieves — he’s assisted by Gramps (Míla Beran) and a precocious pre-teen who is called “Towhead” or Topo (Renato Cestiè) — in order to rob his former partner, who has stashed the cash in a heavily-guarded bank safe.
There’s a complication, however, when the town’s beautiful schoolteacher Clementine (Sydne Rome) steals the money the Rev swindled from Horacio in order to pay for building a new school, while Horacio sells Reverend Smith’s church to someone who wants to build a saloon.
Most of what happens here is slapstick silliness, so make sure you’re in the appropriate mood for the occasionally ribald humor and groan-eliciting sight gags — like a glass of beer is stuck to a table because it was set in a wad of chewing gum, which acts like crazy glue — and there’s even a few not-so-subtle double entendre jokes about homosexuality, like the scene in which a Mexican bandit says to a homosexual man he’s robbing, “Hand over them panties, I want them for my wife.”
Sydne Rome — a diminutive blonde-tressed American actress originally from Cleveland suburb Sandusky, Ohio — had started her career in 1969 in the British movie Some Girls Do, before moving to Rome and appearing in numerous Italian films, often playing the young, seemingly innocent American abroad.
In They Called Him Amen, she’s featured memorably in a bathtub scene, a full-frontal nude scene that was still rare at the time, even for foreign-made spaghetti westerns.
After her appearance here, Rome was dully discovered again, this time by director Roman Polanski, who cast her in his film Che?, a lesser known film among those lensed by the Polish-born director (it’s also known as What?), in which she plays an attractive young hitchhiker who accepts a ride from three men in a car who later attempt to rape her.
The film featured yet another daring semi-nude scene, and thus led to her fully-nude frequent appearances in men’s magazines during the 1970s (including several Playboy covers), where she was often tauted as Europe’s rising star.
She also began a relationship sometime during the mid-70s with rock star David Bowie, whom she’d met in Paris, where they’d talked about a film he’d been trying to get off the ground about Austrian artist Egon Schiele. She would accompany Bowie to his French premiere of The Man Who Fell To Earth, and appeared with Bowie in Just A Gigolo (1978).
Dario Argento — who had previously worked as a culture and film critic for Paese Sera, a Roman newspaper, before collaborating on the first draft screenplay of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West (1967), working alongside 26-year old screenwriter/director Bernardo Bertolucci — collaborates on the script here with co-writer Adriano Bolzoni, from an “original story” by the film’s director Alfio Caltabiano, although he isn’t given screen credit.
Caltabiano was a former stuntman and stunt double (he subbed for Charleton Heston in Ben-Hur), and fight choreographer, which is probably why the film’s got a drawn-out saloon brawl played for un-achieved laughs.
He’d had been transitioning to work behind the camera in b-movies and parody comedies, but kept appearing in the films in small movie roles; here he’s playing the Bud Spencer-ish looking Reverend Smith, although in the credits he adopts the wonderful stage name”Alf Thunder.”
After this one, Caltabiano directed just a small handful of additional films, including the sequel They Still Call Me Amen (Mamma mia è arrivato così sia ) (1973), which was either shot in tandem with the first film, or possibly back-to-back, which featured more of the same kind of unfunny sight gags and double entendres.
Even though the sequel is supposed to be about Horacio and the Reverend’s search for the swindling schoolmarm who ran of with the stolen money, Sydne Rome’s only appears towards the end of the film, and although we do get to see her nude bathtub scene again in a “flashback,” it hardly sounds like there was much of a need for follow-up film, which is probably why there was just the one “Amen.”
That same year, 1973, Caltabiano also directed a Mafia spoof, Italian Graffiti (Tutti figli di Mammaasantisssima), featuring a very young Ornella Muti, before retiring from the movie business. He died in 2007.
Merenda’s starring turn here led to appearances in more Italian films, including La ragazza fuoristrada(1973), and The Violent Professionals (Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia) (1973), co-starring Richard Conte, which finally made him a European film star and led to him becoming one of the most prominent actors of the Italian poliziotteschi crime films.
Merenda — who was interviewed for Mike Malloy’s documentary Eurocrime, recently issued on VHS! — never quite connected with an international audience, however, and his star began to fade with the decline of poliziotteschi, although he continued to act into the 1990s, starring opposite Jennifer Beals in Samuel Fuller’s TV movie Tinikling ou ‘La madonne et le dragon’ (1990).
His last on-screen appearance was a brief cameo in Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II (2007), playing an Italian detective in a spoof of many of the macho roles he’d played over his career.