Three men are lying in wait for Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda), an ageing yet still vital gunfighter whose reputation for being quick on the draw has extended across the country. The men arrive at a barber's shop and tie up the barber and his young son, then one of them poses as the shopkeeper so that when Beauregard wanders in, he will be at his mercy. But not all goes to plan, as once the seasoned killer is in the chair, he produces a gun and points it at the would-be assassin's crotch, forcing him to offer a close shave and nothing more. So when his allies go in for the kill Beauregard finishes them off because nobody is faster than he is...
The stories of precisely what Sergio Leone's involvement in My Name is Nobody don't really clear up how much of this film he directed and how much was handled by the credited Tonino Valerii, who already had a few very decent spaghetti westerns under his belt. Fonda's co-star Terence Hill, playing the Nobody of the title, wasn't going to give much away although he did confirm that Leone was committed to the project and it's true you can see some of his themes emerge here, most obviously the one about the Old West being supplanted by the new, as shown in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Hill was riding high off the worldwide success of They Call Me Trinity and its spin-offs, so the thought of him working with the man many thought of as the finest creator of the Italian strain of the genre had quite a few salivating, but the result was a curious mix of the epic and awe-inspiring with broader, more goofy humour, leaving it falling between two stools for many viewers unable to know how seriously to take the serious bits and how humorously to take the humour. For what it was worth, there were strong signs that both sides of the film were intended to be regarded as sincere as each other.
Still, when this film grows contemplative it does trigger some musings over the nature of the western as it was on the wane in the seventies. Its main villains are The Wild Bunch, one hundred and fifty men who ride like a thousand, and the allusions to Sam Peckinpah's film of their name are deliberate - there's even a tombstone that Nobody points out bears his name. As with that previous, American film, thoughts turn to how valid it is for the rough, tough and lawless to continue to exist in the turn of the century when civilsation is taking over and rendering them obsolete, yet here there is more of a move towards building up the legends of the West.
And these legends are encapsulated in the character of Beauregard, with Fonda's farewell to the western here nicely marking him out as much as a venerable giant of Hollywood just as Nobody wishes to make his character a giant of his age and the land he now plans to leave (for Europe). Exactly how Nobody goes about this is the main focus of the story, with an encounter with The Wild Bunch looking to be the best chance at immortality, which leads up to a truly impressive sequence as Beauregard takes the lot of them on singlehanded. Before that, Hill displays his skill with the type of comedy we had come to expect: the shooting the glasses bit stands out as one of his best, so really what you have is a film that wants to have it both ways, so that it's all a big joke but it's all really earnest too. Funnily enough, they almost succeed in making this combination run smoothly. Music by Ennio Morricone, which spoofs his earlier scores while remaining terrific.