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Charity and the Strange Smell of Money

Posted on the 26 October 2019 by Christopher Saunders

Charity and the Strange Smell of Money

"It's your funeral, who cares!?! RAWK!!!"

The Spaghetti Western has some truly dismal lows, few lower than Charity and the Strange Smell of Money (1973). Italo Alfaro's wretched "comedy" was also released under the even more incredible title And They Smelled the Strange, Exciting, Dangerous Scent of Dollars. Those titles are so amazing that they almost make up for the miserable movie...at least, so long as you don't actually watch it.
Bud Jenkins (Robert Malcolm), a bounty hunter nicknamed Charity, arrives in the small town of Gila Bend. He hopes to recover $1,000,000 in stolen government money, confronting an oddball collection of villains: Costello (Luigi Montini), a crime boss who operates a saloon; his duplicitous sister (Rosalba Neri); Reverend Higgins (Peter Landers), a phony preacher with a talkative parrot sidekick; a Mexican bandito (Salvatore Puntillo); and a rival gunfighter called the Bronco Kid (Piero Vida). The usual mixture of schemes and double crosses ensue, along with ostensible hi-jinks.
By 1973, Spaghettis had curdled into self-parody. Comedies like They Call Me Trinity and My Name is Nobody were big hits, showing that audiences who'd thrilled to a decade's worth of Italian Westerns now mostly wanted to laugh at them. These movies have their fans (Nobody does have Sergio Leone-directed action scenes and a marvelous Ennio Morricone score), but I find them rough sledding: they're mostly slapstick, fart jokes and inside gags, none of which tickle my funny bone. Not to mention oddities like Life is Tough, Eh Providence? with Tomas Milian doing a feature-length Charlie Chaplin impression to, at most, mild chuckles.
Those movies are masterpieces compared to Charity, a hapless conglomeration of shootouts and undercooked gags. It's difficult even to know what the jokes are meant to be, sometimes. Costello is a Sicilian mafiosi whose dubber does an awful Marlon Brando impression, which shows the extent of Alfaro's cleverness. The Reverend's parrot shouts profanities and coarse come-ons ("He's got you by the short hairs, Bronco Boy!!!") at regular intervals, apropos of nothing, while the Reverend stumbles over Bible passages like Donald Trump ("Leave me out of this!" the parrot shrieks after he mentions George Washington). The nicest you can say is that there's little of the bathroom humor you'd see in a Trinity film, but the slapstick fistfights and chase scenes aren't much better.
Then again, Charity's so chintzy that it would be painful even if the jokes landed. Even by Spaghetti standards it's heinously cheap: most of the interiors take place in the same boring saloon set, while the exteriors appear to be filmed in a gravel pit outside Rome. The dubbing is wretched, the score an irritating collection of electronic farts, and the costumes are off the Halloween rack at Dollar Tree. There's little to say about the cast: Robert Malcolm only appeared in a handful of movies, and his charisma-free "performance" shows why. Rosalba Neri, a modestly popular Italian starlet, has a few inconsequential scenes as Bud's love interest.
I'm the sort of fellow who loves watching Spaghetti Westerns, even the dismal ones, yet even I found Charity and the Strange Smell of Money a rough watch. Perhaps less discriminating viewers can find some lazy merits, or find the alleged jokes funny rather than baffling. All I can guarantee is that that damn parrot will be shrieking his way through my subconscious for days to come.

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