Cast & Crew
Condemned gunman Clayton is given a last minute reprieve on condition he murders rancher Matthew for a railway company. Visiting Matthew's ranch, Clayton is unable to bring himself to kill Matthew and leaves, but Matthew's wife, Catherine, believing she has killed Matthew during an argument joins Clayton. Matthew, still alive, and mad as hell joins Clayton's equally angered employers to hunt down the pair
China 9, Liberty 37
Hellman hadn't made a film for four years since he teamed up with veteran actor Warren Oates for Cockfighter in 1974, and the star was brought back here as Matthew Sebanek, a rancher targeted for assassination by condemned gunfighter Clayton (Italian western and action star Fabio Testi). Instead Clayton falls for Matthew's wife, Catherine (Jenny Agutter), and the two go on the run while embarking on a passionate romance.
Hellman got the project off the ground during a trip to Rome in early 1977 when he met fashion photographer Gianni Bozzacchi, who had aspirations of becoming a film producer. Bozzacchi decided to make this the first film in a new Italian venture called CEC (Compagnia Europea Cinematografica), which he co-founded with production organizer and distributor Valerio de Paolis and German investment counselor Rolf Degener. Their goal was to only produce international productions with multiple territories involved and an eye on the English-speaking market. CEC immediately announced future productions to include I Love You, I Love You Not and Mister X, though only the former saw the light of day as a Jacqueline Bisset vehicle known as Amo Non Amo (1979) in Italy and Together? in America.
The original screenplay was penned by UCLA classmates Jerry Harvey and Doug Venturelli, who both cameo as gunfighters shot at the beginning of the film (page three in the script). Oddly enough, the film contains a "show me you're nuts" verbal gag used almost simultaneously in Kentucky Fried Movie, one of the stranger moments of great screenwriting minds thinking alike. Harvey went on to become a major player on the repertory circuit and the head programmer at the influential Z Channel in Los Angeles, which introduced previously unseen long versions of films like Heaven's Gate (1980) and 1900 (1976) to the public. He was also friends with directors like Michael Cimino and Sam Peckinpah, who has a small but pivotal role in this film as western novelist Wilbur Olsen. Tragically, Peckinpah gifted a pistol to Harvey that he would use to shoot his wife and himself in 1988. Harvey's life would later go on to form the subject of the documentary feature, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004).
"We could have set this love story in any age," Hellman remarked in the official press notes for the film. "But we chose the West as the stage since the past seems to have a romantic edge over the present. What was most important to me is that I work always with an American subject, wherever it is we shoot. I need something that relates to my own culture and to deal with it simply, honestly and above all realistically." Hellman was given seven weeks to shoot the film in Almeria, Spain, a popular location for spaghetti westerns (with some interiors in Italy at Cinecitta), and actors were rehearsed entirely through their first weekend to help buy a little extra time. However, the environment proved to be a challenge for the shooting of the love scenes between Agutter and Testi, which were more prolonged and graphic than most western audiences were expecting at the time. No stranger to physical exposure on screen after roles in Walkabout (1971), Logan's Run (1976), and Equus (1977), she was suffering from a bad cold during the sexual retreat scenes while Testi was plagued by bad back issues. Furthermore the location chosen was at a hot springs resort filled with the strong odor of sulfur, which proved to be a major distraction to the actors getting in the mood.
Some major names from the Italian filmmaking scene were brought on to serve behind the camera including cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, who shot such classics as Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), and Amarcord (1973). Venetian composer Pino Donaggio was given scoring duties after his work on Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976), and he turned out to be very productive that year with other projects including Piranha and the Italian horror film Damned in Venice. A Variety announcement in December of 1977 indicated Donaggio had written two songs to be sung in the film by Art Garfunkel entitled "Widowed Lovers" and "Forever," though only the latter ended up in the film with Nashville (1975) actress Ronee Blakely providing vocals. Inexplicably, the song was only listed as "China 9 Love Ballad" (or "China and Love Ballads" on the Italian CD) when the soundtrack album was released.
Though the film retained its title in many territories and throughout most of its production, an alternate title of Going Down was also given in the industry trades and Italian distributor Titanus screened it in Europe as Clayton & Catherine. Even more strangely, the film was pulled at the last minute from the Cannes Film Festival's official Un Certain Regard showcase due to a Technicolor strike that left them with only two answer prints available. Instead a nearby theater was rented out where it still could be seen in this less satisfying presentation; however, due to the vagaries of Italian contractual obligations, it had to be shown at the theater bearing the odd promotional credit, "A Monte Hellman film, directed by Tony Brandt" (the Italian assistant director). Though Brandt was never the primary director of the film, the last-minute legal switch has caused confusion for years.
The troubled distribution of the film continued in America where it was slated to be released by Allied Artists, who filed for bankruptcy soon after the feature's Italian opening in September of 1978. Their assets were absorbed by Lorimar, who gave the film a modest theatrical release with a handful of reviews noting its merits as a change of pace among the increasingly violent, action-packed westerns of the period. Variety in particular found it "a strange western that eschews Italo pasta violence and camp, Hispano romantics or more robust Yank counterparts." Little seen, the film was soon sent off for years of TV airings as part of the massive Lorimar library with most of its R-rated highlights completely excised. Eventually Lorimar itself folded and became part of the Warner Bros. library, though many video labels have treated this as a public domain title with substandard video transfers plaguing its reputation during the home video era. However, when seen in its full-strength version as it opened in theaters, it remains a compelling, strangely touching example of an artistic take on a genre that would soon be riding off into the sunset in American cinema.
By Nathaniel Thompson
China 9, Liberty 37
You ain't gonna last long, son. There ain't no soft-hearted gunfighters.- Matthew Sebanek
Released in United States 1978
Released in United States September 1996
Released in United States October 1998
Released in United States September 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (American Cinematheque) as part of program "3-Card Monte: The Films of Monte Hellman" September 13-21, 1996.)
Released in United States October 1998 (Shown at Chicago International Film Festival October 8-18, 1998.)
Shown at Chicago International Film Festival October 8-18, 1998.
Released in United States 1978