June 17, 2007

WATCH OUT, WE'RE MAD (1974) classic Terence Hill and Bud Spencer

(US and UK release: 1976)
Original title: Altrimenti ci arrabbiamo (1974, Italy/Spain)

Undemanding, all-action Italian comedy that’s still fun today

Another seventies flashback, this regularly made up half of many UK double-bills. Back when kids were served up endless (bloodless) fist-fights and car crashes for entertainment. Nothing wrong with that, especially when the goodies are Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. The little and large actors play rally drivers who tie first place in a big race. They have to share the prize, a beautiful brand new dune buggy, red with a yellow top.

While they’re arguing over who gets to keep it, the buggy gets destroyed in an argument with local gangsters. The duo ask the local crimeboss, nicely at first, to replace the wrecked car. He refuses, because he’s trying to perfect his evil image, helped by a nutty psychologist (Donald Pleasence). The boss sends his minions to wipe out the apparently harmless duo…

The pairing of Spencer and Hill, both famous for their work in spaghetti westerns, became internationally popular for a string of stunt-heavy buddy movies. This is one of their best modern-dress hits, with a simple plot and endless set-pieces. Huge, bearded Bud Spencer appeared in 19 films with shorter, fair-haired Terence Hill, according to IMDB.

It was a surprise to see them apart, (especially when I saw Spencer make a cameo in Dario Argento’s early horror film, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, made in 1971). Hill had a bigger success as the star of Italian westerns My Name is Nobody and They Call Me Trinity, which lead to a brief foray in Hollywood - in Mr Billion (with Valerie Perrine and Slim Pickens, there’s a poster here), and March or Die (opposite Gene Hackman).

The choreography of the many fight-scenes is funny and furiously paced. Particularly inventive is the fight in a gym which uses every piece of kit to knock out the baddies. This is typical of their movies together, aimed at kids, with a level of vicious but slapstick fist-fighting agreeable with censors and reminiscent of silent comedies. Spencer doesn’t so much fight his opponents, but swipe them away, often using his fist to crash down on their heads. This approach to comedy action pre-dates Jackie Chan, who of course used a wide range of martial arts instead of just punching.

Back in the mid-seventies though, kung fu and karate had to be very tame to appear in children’s movies and were closer associated with bloodier X-rated Bruce Lee thrillers and Japanese ninja/samurai gorefests. The film opens with a terrific, casually chaotic rally race, with cars bouncing around off each other. The car-stunts and motorbike mayhem throughout the movie was orchestrated by Remy Julienne (of The Italian Job and, more recently, Taxi fame). Cars effortlessly flip over, carry each other and spring over a river. Another high point, is the motorbike jousting scene, which pre-dates George Romero’s non-zombie film, Knightriders.

The only annoyance in the film, is the ‘comedy’ pairing of Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice, Halloween) and John Sharp, the latter a British bit-part player who’s not quite up to the role of the big crime boss. I’d rather have seen Pleasence play the baddie with an Italian comedian for him to play off. Together they’re playing at a level more like the Chuckle Brothers, for an audience of five-year olds. Of course, the film can be enjoyed by five-year olds, but these scenes are the only ones that are less sophisticated. In contrast, Spencer and Hill have perfected slow-burning, well-timed underplaying.

Donald Pleasence prays for John Carpenter to take him away from all this

Of course, I can’t NOT mention the music. You cannot watch this film without the oft-repeated theme tune ‘Dune Buggy’ getting into your skull – you might find it extremely irritating, but it became a big hit in Europe for singer Oliver Onions! I’m warning you, it’s catchy.

The other musical highlight is the bonkers operetta scene. Spencer is rehearsing on stage in a huge choir and Hill slips amongst the singers to warn him there’s a sniper hiding in the theatre. The scene balances Spencer trying to concentrate, Hill trying to talk to him, the ghoulish sniper trying to find a clean line of sight, and the attentions of two goofy women. It’s all orchestrated to the mad sound of a piss-take of modern Italian opera, with Spencer performing a solo by strumming on his lips.

This was an Italian production shot in Spain (where it’s sunnier). The cast are a mixture of Italian and British, all filmed talking in their own language. After that, every country would get ‘dubbed’ dialogue (synched in afterwards in sound studios), even in Italy. In the UK, subtitled films only appeared on the few arthouse screens, but with spaghetti westerns and Italian horror films propping up our local cinemas, dubbed films were a frequent occurrence.

Watch Out, We’re Mad
can only be found on DVD in English with the picture crammed into 4:3 full screen. There have been US, Canadian and Australian releases, but none in the UK. The only widescreen (1.85) release seems to be in Italian only.

The widescreen grabs on this page are from the Italian version (the lobby cards are from
Terence Hill’s informative and extensive English-language website). If you want to see some clips, there are several on YouTube in English, Italian and Germany, indicative of where the film's many fans are.

 Dammit, I still can’t get ‘Dune Buggy’ out of my head…

Here's how I first saw the film - supporting Harryhausen!


  1. Oh, the memories...I rememebr this film. It's nothing special, really, but it's a lot of fun. Truly surprising that someone also rememebrs it after all those years.

  2. There is some discussion at imdb.com of an Italian DVD version with an English soundtrack that is fairly high quality.

  3. teddy crescendo28 May, 2010 14:42

    I saw this in a double feature with "The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad" circa 1976 (the Harryhausen movie was already 18 years old then but they were still re-releasing it in double features like this one, presumably it still hadn`t been shown on T.V. at that time, talk about "The Dark Ages") and even now 34 years later i still remember it as being one of the most entertaining 3 hours i`ve ever spent in a cinema.

  4. Hmm, might have seen that Sinbad double-bill as well - what a crazy pairing!

  5. My mom and me used to love watching these guys!! El guero y el gordo, the blondie and the fat guy.

  6. I remember laughing like a loon at the movie back in 1976-77. I downloaded it recently (in English) and enjoyed - although I doubt I could watch it again.