Sonny Came Home

  • videoarchives
  • January 17, 2023

Sonny Came Home

You’ll be singing “Sonny” after today’s episode of the Video Archives Podcast! Quentin and Roger finally cover their first Sergio Corbucci film on the podcast – his last serious Western, the chaotic and muddy Sonny & Jed. After that, the crew will head to Rome for another work from an Italian great, Fernando di Leo’s Mister Scarface. Then they’ll hop in their funny cars and race towards the thrilling drag documentary American Nitro! I’ve got so many VHS covers to showcase in today’s Counter Talk, so let’s get right into it…

Quentin is truly a scholar of Corbucci’s work (check out Django on Django for much more of his thoughts on the director), so it was exciting to discuss a Corbucci on the show! It’s a must-listen conversation, about a challenging and underappreciated film from a spaghetti Western master (one even Quentin didn’t fully appreciate until his most recent watch). Nominally a riff on Bonnie & Clyde, the story defies easy interpretation and is open to many different readings. The score, one of Ennio Morricone’s best, will certainly stick with you – I know I couldn’t stop humming the theme for a month after editing the episode.

Both this film and the next were known by many different names – if you’re having trouble keeping them straight, have no fear, that’s why I’m here! The original Italian title was “La banda J. & S. – Cronaca criminale del Far West” – or “The J. & S. Gang – Criminal chronicle of the Far West”. The American release simplified this to “Sonny & Jed,” perhaps to highlight the similarity to the hit Bonnie & Clyde. This is understandable; much less understandable is the cover of the Simitar Entertainment release at Video Archives, which elevates the third lead Telly Savalas to a solo starring role!

Telly Savales (sp) gets above-the-title billing; Susan George is “also starring,” but not pictured. Tomas Milian is not mentioned at all. Then there’s the tagline at the bottom “Tough, gritty and real, this is a must-see movie!” Which sounds like a critic’s quote, except they aren’t quoting anyone. Pair this with the cursory description on the bare-bones back of the box, and this design is getting a “C” from me - sorry Simitar!

The US released Sonny & Jed on VHS under other names as well - you can find releases that simply call the film “Bandits!” Here’s another one Gala found that uses the title “Bandera Bandits.” It’s not as egregious as the previous cover, but once again, a weirdly grinning Telly Savalas is the focus of the key art and gets top billing, and Tomas Milian is nowhere to be seen, unless he’s hiding under that hat. (And who labeled this film “Sci-Fi”? That would never have flown at Video Archives.)

My favorite of the boxes in the Archives collection is this Japanese release, which uses a title slightly altered from the original, “J & S: Criminal Story of An Outlaw Couple,” and restores Milian to his proper stature, looking iconic in his cap and furs alongside George. On the back, there are samples of many other titles and poster designs for the film for good measure!

After Gala clued listeners into this episode’s films on last week’s After Show, I saw some listeners guess that the second film would be Rulers Of The City, The Big Boss, Mister Scarface, Blood and Bullets, and Scarface Killer. Guess what - all of you were right! This many-titled poliziotteschi with Jack Palance and Harry Baer is a great time, featuring what Roger describes as “parkour-inspired” action and another excellent score from Luis Bacalov (aka. the composer of “Summertime Killer,” the Video Archives theme.)

The Video Archives copy of the film, under the title “The Big Boss,” is quite unique - the gang broke it down well on the episode, but it’s an extra-wide, eye-catching box from Mark V. The title is riddled with bullet holes, inside of a larger bullet hole, superimposed over a flaming car and an exceedingly badass tagline.

And here’s Gala’s “Good Times” copy of the film, with another bullet-riddled title design! In the 70s, no matter what your low-budget action movie was about, studios made sure to tell you it’s better than Bonnie & Clyde.

Eagle-eyed (eared?) listeners will remember we teased “American Nitro” on the “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” episode of Video Archives – there was an American Nitro trailer on the Hostages tape that was so exciting, Gala had to track a VHS copy down so Quentin & Roger could cover it on the show, and boy did it deliver! Whether you’re a funny car devotee or know nothing about drag racing, this is an incredible slice of 70s culture, expertly assembled by future ILM effects wizard Bill Kimberlin. You can read more about the origins of the film, buy a DVD or stream the movie directly from Kimberlin’s website, and it’s well worth your time.

If you’ve listened to the episode already, and heard about the boobs montage, you’ll be pleased to know Kimberlin’s affinity for busty women extends to the VHS cover design as well.

I have to agree with Quentin and Roger - this is some of the best back-of-the-box copy we’ve seen so far, likely written by Kimberlin himself:

Today’s Video Archives Merch Spotlight comes from listener Mike Kniewel, aka FreshYoungDude. He says “The podcast is one of the highlights of the week. I try to watch as many of the movies as I can before each episode, and then it feels like you’re part of the discussion when you listen. Recent new-to-me favorites - Demonoid, Piranha, Dressed To Kill!”

And that does it for today! There’s even more to discuss with films like Sonny & Jed and American Nitro, but you’ll have to tune into next week’s After Show to hear it – for now, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, check out our website, tell your friends about the show (it makes a big difference!), and we’ll see you next week.