Following the 1971 release of Duck, You Sucker, Sergio Leone became fixated on the idea of adapting Harry Grey's mobster novel The Hoods into an epic movie about organised crime in the United States, a dream that finally emerged after 13 long years as A Fistful of Dollars had done for the "pure" spaghetti Westerns.

Having by this point completely bought into his own legend as the Father of the Italian Western - and I can't say he didn't deserve it - Leone was less than pleased at the bastardisation of the genre that he'd popularised, and dedicated himself to the creation of his own version of a comic Western, one that was more serious and refined than the clowning about prevalent in the copycats. But he was really for serious this time not interested in directing any more Westerns, and officially contributed only the "idea" of My Name Is Nobody, handing off directing duties to his protégé Tonino Valerii and having his former collaborator Fulvio Morsella and Western specialist Ernesto Gastaldi whip up the screenplay. Unofficially, Leone produced the film as well, and directed a handful of scenes, and we can presume from the evidence of the movie that he wasn't above instructing Valerii as to the best way to direct the rest of it.

My Name Is Nobody is a confounding movie, largely successful with some gaping flaws, and deeply experimental in a way that verges on upsetting: even Duck, You Sucker feels more classical in every inch of its being. It's not hard to see the movie as Leone's attempt to kill off the Western once and for all: it collides the classical Hollywood Western, in the form of Henry Fonda, with the Italian comic Western, in the form of Terence Hill (who was to the form as Steve Reeves was to the peplum, having played Trinity in the film that got it all started), and colliding the both of these with the exaggerated style and operatic violence of the spaghetti Westerns of Leone's career. Add in the few glances at the neo-Westerns of America at the time - there's a particular crude swipe at Sam Peckinpah, possibly as payback for that man's disinterest in directing Duck, You Sucker - and My Name Is Nobody reveals itself as, effectively, Leone's attempt to make a Definitive Statement on All Things Western.

Why he then elected not to direct is something I can't say, unless it's simply that he was so tired of working in the same idiom over and over again that he simply couldn't be bothered. It is the case, however, that the scenes he is widely believed to have helmed himself are characteristic, if not tremendously imaginative. Just about everybody agrees he's responsible, primarily or solely, for the opening sequence, a send-up of the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West so bone-dry it hardly qualifies as parody, and a climactic face-off between Fonda's Jack Beauregard and a screaming wall of 150 bandits - the Wild Bunch, which isn't even the bitch swipe at Peckinpah I had in mind - that uses the widescreen frame with the magisterial grace of the very best of Leone - for me, it's easily the best part of the film, followed by a haunting graveyard scene that is also frequently assumed to be the work of Leone. On the other hand, Leone is sometimes credited with the so-called "urinal scene", which I'd prefer not to describe: it is put together with undeniable skill, but it's skill in service of a criminally unfunny piss joke.

That, right there, is what stops My Name Is Nobody from working right: the humor. I understand it was generic convention, and parts of it even work: Ennio Morricone's score, parodying his own soaring motifs and screeching melodies, is at times completely hilarious (his warped introduction of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is the funniest gag in the movie), and Terence Hill's wide, boyish face is well-suited to comic exaggeration, though I suspect, not having seen either of the Trinity films nor indeed any other comic spaghetti Western prior to this, that I'd get sick of his mugging sooner rather than later.

Mainly, though, the film is caught up in far too much idiot slapstick that calls to mind bad kung fu movies of the same era (though bad kung fu, I have found, is very often more enjoyable even than good kung fu, and perhaps it's not fair of me to disparage its name), and the most tepid sort of scatological humor. A scene with Hill playing a shooting game in a bar features some of the most aggravating "funny drunk" business I have seen in ages (Leone at one point claimed to have directed this scene, and if so, between this and the urinal bit, we might have to conclude that he didn't know jack shit about comedy, not that this is a surprise). And so on, et cetera. It jars horribly with the "serious" parts of the movie, regardless of who directed them - Valerii's attempts to ape Leone don't work very well, but when he's following his own muse the result is a loose, comfortable character-driven film about an unnamed young buck gunslinger hero-worshipping a tired old warrior who just wants the fading West to hurry up and die so he can get some rest. The more laid-back Valerii moments contrast fascinatingly with the self-consciously "big" Leone moments, and if My Name Is Nobody feels at times to be at war with itself, the mess that results is captivating - hardly a definitive statement on the Western or anything else, though as a commentary and deconstruction of the Sergio Leone brand name, it certainly deserves to be better-known than has been the case.