Feb 23, 201201:55 PMThe Telegraph

The Premier Blog of the West

Back in the Saddle with 'Comin' At Ya!'

Feb 23, 2012 - 01:55 PM
Back in the Saddle with 'Comin' At Ya!'

Spaghetti western star Tony Anthony

Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone blazed the trail for a new kind of Western – specifically, the so-called Spaghetti western – back in the ‘60s with their celebrated “Man With No Name” trilogy. But it was Tony Anthony who took the genre one step further, straight off the screen and into the audience, with Comin’ At Ya! -- a 1981 3-D cult favorite that’s been restored and digitalized for a theatrical re-release.

Anthony – born Roger Pettito in 1937 in Clarksburg, West Virginia – earned his spurs during the heyday of ‘60s Spaghetti westerns with A Stranger in Town (1967), a brutally violent yet slyly funny down-and-dirty drama in which he essayed the title character, a sneaky, shotgun-wielding loner who doesn’t aim to please.

Stranger was sufficiently successful to spawn three sequels -- including a 1976 oddity, Get Mean, that pitted the grizzled anti-hero against invading Vikings and Moors -- and led to Anthony’s being cast in an even more bizarre Wild West romp: Blindman (1971), which showcased the actor as a sightless gunslinger who, with the aid of his seeing-eye horse, rescues several kidnapped women from a bunch of Mexican bandits. (Among the supporting players: Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr as – no kidding! – one of the kidnappers.)

Anthony got back in the saddle to save more abducted damsels ten years later in Comin’ At Ya!, a wild and wooly action-adventure with a fistful of full-tilt, slam-bang 3-D thrills and spills. Everything from flying fists and flaming arrows to shattered glass and rampaging bats appeared to fly off the screen as Anthony – doing triple duty as writer, producer and star – and director Ferdinando Baldi made moviegoers duck for cover and guffaw with delight.

The neo-Spaghetti western was a surprise hit, and is widely credited with sparking the short-lived 3-D revival of the ‘80s. But, alas, it’s rarely been seen on movie screens since its original release.

“The really difficult part,” Anthony recalled last fall when a restored print of Comin’ at Ya! premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas --  “was the exhibition problem we had. This picture sold 3,250,000 admissions in less than 200 theaters. But there were really no other theaters set up for 3-D exhibition when Comin’ At Ya! came out. We broke the record for Star Wars at one theater where we did show it. And that’s why Hollywood tried to start making 3-D movies again in the ‘80s.”

A few years back, Anthony – who more or less retired from the film industry in the mid-1980s, and has since operated an optical equipment business – was approached by folks eager to digitalize Comin’ At Ya! for theatrical and home video distribution.

“The trouble was,” Anthony said, “I didn’t know anything about digital. Fortunately, [film restoration expert] Tom Stern, who’s now my partner, knows everything about digital. He came to me, and said, ‘Why don’t we just take a look at this picture, and see if it’ll hold up today?’

“And I agreed with that, because I didn’t want to get embarrassed.  So we set up this screening. And we had a few people who came in and watched it, cold, without knowing what to expect. And we watched their reaction. And they liked it. A lot.

“We wanted to make sure we had a picture that would still play today. And we decided that we did.”

Comin’ At Ya! opens Friday, Feb. 24, in theaters throughout Texas. And if it lassoes enough paying customers, you can rest assured it will be comin’ soon to other markets as well.

Here’s the trailer:

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