DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS came at the end of the spaghetti western popularity. It was already being supplanted by the cheap Kung-Fu movies from the Orient. It starred Anthony Quinn as deaf-mute Erastus ‘Deaf’ Smith and Franco Nero as Juanito, otherwise known as Johnny Ears. The pair were partners, Johnny serving as Erastus’s translator of sorts. The movie is set in 1836 shortly after Texas gained independence from Mexico, which would put it sometime after October of that year.
The story line in the film has revolution already fomenting in the country as many believed Houston was already maneuvering to get Texas admitted to the United States. Some theories have Houston heading into Texas in the early thirties for that very reason. Word had come down that Germany was interested in Texas and was bringing in new weapons to the neo-revolutionaries.
Erastus is Houston’s private spy and is sent in with his partner Johnny to break up and destroy this insurgency. The pair communicate by pebble, so to speak. Each has a pocketful of small stones they toss at each other to get their attention, Deaf because he can’t speak and Johnny because his partner can’t hear.
They know word has leaked that a deaf-mute is coming in. No one knows what Erastus looks like, so Johnny has to help him appear to be able to hear. In town, Erastus seems drunk all the time and barely able to function without his partner guiding him. But his sharp eyes miss nothing. Still, it doesn’t take long for them to be found out. The conspirators wait until Johnny goes to see his lady friend, then sneak up to kill Erastus. Fortunately he sleeps with a string tied to one finger, a loop run around and tied to the doorknob.
The two are looking for the headquarters of this force and when they find it, a fort out in the hills, it’s heavily guarded. That’s when the disagreements set in. Johnny has found a new love, a prostitute, Susy(Pamela Tiffin) he first spotted bathing in the river on their way in and fell for that mole on one cheek). He has a gold mine, but needs a stake to get started and she has a thousand dollars in the bank. He doesn’t want to risk his life anymore and the pair fight, with Johnny finally riding off.
Erastus sneaks up to the fort. I like the way he gets inside. A very unobservant guard on the wall serves as an anchor when Erastus throws a lasso over his head and chokes him before using the dead weight to kill the wall. Once inside he shifts around, avoiding the inside sentries long enough to find out what’s going on(he can read lips), then loads a saddlebag with dynamite, getting spotted going back over the wall, and then having to race away with a half dozen in pursuit.
Taking refuge in a cave, we get a brief interlude of blackness with gun flashes showing the action. The last run from the cave, only for Erastus to find them dead outside, shot to death. Whenever the point of view is Erastus, it’s always dead silence. He’s perplexed until the small pebble bounces off his hat. Johnny is back(as if we knew that wouldn’t happen).
Their first plan is to lay the trail and the cliffs on each side with dynamite and blow the wagons bringing in these new weapons the Germans were sending. That had to be waylaid when Johnny spots children playing along the river by the trail and signals Erastus. Then a hurried slide to break the already lit line that was hading to where he tied in all the various dynamite plants.
The only thing left to do was a direct assault on the fort, providing an action filled battle.
Pretty decent western. But there was a lot wrong with it. Either the producers of this film did no research or just didn’t care. I had to do my own research to get some dates for what I knew was wrong.
Remember the film is set in 1836.
Most of the short guns used were cap-and-ball Navy Colts, though in the climactic battle I spotted a few Peacemakers. The Navy Colt was 1851 and the Peacemaker 1873.
Winchester rifles were used in a few scenes. The earliest models appeared in 1866.
A Gatling gun was one of those new weapons, though it didn’t resemble what I knew of Gatlings. The inventor got his patent for it in 1862. It used metal cartridges and the earliest of them were 1845, smaller sizes, the bigger during the Civil War.
And finally, dynamite. Alfred Nobel got his patent in 1867.
There may have been other inconsistencies in equipment I didn’t spot. Judging by those listed, it’s likely.
Here’s the trailer. Even the commentary has the date wrong. 1834 when the opening of the film says 1836.