Rainer Werner Fassbinder's seventh feature is a widescreen mix of hothouse southern gothic melodrama and edgy spaghetti western in sunbaked color. Whity (GŁnther Kaufmann, a longtime Fassbinder regular), the obedient family butler, is the illegitimate mulatto son of sadistic, bullwhip-wielding patriarch Ben Nicholson (American B-movie actor Ron Randell). The ghoulish Nicholson family members include a nymphomaniacal young wife and a brutal, homosexual eldest son (coproducer and future director Ulli Lommell) who abuse yet secretly love Whity, and a developmentally disabled youngest son whom Whity protects from the others like a brother. It's a grotesque portrait even for Fassbinder, who cakes the Nicholson family faces with gray makeup--they look and at times act like dead-eyed zombies--and sets them plotting against each other. Hannah Schygulla costars as a saloon singer who warbles Kurt Weill-like tunes, and Fassbinder himself plays a gambler who whips Whity for fun. It was Fassbinder's first feature abroad--he shot it on Sergio Leone's western sets in Almeria, Spain--and the first of many collaborations with Michael Ballhaus. The behind-the-scenes drama was so eventful that it inspired Beware of a Holy Whore only months later.
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