Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.6

The Mercenary (1968)

Tony Musante plays a peasant who attempts to overthrow the Mexican government (a military dictatorship) with the help of his comrades, teaming up with polish gun for hire Franco Nero (in a hilarious and badass performance), who also happens to be trying to get a train filled with silver into the U.S.. Things become even more complicated as they are hunted by an evil gunfighter (Jack Palance, in a curly wig), and a love interest also enters the equation.

An excellent spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci, sort of a cross between The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dynamite (although predating the latter), with plenty of humor that doesn’t detract from the serious plot and characterization, more depth than you might expect from a typical spaghetti western, an excellent (although very derivative) score, and a supreme final showdown in a bull fighting arena. A must if you like spaghetti westerns.

The anamorphic widescreen image is excellent. The movie has never been released on VHS or DVD in the U.S., but has gotten DVD releases in other parts of the world.

Badlands of Montana (1957)

Moral hero Steve Brewster is running for mayor of a town in Montana, but is pitted against a ruthless dick who will do anything to get elected, so he sends a woman to visit Steve in his room and cry rape. Steve is forced to kill in self defense, and then has to go on the lam with a family of outlaws, falling for the daughter along the way as he finally becomes a marshal of Cascade so he can “clean things up”.

A pretty interesting B-western, with political overtones and unique plotting. The lead is a pretty generic hero, but otherwise this has more depth than your typical low budget western of the mid-fifties.

Never released on home video. The B&W transfer is unfortunately panned and scanned from 2.35:1, but doesn’t seem to suffer too horribly as a result (it suffers a lot, but it somehow remains watchable). The transfer is otherwise decent.

The Badge of Marshal Brennan (1957)

A man on the run happens upon a dying Marshal, so he takes his badge and adopts his persona, as he always wanted to be a lawman, and this is also his way of divorcing himself from his past. However, when he gets into town, the townspeople do indeed believe him to be the marshal, and he ends up accepting the responsibility of ridding the town of it’s rampant criminal element (including a young Lee Van Cleef).

Instead of a hokey, forced script about a do-gooder going undercover to seek justice, this film takes an almost a psychological noir angle to the material. Stylistically, it’s also very unique, with some impressive camerawork that recalls Jean Renoir (at least that’s my best comparison), some noir-esque touches, and a pretty good electric guitar score. It’s cheap and rough around the edges, and the acting isn’t great, but it’s one of the most unique and interesting American westerns I’ve ever seen.

The B&W transfer has some artifacting issues, but is otherwise very good.

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