Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
 
In Stores Now
 
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Spaghetti Western > Companeros (1970)

Once Upon A Time In Italy (1967 - 1976/DVD boxed set/Anchor Bay)


Picture/Sound/Extras/Films:

A Bullet For The General (1967) B-/C/D/C+

Companeros (1970) B-/C/C/B-

Four Of The Apocalypse (1975) B-/C/C/B-

Keoma (1976) B-/C/B-/B-

Texas, Adios (1966) C+/C/C/B



NOTE: Since this set was issued back in 2004 (!), Bullet For The General and Companeros have been issued in great Blu-ray upgrades by Blue Underground you can read more about at these links:


Bullet For The General

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/11617/A+Bullet+For+The+General+(1968/aka+Quien+Sa


Companeros

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/13065/Companeros+(1970/Blue+Underground+Blu-ray



If all you know about the Spaghetti Western trend is a few films by Sergio Leone, even if you have seen all five of them (A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon A Time In The West and Duck, You Sucker (A Fistful of Dynamite); all now on Blu-ray since we first posted this review and most reviewed elsewhere on this site), then you have no idea of what really was produced in that cycle of The Western. To add to the previous DVD releases (and re-releases) of M-G-M, Paramount and VCI is Anchor Bay, with an impressive new five DVD boxed set boldly entitled Once Upon A Time In Italy.


This box reissues five other films not involving Leone that are among the most graphic and relentless Westerns ever made, which Anchor Bay first offered individually in 2001. This is a nice way to repackage them in an exceptional box and slender-case packaging. They are all in their unrated versions, most of these films have never been on video in the U.S. at all, while this is the first time any of them had been uncut since their original release. Some never finished their run that way, and one here has not been seen for over 25 years!


As a result, new prints had to be struck for just about all the films and they are all unrated, which will come especially as a surprise to fans who have lived with some of them as R-Rated for decades. Some of the films in the cycle were done to me more comic and commercial, but these are the opposite, trying to top Leone s vision.


A Bullet For The General is Damiano Damiani's overtly political Western with Gian Maria Volonte (A Fistful Of Dollars) as the gang leader taking his people against the power held by the title character. The great character twists here include Klaus Kinski as the holy man El Santo, out for the kill! As the trailer boasts, what the Lord giveth, he took away, Bond Girl Martine Beswick as Adalita, a murderous seductress, and Lou Castel as that American Gringo who decides to help the gang out. Unfortunately, the politics are undercut by genre conventions Leone would have avoided, but that does not negate the politics. However, despite the star power and potential fruits that could bare are never realized. It is still watchable, especially with the print looking this good, and the actors are compelling enough. The Salvatore Laurani/Franco Solinas screenplay still feels like a missed opportunity, especially with what Kinski went on to do.


Companeros is a title that has been often used, it turns out, but none have the cool theme song this one has. An arms dealer (Franco Nero) gets involved in revolution and the robbery of gold. He makes an unholy alliance with a killer thief (Tomas Milian), though they are not the best of friends. They also have to juggle to drug-crazed killer (Jack Palance, who is not in the film enough, but in what was typical of these films, would take an American actor's cameo and pretend it was a starring role), a clever female revolutionary (Karin Schubert), and a professor (Fernando Rey) who knows how to get the gold. This worked better, thanks in part to an actual Morricone score, but the film is not always as successful. It does more with its star power, but the usual trappings of sadistic torture and women to be beaten, humiliated and raped grows tired instantly, especially with a predictable screenplay. Director Sergio Corbucci, who came up with the idea and co-wrote the film with four others (one uncredited), gives the film some energy, but cannot rise above convention.


Four Of The Apocalypse is a film that never originally made it to the United States, is the only 1.85 X 1 film in this box and the most graphic. It is also directed by Lucio Fulci, better known for his Horror genre films, and that might be the reason fellow Horror genre director Sam Raimi may have preferred this same frame for his Spaghetti Western, The Quick and The Dead (1995). This is even better than the prior films, but the time spent on they outdoors is reminiscent of the music breaks in many late 1960s/early 1970s films of the time, trying to capitalize on Mike Nichols' The Graduate, Rockumentaries and like movements and trends. This seems to be added to update the cycle, but turns the film into a time capsule instead. Part of the look and the soundtrack is trying at times to emulate Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (see it elsewhere on this site), but it is not on that level. It is at its best when it gets dirty as four outcasts (Fabio Testi, Michael J. Pollard, Lynne Frederick, and Harry Baird) escape a massacre by masked murderers and are on the run. The rag tags here include, in the best Stagecoach tradition, a gambler, hooker, drunk, and meet their match in the even crazier psychopath (Tomas Milian) out to settle a few scores of his own when he is not outright crazy. Will they or will they not make it? The characters are not as involving as one would hope, but they are somewhat likable. I give the film points for its naturalistic approach, and that goes beyond nudity and scenery, as Fulci has more vision than the directors of the previous films.


Keoma occurs at the end of the cycle, which coincides with the final years of Techniscope (using dye-transfer technicolor before it becomes two-perf Super 35 and/or Chromoscope), using CinemaScope lenses instead. This is the newest film in the box, though its overseas success almost kept these films going. This is the first time this has been available in the U.S. and director Enzo G. Castellari, whose much more comical Any Gun Can Play (1967, on DVD from VCI) offers an ambitious attempt at a serious attempt at a Western. Too many bad, obvious music moments (like a model for bad MTV to come) and a problematic, limited grasp of race issues date what could have been a key film in the genre, especially with Franco Nero as the title character, a half-breed rejected by his brothers, who grow up to be power mad murderers. Woody Strode, William Berger, and Olga Karlatos as the woman Keoma saves early on, despite her being treated as having some unnamed plague. It just starts too many things it cannot finish, but is always interesting to watch. If it was attempting to be supernatural, that failed.


Texas, Adios has what would seem to be a typical Revenge Western plot, as two brothers (Franco Nero and Alberto Dell'Acqua under the name Cole Kitosch) go from Texas to Mexico to get revenge on the powerful Delgado (Jose Suarez) for killing their father. Besides exceptionally well choreographed fistfights and gunfights, director/co-writer (with Franco Rossetti) Fernando Baldi shows a true love of the genre and gets solid performances out of the cast, so much so that this was the toughest one to try to watch with an English dub. This does not feel like the overdubbed, stiff, unintentionally funny film from the cycle. That they were using actual anamorphic lenses was unusual for the cycle, so there were high hopes for this film and it certainly delivered the goods. Too bad it got lost to history, until this DVD.


The various aspect ratios on all five DVDs feature the plus of being anamorphically enhanced. Though the back of the case identifies A Bullet For The General as 1.85 X 1, it is really 2.35 X 1 from decent Techniscope and Technicolor materials. To his credit, cinematographer Tony Secchi, A.I.C., uses the frame form end to end and the presentation here shows that. Companeros also has the same print mistake/ratio error form the same formats and was shot by cinematographer Alessandro Ulloa, while Four Of The Apocalypse is the only 1.85 X 1 film in the set, shot by cinematographer Sergio Salvati, A.I.C., nicely enough in EastmanColor. Keoma is identified correctly as 2.35 X 1, but is in EastmanColor, with its scope format unidentified. The cinematographer is Aiace Parolin and the stock shows its age, even when the color is good. The limits of the CinemaScope lenses make it look older and even many critics are likely to misidentify that limit as a stock or budget problem.


Texas, Adios has the distinction of still being the first DVD of a film shot in Ultrascope, a very brief-lived German answer to CinemaScope used for only three years! Created by the brilliant Jan Jacobsen, the film used real anamorphic lenses to achieve its scope image, so it did not cheat. However, for the period between 1965 through 1967, we could only find ten films ever shot with these lenses. Just about all of them were Westerns, but these lenses were forerunners of the Arri Company's anamorphic lenses used industry wide today (even with the rise of the Arri Alexa HD cameras since this review was first posted). The cinematographer is Enzo Barzoni, A.I.C., achieves a unique look here because of these impressive, underused lenses. Too bad some of this footage looks so poor, but when it looks good, it is some of the best footage in the entire box. I now want to see more films in Ultrascope.


This is the least of the five transfers, only because the color is not consistent, likely a problem with the age of the EastmanColor materials. Though Four Of The Apocalypse and Keoma are EastmanColor, they are much newer and their stocks have survived better. A Bullet For The General and Companeros are in Technicolor so the usual logic would be the earlier films were dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor, though they do not display the kind of color range a dye-transfer process would.


Even if the color was better, Texas, Adios does not look more defined than the more cheaply shot Techniscope films in this box, and none of the five are as impressive as Paramount's anamorphic transfer (and now even more impressive Blu-ray transfer) for Once Upon A Time In The West, which is the Techniscope transfer to beat. This will make for an interesting comparison to M-G-M's restored print on their new set of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.


The lossy Dolby Digital sound on all 5 DVDs, English and Italian, are only 2.0 Mono. Also, the Italian tracks always sound a bit better than the English ones, but both suffer post-production dubbing. A Bullet For The General and Keoma only offer English dubs with no subtitles of any kind, but Ennio Morricone supervised the music on General by Luis Bacalov, while Morricone composed (if not conducted by) the Companeros score. The conductor was Bruno Nicolai. Four Of The Apocalypse has music by Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi, and Vince Tempera, with the hit-like songs by Cook & Benjamin Franklin Group. The Cook is Greenfield Cook. Keoma has a lame title song, but better instrumental music by Guido and Maurizio De Angeles, give or take the ukulele music from Woody Strode's character. Texas, Adios has a decent genre score Anton Garcia Abril and Don Powell.


Extras for each DVD are a teaser and trailer only on A Bullet For The General, while Companeros offers a trailer, some brief bio/filmographies, and a 17-minutes-long interview segment In the Company of Companeros. Four Of The Apocalypse duplicates the latter, but its 17-minutes-long short is on Fulci. Keoma offers the most extras, including the only audio commentary in the box. It is excellent and features the director with journalist Waylon Wahl, as well as talent bios, a trailer and a ten-minute interview with Franco Nero. The commentary is one of the best I have heard in a while, very through form two very well spoken men who know what they are talking about. Castellari demonstrates why he is one of the most successful journeyman filmmakers of his generation. Texas, Adios has Nero interviewed again (6 minutes length this time), with his biography and a trailer.


So this is not a set of all-time classics, but it is a set of very watchable Westerns from a time when the big screen was still the big screen. They just happen to get better as they go along, with the alphabetical order being a coincidence. It makes sense why this was a cycle and not just a few films by Leone. Furthermore, Franco Nero was really good in these films and a better actor than he ever got credit for being. Having some of his films alongside each other for the first time ever will back that.

 

Once Upon A Time In Italy is so good, that Anchor Bay was correct in reissuing these. We can only hope they'll find more obscure Westerns from this era and do a couple more boxes. (They never did.)



- Nicholas Sheffo


Marketplace

 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com