Monday, 29 September 2014


With summertime (or rather the unseasonably fine weather) now firmly on the back foot in this part of the world and with a prophetic sense of timing, I've been laid up with flu all this week which has left me feeling rather low down and depressed. And so today, in search of warmer climes and cheerful company, I looked to my modest stash of Italian Westerns and first out of the traps was Sergio Corbucci's film Compañeros. Made in 1970, Corbucci's film borrows to some degree the mismatched buddy plot from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, with Franco Nero's suave Swedish gunrunner and Tomas Milian's coarse bandit on a mission to return Fernando Ray's peaceful revolutionary leader to the town of San Bernadino for execution by General Mongo, the latest in a line of despots vying for control of  Mexico. Completing the incredible cast is Jack Palance playing Franco Nero's character arch-nemesis, perpetually toking on marijuana cigarettes and sporting a wooden hand and a pet falcon named Marsha (?). If that wasn't strange enough, Palance dubs himself in the English language version with a bizarre not-quite-Scottish lilt for no apparent reason.

Unlike Corbucci's other major contributions to the genre, Django and The Great Silence, Compañeros has a mischievous sense of absurdity. By 1970 the genre had become increasingly idiosyncratic and Compañeros features at least one scene to rival the weirdness of Django Kill, when Tomas Milian's character is left to die with an up-ended basket tied to this belly, and a possum-like creature inside - the idea being that the trapped creature would eventually burrow through Milian's stomach in a bid for freedom. Despite the plentiful gunplay throughout the film, the violence is given a ludicrous touch with Nero and Milian mowing down whole armies with apparent ease, Nero at one point commanding a gatling gun in perhaps a nod to his iconic role as Django. Still, Corbucci working from his own screenplay manages to smuggle in some political commentary including some sharp criticism of American designs on struggling mineral-rich countries, and ultimately it's the film's deft mix of comedy, action and left-wing politics that makes the film more wholly enjoyable than say A Bullet For The General, another great Italian Western of the era. Seasoned Spaghetti fans will of course be well versed in the film but for anyone looking beyond the Leone films, Compañeros comes highly recommended.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed it too - the version I saw seemed to have all three leads providing their own English voices, but maybe I'm wrong there. I marveled at the fact that this ran 120 minutes on the nose, but didn't feel one second overlong. I worked with two thirds of the lead trio on different shows - and am friends with friends of Nero's - Enzo Castellari and his daughter Stefania Girolami Goodwin so there's some hope I might meet him someday soon.

  2. Craig, you are easily the most well connected man I know and I am constantly impressed.... no, make that constantly jealous of the people you have met or in touch with. You truly are the man about town... I think Fernando Ray might have been dubbed by someone else for the English version, but I'm definitely not fully sure... I particularly enjoyed Franco Nero in this one, and a great actor all round - the last thing I saw him in before Compañeros was the 1969 Italian psychological Horror film A Quiet Place in the Country, and he was sensational in that. I need to bump up on my viewing list two crime movies he starred in - Street Law and How To Kill A Judge, two Blue Underground discs I have but have yet to watch... shame on me !

  3. Though I'm a 'fair' fan of the spaghetti westerns, this is one I've yet to see. I went through my phase about 14/15 years ago, and never picked up where I left off, and it's a shame I never got to this one, as you are selling it to me really well. Corbucci, Milian, Nero and Palance... now that's quite a combination. The fact that it sounds a little more lighthearted and adventurous is appealing, though would probably have put off the 20 year old version of me... funny how our tastes change in a decade! This one is going on the list.

  4. Yeah, I completely agree John, years ago I would have sought out only the most violent, nihilistic westerns (a la Cut Throats Nine) but in recent years, having dug a little deeper into the genre (thanks to this excellent primer), my tastes are a bit more well-rounded these days I hope... I mentioned The Good the Bad and the Ugly but in many ways the film most resembles A Fistful of Dynamite so that might serve as a better reference, and I might add, Compañeros went into production before Leone's film...

    1. The book looks great! I'd love to see you doing a top ten or 'recommended' list, bar the obvious titles, of course... it could be a good place to start back in for the likes of myself.

      It's been a long time since I watched A Fistful of Dynamite, but it was always enjoyable. Strange that it gets left off most lists that I see...

    2. Y'know what John, I'm like you in that I'd find it tricky to compile 10 great Spaghetti Westerns without the list being filled out with the Leone films, but here goes - in no particular order as they came out.

      Four of the Apocalypse (1974, Lucio Fulci)
      The Big Gundown (1966, Sergio Sollima)
      Cut Throats Nine (1972, Joaquin Romero Marchent)
      A Bullet For The General (1966, Damiano Damiani)
      Blindman (1971, Ferdinando Baldi)
      Johnny Hamlet (1968, Enzo G. Castellari)
      My Name Is Nobody (1973, Tonino Valerii)
      The Great Silence (1968, Sergio Corbucci)
      Keoma (1976, Enzo G. Castellari)
      Navajo Joe (1966, Sergio Corbucci)

      Django Kill is often cited as the genre's apotheosis in terms of share weirdness but Blindman is another great spaced oddity - essentially a spaghetti western re-write of Zatoichi, and featuring as a rather nasty villain, one Ringo Starr no less !

    3. Wes, this is EXACTLY what I was looking for, thank you! I've only seen the Fulci title, so delighted I have much to seek out here!