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.