Thursday, September 18, 2008
THE HELLBENDERS (1967)
Wow! Even if I have to admit that THE HELLBENDERS is not Corbucci’s finest western it is still a damned good one. Neither as entertaining as COMPANEROS nor as sharp as THE MERCENARY nor as bleak as THE GREAT SILENCE it has elements of all of them. And I didn’t even mention the coffin filled with something other than a dead body- DJANGO be praised! Corbucci’s superior visual style is all over the movie with some wonderful camera movements and gorgeous framing of shots showcasing the beautiful locations. He also manages to pull off some creepy graveyard stuff in the nighttime raid to recover the buried coffin. During this sequence the most detestable of the siblings pushes a cross grave marker out of his way and I have to wonder if the director specifically asked for that moment. If the rest of the film was less well shot I’d have doubts but here Corbucci obviously put real thought into things.
One of the things I like about so many spaghetti westerns is that they often feature some flat out great performances. It’s as if the location shooting and somewhat ‘mythic’ setting coupled with broad story themes tended to bring out gritty, believable acting that hits home even if the dubbing is sometimes less than grand. Or maybe being uncomfortably hot and sweaty just forces an actor to dig a little deeper. Whatever the case, this film is certainly an example of good performances from nearly everyone involved. From solid workhorse thespian Joseph Cotton down through his onscreen sons and especially from Norma Bengell as Claire there isn’t a slacker in the lot. Bengell has the thankless role of being alternatively an assertive, strong woman and a helpless victim trying to get herself out of a bad situation before it gets worse. She is very good here playing vulnerable & strong and is well matched by the three actors playing the brothers.
Also, I really like the story. I’m not sure how many westerns were made with the plot of the Confederate soldier who won’t accept the end of the war but this is one of the better that I can remember. The only other one I can remember liking much was the Errol Flynn oater ROCKY MOUNTAIN and this film is much better.