Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (1968)

I got my hands on CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES recently just because it was a Spaghetti Western I had yet to see. I had heard the title before and knew that it had been released under the alternate title THE ROPE AND THE COLT but beyond that it was a blank slate. I was not expecting a minor masterpiece but that is what I found.

As the film begins the three Caine brothers are riding for home after a raid on their rivals the Rogers family. They have failed to regain their stolen herd but have gotten by force the money paid for the animals. One brother is separated in the pursuit, caught as he pulls up at home and hung by the Rogers’ right in front of his wife Maria. The other two Caine brothers return later and divide the money but Maria persuades them to stick around to help her before they run off to Mexico. Contacting the mysterious gunfighter Manuel in a nearby deserted desert town she gives him her part of the cash to help in her plan to make the Rogers family pay for her pain. From there it’s a typical but smartly played vengeance tale with more style than any half dozen westerns being produced in Hollywood at the time. The entire movie is steeped in a dark inevitability – a melancholy that everyone seems to feel regardless of their role in the drama. This is a story in which rage burns with a cold, white fury words cannot express and greed is life’s sad constant. Everyone feels justified in their actions and emptiness is the final emotion available after everything else is used up and gone. That much of the movie's action including its final scenes takes place in a dusty ghost town is no casual choice.

Directed wonderfully by the star of the show (Robert Hossein) the movie feels like a classic piece of mythic, tragic art. There is very little dialog with instead careful, expressive glances from one character to another communicating whole paragraphs of meaning. Long shots are the norm isolating individual characters in the frame and showing their small and often cruel natures in just a single image. The film feels like a classic tale that has been told before (as it has) but with a dread momentum that keeps you fascinated for its 86 minutes. Hossein also had a hand in the script as apparently did Dario Argento. I have to think that if Argento had ever made a western it would have felt like this one if not really looked the same. It certainly has the kind of dark ending that would have felt right at home in a horror film.

This was a real surprise. I highly recommend this film to anyone curious. There is much more here than just the standard revenge tale and it’s nice to be so pleasantly impressed by a film I expected so little from.


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