The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Vamos a matar, companeros aka Companeros (1970)
The DTVC's first experience with Franco Nero came in Enter the Ninja, when he was known only as The 'Stash. We felt like we needed to redeem him, so we reviewed the Spaghetti Western classic Django, which was so great, we knew we had to revisit him, and we're doing that now with Companeros.
Companeros takes place in a Mexican border town, where Nero plays a Swede visiting so he can sell guns to the local general in power. He runs into some students trying to form a movement against the general in favor of their professor, who is hiding out in Yuma. Turns out the general needs that same professor to give him the code to a safe in town that supposedly has a lot of dough in it. Nero offers to go after him, so the general sends his lieutenant, Tomas Milian, to accompany him. Neither trust each other, but they have to join forces, especially when Jack Palance, a man with an ax to grind against Nero, is hired to bring in the professor too. Everyone's on a collision course to wackiness.
Another great one. Not as good as Django, but up there. It has that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly feel too it, with a lot of moving parts coming together in a lot of scenarios. Though it's violent, it's also much more off-beat than Django was. Overall, it still had that ultimate element that separates Spaghetti Westerns from American ones-- that feeling of untamed wildness and a world where the one who's best able to take what he or she can from everyone else will prevail; as opposed to lawlessness and chaos being controlled by the hero. The world of Companeros starts feral, and ends feral, and in between the characters through their wits, their might, and their wills, try to stake their claims to their piece, however small or large.
Growing up, the Western was one of the first genres I was introduced to, with my dad watching them frequently. Back then, there was no digital cable, and the cable we had was maybe 30 channels. That meant on weekends, especially Sundays, a lot of the local channels would feature movies all day, usually Westerns. I think, growing up in that environment, I actually turned away from the Western, because I was so used to it, I wanted something new. In my mind it was a claustrophobic genre, with very little possibility for creativity because one was confined in the box of the Old West. Now that I'm older, I see how wrong I was. Take this film for instance. The setting enhances the story, makes it broader in scope, not the other way around. As I said above, Companeros features many moving parts, and one of those is the Old West, adding stress to our heroes' plight, making their jobs even more difficult. But it also allows them a greater freedom of avenues to solve their problems-- the only limit is their creativity and force of will. The Western, when done well, can show the best and worst traits of the human condition, and it was a mistake on my part to not see that sooner.
The 'Stash brings it again, though this time Nero is sporting a massive pair of mutton chops. I'm not sure where I read it, but apparently Nero wasn't happy with his treatment in this movie, saying the director, Sergio Corbucci, focused too much of the film on his co-star, Tomas Milian. Other than the fact Milian gets the girl, I'm not sure I see that, but the important thing was Nero did, and he didn't work with Corbucci again. What was great here was he showed us his comedic side, which was a change of pace from his stoic side, which he displayed in Django. Gotta love Nero... and those mutton chops.
This is the second film we've featured here with Oscar winner Jack Palance, the first being Cyborg 2. In the 60s and 70s he did a lot of foreign films, my personal favorite being his role as the American producer in Contempt. He was also in Corbucci's The Mercenary, which was very similar in plot t0 Companeros. You'd think with the career he had, he'd pop up more often on the DTVC, but if you look at his bio, it's right around the 80s that he gets more theatrical roles, leading up to City Slickers and his Oscar, meaning he spent his time during the age of video in the theater.
I know at the DTVC I'm supposed to focus more on explosions and chase scenes, and less on Corbucci's use of Italian Neo-Realist elements, so I apologize for this digression here. It is interesting that I write a blog on the kinds of movies that I do, when I also enjoy so many on the other end of the spectrum. Here I was last Sunday watching Epicenter and Jean-Luc Goddard's Vivre Sa Vie, which the Criterion Collection just released on DVD. I think what it shows is that for me, people who only watch the former or the latter, are missing out on the full picture. I like that I can watch Companeros and see Corbucci calling on Rosellini's Flowers of St. Francis, but at the same time, I like that I can watch Companeros and see where some of the action and plot elements are the same ones I find in a Peckinpah film like The Wild Bunch, which in turn I find in the great DTV action films of the 80s and 90s. Many of these DTV directors are still artists, and they had people in their craft they looked up to just like the greats like Scorsese, and oddly enough, they often looked up to the same people. See George Lucas and Albert Pyun both looking up to Kurosawa, for instance.
Though I liked Django more, Companeros is still a great time. You can get it on DVD through Netflix, though Anchor Bay Entertainment is the company that released it, and they're renown for letting their properties go out of print, so you may want to get your hands on it sooner rather than later. One thing I can't say is whether or not the film is meant to be seen in Italian with English subtitles, or in English, but I went with the English because Nero spoke in English.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066612/