Tuesday, October 7, 2014

COMPANEROS (1970)

COMPANEROS (1970)
Label: Blue Underground
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Region Code: Refion FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 115 Mins. / Italian: 119 Mins.
Audio: English and Italian DTS-HD Mono with Optional English SDH, French, Spanish, English Subtitles for Italian Version
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Cast: Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Fernando Rey, Karin Schubert, Jack Palance

SYNOPSIS: 

Yodlaf Peterson (Franco Nero of DJANGO) is a suave Swedish arms dealer with a love for fast money. Vasco (Tomas Milian of TRAFFIC) is a trigger-happy Mexican bandit with a hate for suave Swedish arms dealers. But when the two men team up to kidnap a professor who holds the key to a fortune in gold, they find themselves hunted by the American army, stalked by a marijuana-crazed sadist (Academy Award winner Jack Palance) and trapped in the middle of a revolution about to explode. Can these two enemies blast their way across Mexico together without killing each other first?

THE FILM: 

Here we have another Zapata Western of the Italian persuasion from director Sergio Corbucci (DJANGO) set during the Mexican revolution. The film Western legends Franco Nero (DJANGO) and Tomas Milan (DJANGO KILL). Milan portrays a Mexican bandit El Vasco who wears a beret which gives home a certain Che Guevara flavor. Vasco's not the sharpest tool in the shed which makes him useful to the self appointed rebel leader General Mongo (José Bódalo) who sends him into battle. The red-coated Mongo is more interested in personal gain than the revolution so it's always handy to have a few good disposable men at your disposal and Vasco fits the bill.

When a dapper Swedish arms dealer Yodlaf (Nero) arrives on scene to sell weapons to Mongo we discover that his payment is locked away in the impenetrable town vault and only the counter revolutionary leader Professor Xantos (Frenando Rey) knows the combination. He's currently imprisoned at an American Army base on the other side of the border and Vasco and Yodlaf must team-up to free te non-violent revolutionary. 

What makes the film here is the adversarial buddy-relationship between the slow-witted Vasco and the blue-eyed Swede, which is also very much what made THE BIG GUNDOWN such a fun watch which also starred Milan as the rough and tumble Mexican. As a Zapata Western there's certainly some political leanings to the film but for me the humor and camaraderie are what pulled me in and pushed me through - this is a wonderful watch and comedy tends to be painted in broad strokes. Milan is very much the straight man - a dapper stranger in a strange land who plays the opposition against each other to his benefit. Milan is sort of a low-life who cannot stand the well-dressed foreigner he has been assigned to. He mockingly refers to the well-dressed Swede as a "penguin" and the two double-cross and trade barbs with each other.

A particularly fun scene has Penguin at the wrong end of a noose balanced precariously on top of a barrel. Having just been betrayed by the Swede Vasco takes his sweet time freeing the arm dealer and with no small amount of taunting before doing so, these two are dynamite together - even more so than Milan's teaming with Lee Van Cleef (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) in THE BIG GUNDOWN

The performances are captivating and the chemistry of the two actors is undeniable - it's a damn shame this was they're only team-up onscreen. Also making a memorable appearance is Jack Palance as a weed-smoking mercenary with a vendetta against the Swede. He's a colorful character with a wooden hand and a pet hawk named Marshall (or Matilda in the English version), the back story is a fun one, he plays it cool but there's that Palance menace just beneath that nightmarish grin. Fernando Rey as the non-violent counter-rebel leader gives the film quite a bit of soul it wouldn't have had otherwise. 

There's a lot of nice character touches throughout that just add to the film in small ways beginning with the question of why the Swede gave Vasco a dollar upon meeting him - the question nags at the Mexican throughout the film. Another weird touch is professor Xantos discovering the younglings of a rare species of turtle which he carries with him, at the end of the day neither are significant to the story but help paint are more colorful image including references to DJANGO with someone dragging a coffin from a graveyard and the machine gun making an appearance. 

A fun film from start to finish but the film does strike a nice balance with the violence we've come to expect from the sub-genre with some excellent exchanges of gunfire, violence, bridges blowing up, hangings and bursts brute force but it never once loses the comedic edge. 

The visuals are top-notch and the cinematography is excellent, the sweaty Western visuals are framed nicely, just on a visual level this is a knockout. Adding immensely to the film is another stand-out score for Ennio Morricone (THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY) that stays with you long after the movie ends. 

BLU-RAY: 
COMPANEROS (1970) arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground with a brand-new transfer sourced from the original negative. Colors are uniformly strong and vibrant with black levels and shadow detail scoring high marks - this is a great looking disc with some nice clarity and moments of fine detail in the close-up shots.  There are two versions of the film on the disc, a 115 minute English version and the 119 minute Italian version which adds a few additional scenes including the "death to the oppressors" opening scene.

Audio options include an English DTS-HD Mono track for the English version and both DTS-HD Mono Italian and English for the extended Italian version with Optional English subtitles for both.

Onto the extras we have the 17 minute featurette from the 2001 Anchor Bay disc presented in standard-def. Nero speaks about his preference to play foreigners and to use his own voice in his Westerns while Milan address the fact that he could be a very difficult actor to work with and using his beret in the film as a prop to enhance his character. Both stars speak about their somewhat adversarial relationship during filming. They also recall working with the the imposing Jack Palance and director Sergio Corbucci with Nero glossing over his falling out with Corbucci with whom he did not collaborate with again following this film. 

There's a new audio commentary from Journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke who have also done commentaries for THE GRAND DUEL (1972) and THE BIG GUNDOWN (1967). It's quite a good listen as the two are deeply versed in the genre and add a lot of insights into the cast, context and making of the film. 

Extras are finished up with a selection of stills, TV spots and trailers including an electrifying Italian trailer comprised of still shots and animation. 

SPECIAL FEATURES
- Audio Commentary with Journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
- In The Company Of Companeros - Interviews with Stars Franco Nero, Tomas Milian and Composer Ennio Morricone (17 minutes)
- International Trailer (1 minute)
- Italian Trailer (1 minute)
-Poster and Still Gallery (31 Images)


VERDICT:
Not as excessively violent as Sergio Corbucci's classic Spaghetti Western DJANGO (1966) but  just as enjoyable on another level. A top notch Italian Western infused with a fun buddy movie chemistry from Milan and Nero and some effective bursts of violence that punctuate the film. Blue Underground have done a fantastic job with the transfer and there's a decent set of extras, any fan of Spaghetti Westerns and the Zapata sub-genre in particular should jump on this without reservation.

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