Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Italian Exploitation Month, Spaghetti Western Wednesdays: Navajo Joe (1967)


            They don’t come any weirder than this early Burt Reynolds vehicle… but they also don’t come any more awesome. This spaghetti arrives courtesy of Sergio Corbucci, he of Django and The Great Silence fame. And while Navajo Joe doesn’t touch those two absolute masterpieces, it’s still a great bit of fun in its own right.

             Reynolds himself has been rather disparaging of the film in later interviews, but although a tad on the cheesy side, his performance is rather phenomenal; an excellent showcase of his talents as a young leading man. As the lead Navajo Indian who is looking to settle the score with a group of bandits that murdered his tribe, Reynolds is electrifying. I mean, he’s about as much a Navajo as I am a millionaire, but in terms of action leads, this is easily one of his best. Reynolds shoots, stabs, leaps and outraces on horseback like a man possessed, yet still has enough of that old Burt charm to keep the film lively and fun. The rest of the cast is about par for the course for a lesser spaghetti of the time, although Aldo Sambrell really gets to shine as the heavy, a half-breed train-robber who’s every bit as empathetic as he is vicious.

            The craft on display is ably provided by Corbucci (and featuring script-work by future poliziotteschi legend Fernando di Leo), whose style continued to fly in the face of his better-known contemporary Leone: messy zooms and quick-cuts and a preference for mud and grime over pastoral desert landscapes. But the real winning element of the movie - the singular thing that elevates it from disposable fun to all-out badassery - is the score by Ennio Morricone. Wild howls and pounding drums and a surging electric guitar enhance Corbucci’s images, making this silly little low-budget affair into something epic and unforgettable. It’s one of Morricone’s best, and that’s saying something. 

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