COLOUR. 1970. English 115 Mins, Italian 119 Mins.
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Franco Nero is Yodlaf Peterson, The Swede, a charming con man and arms dealer. Tomas Milian is Vasco, a Mexican Bandit. From their first unpleasant meeting where Vasco almost has Yodlaf's head trampled by horses it is clear they are not going to be the best of friends. However they have to join forces to travel to America to find a professor who is the last remaining person who knows the combination to a safe, expected to be stuffed with riches, that could put their poverty ravaged area of Mexico back on top and help quell the rising tide of revolution.
Along the way they meet and are stalked by a ruthless, marijuana smoking, one handed, hawk loving criminal, played by Jack Palance, harassed and shot at by the American Army and embroiled with the revolutionaries.
Nero's trusty gatling gun from Django re-appears and certainly comes in handy to get them out of tight spots. There are double crosses, big battles and a twist in the tale.
A fan of Spaghetti Westerns or not, Compañeros is a must see. It's filled with great performances, engaging characters, awesome action scenes, tricky situations and has an intricate but easy to follow plot. The performances and the film-making are also terrific with Corbucci confident and imaginative behind the camera and the strong cast energetic, humorous and relishing every scene in front of it.
Some westerns can be slow dusty affairs and others can have great style, iconic moments and cool scores but amount to little more than that. Compañeros, on the other hand, has it all.
Talking about scores, the film also comes complete with its own Ennio Morricone score and rousing theme song. Morricone attempts to distance himself from the style of his previous work on films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but some of the harmonica moments are unmistakably his and pleasingly familiar, adding to the overall brilliance of this movie.
Then there's that cast, Nero, Milian and Palance, all icons in their own right and here working with some fun, wild characters they can each sink their teeth into. Nero plays the Swede as calm, confident, dashing and strong and is, by far, the most likeable of the characters, despite being an arms dealer and a bit of a slime ball. Even when he is bettered momentarily by Palance and his dangerous humiliation witnessed by a previously tricked and abandoned Milian it's still him that you are rooting for. Palance, affecting an intriguing Scottish accent (I am assuming) is long haired, thin moustached and utterly evil in his relentless pursuit of Nero, with whom he clearly has history. Add to that a fake hand, his 'eyes in the sky' tracking hawk and an ever present marijuana rollup and the part could easily become a cartoon villain if it wasn't for Palance's gift at still gravitas and menacing mumbling.
Milian's Vasco however probably changes more in the course of the film than any of the others. While Nero's Swede is a desperate opportunist and greedy sweet talker the whole film, Vasco feels more of just an ignorant thug at the beginning but grows to understand working in a team with Nero and the professor, life outside his town and the eventual importance of the coming revolution.
The photography of Director Corbucci and his cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa is dazzling and evocative. Transforming Almería, Spain into a very believable Mexican and Texas old west. The variety of the locations, scenes and pace of the action stop the film from dragging or just being relentless desert, dust bowl scenes.
The action is pleasingly over the top, bloody and chaotic. There's everything from large brawls to high noon style stand offs and even a couple of big explosions. There really should be something for all film fans to enjoy in this movie. There aren't any parts that don't work in particular and there's nothing to fault in the script, the performances or the way it's shot. Yes it's still an Italian made Western, it still has a B-Movie sensibility versus a big Hollywood movie or even the work of Sergio Leone but provided you're not the sort of pretentious perfectionist that scoffs at such fun, you should love it!
BLU RAY REVIEW
With the two Maniac Cop discs, the Rats/Hell of the Living Dead disc and the Stage Fright Blu, all of which I have previously reviewed on this site, and the handful of Blue Underground discs I own personally, I honestly haven't come across a bad one and this Compañeros is no exception.
The 1080p HD, Widescreen, 2.35:1 image is perfect. It's not so crisp as to give it the appearance of a modern, soul less, TV Show but it is the perfect sort of HD restoration that maintains the warmth and appeal of film without any of the blur or smudge of a VHS or cheap DVD copy. The colours and shadows are authentic and occasionally vibrant when needed.
Likewise the audio work done on this disc, providing an excellent DTS-HD Mono experience, allows the song, the score and the dialogue to soar. The best thing about Blue Underground's audio work is that there is none of that awful levels issue you get with some modern Hollywood produced Blu Rays where the dialogue is quiet and muffled and the action sequences are obnoxiously loud and only designed for cinema viewing and not home viewing.
I understand home cinema has come a long long way in the last few years but just like when the first stereo albums came out and people bizarrely had vocals all the way out to the left and guitars all the way out to the right etc. because they could and because, maybe, in the studio it sounded great, so some Blu producers need to realise that, even with a surround sound system, the viewer shouldn't have to be constantly adjusting the volume or settings because you've needlessly messed around with the placement of the score, the dialogue and the sound effects just because you can. I will take Blue Underground's brilliant remastering and crisp audio levels over that any day of the week. I didn't have to touch my volume dial once.
The main extras on the disc are a trivia filled, if a little dry, commentary by journalists C.Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke and In the company of Companeros a collection of interviews with stars Franco Nero, Tomas Milian and composer Ennio Morricone which are worth a watch, light, quite revealing but not too in depth.
It's not the full bells and whistles special edition that some films receive from Blue Underground but with a film this good and a transfer this good you don't need a long list of extras to make this disc worth the purchase. As a film fan, do yourself a favour and pick this up anyway.
English SDH, French, Spanish, English for Italian Version
2.35:1 / 16x9
Region Code: All
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
Poster & Still Gallery