Keoma (1976)
R0 - Scandinavia - Another World Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (10th December 2007).
The Film

The history of film knows many successful “director-actor” collaborations. “Hitchcock-Grant”, “Ford-Wayne” and “Scorsese-De Niro” are some of the more obvious ones, but fans of the Italian cult cinema probably want to add “Castellari-Nero” to the list. Director/co-writer Enzo G. Castellari and actor Franco Nero did a few explosive “polizia” crime films (starting from “High Crime AKA La Polizia incrimina la legge assolve (1973)”) together and they almost revived the dying “Spaghetti western”-genre in “Keoma (1976)” (sadly, just “almost”). Nero´s natural charisma and Castellari´s eye for the visual action made many of their films very enjoyable and thanks to the DVD format, some of their best films are now available (where´s “Day of the Cobra AKA Il Giorno del Cobra (1980)”, though?). Later on they also did a few Italian TV-productions.

The “half-breed” Keoma (Franco Nero) returns to his small hometown after the bitter Civil War (1861–1865). He was on the “winning side” of the war, but that doesn´t make him a happy man. The land where he was raised is now a very different one; restless, violent and full of shady ex-soldiers. Normal town folks are kept on a short leash by fear, since the town is “unofficially” ruled by one certain Caldwell (Donald O'Brien - e.g. “Mannaja (1977)”) and his dirty posse. Furthermore, the plague has arrived in the town, but since the people there are almost like prisoners of Caldwell, the medicine is nowhere to be found. After saving the pregnant woman Lisa (Olga Karlatos - e.g. “Zombi 2 AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)”) - falsely accused as having the plague, the word is starting to spread quickly; there´s a man in town that could change things around - with a gun and a knife if necessary. And this man is the fastest one around.

The word also reaches Butch (Orso Maria Guerrini - e.g. “The Bourne Identity (2002)”), Lenny (Antonio Marsina - e.g. “The Big Racket AKA Il Grande racket (1976)”) and Sam (Joshua Sinclair - as John Loffredo, also the uncredited co-writer of dialogue), who are the half-brothers of Keoma. All these men were once just boys, raised by their loving father William Shannon (William Berger - e.g. “Five Dolls for an August Moon AKA 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto (1970)”). Now only Keoma has followed his father´s code of morale. His half-brothers has chosen the other path, where the opportunism and plain greed rules. These two ideologies will clash. In the town is also ex-slave George (Woody Strode - e.g. “Once Upon a Time in the West AKA C'era una volta il West (1968)”), now a forgotten drunk. He´ll find his dignity again, thanks to his old friend.

“Keoma” is a fine Italian western, especially considering that it was done at such a late point in the genre timeline. There was already a cross for “Spaghetti westerns” waiting in the film cemetery. At a first glance, the story offers no real surprises; there´s a quiet and lethal (if necessary) protagonist, a helpless woman, a town in fear and an evil villain that has to be overruled. And since Castellari is at the helm, there are lengthy gunfights, with rapid violence and Peckinpah-style slow motions. Many very clever camera tricks and compositions make the action fresh and stuntmen have really earned their check with this film. Tough men settle their score in a tough town, in a tough western way. In an Italian way.

The film has a very serious tone, which also explores quite deep issues underneath the typical western imagery. “Keoma” might be a good guy in the film, but he has also lost his way. Constantly uneasy and on the move, he´s traveling to “search himself” and his purpose, often still just “chasing shadows”. Castellari also explores the “life and death” premise with different metaphors, so the unborn child in the film is “life” (and hope) and the old woman “death”. Even some religious undertones can be found from the film (the “cart wheel”-scene at the end is quite an obvious hint). There´s of course the family dilemma, since Keoma´s half-brothers are bitter and almost jealous to their “bastard” family member, who got “all the affection” from their dad when they were all young. There´s sadness - almost regret - in their father´s eyes; is he ultimately to blame for the fact that his other boys took the dark road, instead of the righteous one like Keoma? Many “flashback”-scenes are memorable and in some ways almost touching (also a bit unintentionally funny, just check the “little Keoma´s” hairstyle). This all makes the film very interesting and compared to some other westerns from the era also a bit more challenging one. The score by composers Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis takes a more unique route by adding vocals (very dark male or high female) that many times almost comments on the action on the screen. In this film it works quite well for my taste, but I can understand if all the other viewers don´t feel the same way. It´s quite monotonous.

After seeing the film multiple times you also start to see some minor flaws. Castellari admits (or states, since he probably feels that it was a good and creative thing) in the extras that the script was written “day-by-day” during the production and even some characters (at least George) were added to the story very quickly. I have to admit that this shows in some scenes and not always in a “creative” way. Certain scenes just felt a bit unimaginative and not that well connected to the rest of the film. This doesn´t always mean that there´s something “wrong” with some particular scene, just that it doesn´t necessarily always blend that well to the scenes before or after. Pacing is the key to ultimate success and with “Keoma” that´s sometimes lacking - e.g. after the build up with Keoma and his half-brothers, I personally felt a bit disappointed to the ultimate outcome. There could´ve been many fruitful opportunities to do something very special and truly end the film in a memorable way. I feel that it didn´t fully materialise in this film. Also the character of Caldwell was quite weak compared to many memorable villains in Italian westerns. It´s true that in the end he was just a supporting character in the story, but Caldwell still was the main “bad guy”. Why make him such a dull character? Fortunately these are just minor gripes, since “Keoma” is a highly recommended Spaghetti western. It has as much “drama” as “action”. Since the producers wanted to exploit the success of the original “Django (1966)” (role that really put Franco Nero to the map), the film was also called “Django Rides Again” and “Django's Great Return” in the US (as well as “Desperado” and “The Violent Breed”).

Video

Danish based “Another World Entertainment” has released “Keoma” in their “Western Series”-line. The company already has a reputation of doing justice to the different “Euro cult”-films and “Keoma” is no exception. The print is Anamorphic 2.35:1 and looks pretty good. Transfer is relatively clean (some odd film artifacts can still be spotted every now and then) and sharp, with black levels and contrasts looking solid enough. The overall colours (especially some wider shot of the landscape) tend to look a bit “pale” and lean to the brown end of the spectrum, but it´s hard to say what was the original colour scheme in the film. Some of the darker scenes also revealed some minor blurriness, but generally this is a very satisfying transfer. Comparing this DVD to the US one by “Anchor Bay”, the two transfers looked very similar (perhaps even from the same master). “Anchor Bay” DVD was very slightly sharper based on a quick look, but at its best we talk about very minor differences. “Dual Layer” disc is coded for “R0” and the film runs 96:42 minutes (PAL). It has 7 chapters.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (back cover falsely says “2.0 Surround”) is the only audio track and optional Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are included. English is the best option for the film, since clearly most of the actors speak English in the film and Franco Nero has dubbed his own voice (which he usually does to my knowledge). There is minor hiss in the background and the dialogue sounds slightly muffled, but the track sounds generally quite clear. From the film of this age, I would say that the track sounds good.

Extras

-“Enzo C. Girolami & Enzo G. Castellari - Part 1” -featurette runs 24:06 minutes. It´s in Italian, with optional English subtitles. The featurette is basically an interview with Castellari (apparently French based), with added footage from the film festival Q&A (at least I assume). Castellari starts telling about his background and especially about his father Marino Girolami (now you know where that “G” originates in Castellari´s screen name). His father was obviously the biggest influence on Castellari´s career (especially in editing and technical skills), but he also mentions the screenwriter Tito Carpi. Back in the days Castellari also worked as an assistant to many directors, where he probably picked up several things. His main source of inspiration has still always been the American movies and he also mentions that he grew up with westerns.

Castellari also gives a small tour of his “western films”. His first film as the main director was “Few Dollars for Django AKA Pochi dollari per Django (1966)”, where Castellari was “uncredited” (the original director was León Klimovsky). Then came the ironic western “Any Gun Can Play AKA Vado... l'ammazzo e torno (1967)” and its unofficial sequel “One Dollar Too Many AKA Tre che sconvolsero il West - vado, vedo e sparo, I (1968)”. He tells an interesting anecdote of “Seven Winchesters for a Massacre AKA Sette winchester per un massacro (1968)” - the film, which almost starred the young and rising actor called Robert Redford (eventually actor Edd Byrnes did the role, since he was the choice for the producers). Castellari also talks about his first meeting with Franco Nero (before their first film “High Crime AKA La Polizia incrimina la legge assolve (1973)”) and also about “Keoma (1976)”. Technical side of the interview is a bit lacking, but good info is shared.

-US theatrical trailer runs 3:36 minutes (no subtitles) and filmographies (in English) are included for director/co-writer Enzo G. Castellari and actor Franco Nero.

Photo gallery (4:00 min) includes 48 photos. In this mixed collection you´ll find lobby cards, some posters and VHS-covers, press book material and behind-the-scenes stills. There are also some stills from the movie, which look like just screen captures from the film.

Bonus trailers includes “Torso AKA I Corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale (1973)” (US - 3:30 min), “The Nameless AKA Los Sin nombre (1999)” (US - 2:25 min), and “The New York Ripper AKA Lo Squartatore di New York (1982)” (US - 3:10 min).

Keep case also includes an 8-page booklet, with liner notes (in Danish) by Nils Markvardsen.

Overall

I´m a genuine fan of Franco Nero and appreciate the skills of Enzo G. Castellari, so “Keoma (1976)” was a must-see for me. Despite a few minor flaws in the film, it probably belongs in the “top 10” of Italian westerns and shows the craftsmanship of the filmmakers of that era. In the end, it´s a bit more than “just a western”, which is often a good thing. The DVD-release by AWE is again a very good effort and adding a good featurette shows that the company takes their releases seriously.

This Scandinavian-release is distributed via “Another World Entertainment” in Denmark, “Njutafilms” in Sweden, “Voices Music & Entertainment” in Norway, and “Firebox Records” in Finland.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Another World Entertainment.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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