Luigi Bazzoni's atypical spaghetti western MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE hits Blu-ray (its American debut in any format) via Blue Underground.
Scripted by Bazzoni (THE FIFTH CORD) and Visconti regular Suso Cecchi D'Amico (THE LEOPARD), MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE is less of a spaghetti western than a veiled retelling of Prosper Mérimée's frequently adapted novella "Carmen" (most famously as Bizet's opera and Otto Preminger's CARMEN JONES). Recently transported to a fort in Seville, brigadier José (Franco Nero, A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY) is stripped of his rank when he allows arrested gypsy Carmen (Tina Aumont, TORSO) to escape while being escorted to the police station. Demoted to guard duty, he next sees Carmen flamenco dancing in the company of his lieutenant (Franco Ressel, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE). Although Carmen warns him away from her, and José himself recognizes the danger she poses to his career and his sense of morality, he nevertheless pursues an intense affair with her and relents to her requests for him to look the other way as she conduct illegal activities. When he escorts her to the work she has found washing up for an elderly countess, he observes her leaving moments later and follows her back to the rent-by-the-hour rooms of landlady Dorotea (Marcella Valeri) and discovers her entertaining his lieutenant. The lieutenant pulls rank on José, but he has been goaded for so long by Carmen for his moral and military rigidity and attacks his superior, accidentally killing him.
Wounded in the fight, José wakes up weeks later in a near-abandoned village, nursed back to health by the kindly Remendado (BOOT HILL's Alberto Dell'Acqua of the Dell'Acqua family of stunt performers), the youngest of a band of smugglers who work with Carmen that also includes chronic alcoholic Dancairo (Guido Lollobrigida, CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES) and, most shockingly, Carmen's husband Garcia (Klaus Kinski, COUNT DRACULA) just out of prison. José tells Carmen that he wants to run away with her to America, but she tells him that they need money to do that and, of course, the way to do that is for him to plot out Garcia's plan to rob a shipment of gold being transported by an Englishman (Karl Schönböck) to Granada. While José's plan is to steal the gold from under the Englishman's nose using a landslide as a diversion, Garcia opens fire on the Englishmen and his guards and some of the gang are killed in the battle. One of the guard escapes, however, so José, Carmen, Garcia, and Dancairo retreat into the mountains to wait until things blow over. When Carmen is sent to the nearby village to get supplies and put the search parties off the right track, the animosity between Garcia and José spills over since Garcia does not want to share the loot and José finally starts to suspect that Carmen may be setting him up.
While the film spends a long first act on the attraction between José and Carmen, José's obsession still seems hastily drawn, and there is even a hint of pretentiousness when either one pauses amidst the action to make a fatalistic proclamation of "it's the end of you/us" after a pivotal event. While the tragic outcome should be no surprise to viewers familiar with the source story and the various tellings of it, the film holds close enough to the story that there really are no surprises; however, the performances of Nero, Aumont, and Kinski (although dubbed by someone else as usual) can still be savored, along with the pretty photography of Bazzoni's brother Camilo (who would move on to a directorial career which included the giallo SHADOWS UNSEEN) whose camera was operated by Vittorio Storaro (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE). The Techniscope photography is less dependent on the sort of width of the composition than its depth, with Nero and Aumont often looking at each other through various frames like bars and windows or seen by the camera together through foreground plants, glass, or flames. The score of Carlo Rustichelli (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) - conducted by Morricone regular Bruno Nicolai (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK) - is simultaneously atypical for the genre and more traditionally romantic with the exception of some experimental noodlings that, combined with some foggy ruins and blue-lit street city alleys brings Mario Bava to mind. Nero had already done DJANGO, MASSACRE TIME, and TEXAS ADIOS, and – like the latter two – MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE was released as a sequel to DJANGO (in this case as WITH DJANGO COMES DEATH).
Never released stateside – and only on videotape in the UK – Blue Underground debuts the film's first English friendly digital edition (the current import DVDs are not English-friendly but Koch in Germany is planning their own Blu-ray that may or may not have English dubbing or subtitle options). The zoom-happy camerawork does not always lend itself to crisp images, but close-ups and fixed camera shots in this 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 transfer reveal good detail and color (from Nero's and Aumont's surprisingly clean and coiffed hair to the variegations of brown and black in the massive dust cloud from the pyrotechnically-assisted landslide). Half of the film is set in the mountains, but even the city scenes have rather muted colors with the blues of Nero's uniform and eyes really standing out, along with Aumont's red flamenco dress as the only real red until the later bloodshed (even the scarf she wears in some scenes is more dark pink than red). English and Italian mono audio options are offered in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Both are worth listening since Nero dubs himself on the English track and there are some interesting variations in the English and the English subtitles for the Italian track (Garcia calls Jose "cop" on the Italian and "preacher" on the English). French and Spanish subtitles are also included. This Italian print is lacking an end credits sequence which would have listed additional cast members and crew including cinematographer, writer, and designers (the opening credits only cite Nero, Aumont, Kinski – misspelled "Kinsky" as seen in some other Italian productions like WEB OF THE SPIDER – director Bazzoni, producer Luigi Rovere, and the West German and Italian co-production companies).
In "Franco, Vittorio, & Luigi" (28:45), Nero discusses how the film is one of his most beloved because it was a collaboration with four people with which he got his start: the Bazzoni brothers, Storaro, and focus puller Gianfranco Transunto (THE OGRE) – in fact, the featurette's title should have included Camilo and Gianfranco since they figure into as much as the absent Luigi (who died in 2012) – whose photo lab he worked in and was the hangout where they planned a series of short films that they shot in the Bazzonis' home town of Salsomaggiore in Parma. Nero was working in the lab when Dino De Laurentiis' still photographer noticed him, took some shots, and got them back to the producer. Those shots found their way to John Huston who called him in for an audition, told him to strip down and sent him off, only to have his assistant call back a few days later to tell him he had been cast in THE BIBLE as Abel opposite Richard Harris as Cain. His subsequent role in CAMELOT opposite Harris and his later wife Vanessa Redgrave lead to a contract with Warner Bros. before Bazzoni contacted him about wanting to do a film of CARMEN. Not having much luck in the United States, he plead homesickness to Jack Warner who let him out of his contract since the company was being sold to Seven Arts.
Of the film, he fondly recalls his co-stars, particularly saving a ranting Kinski from being killed by the crew and being told to really slap Aumont since the fake ones were unconvincing (and he really does lift her off her feet with the blow in the finished film). He also discusses his subsequent project with Bazzoni and Storaro, the giallo FIFTH CORD and highlights the prestigious works of both Bazzoni and Storaro (and the less interesting directorial career of Camilo Bazzoni). Storaro's comments support Nero's narrative, but he also suggests that there is more value in the "expressive research" of short filmmaking than assisting on bigger films. Like Blue Underground's DVD of THE GRAND DUEL, MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE is accompanied by an audio commentary track with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke who address the DJANGO retitlings, the film's restraint in terms of exploitable content, as well as the uniqueness of actually being set in Spain rather than Spain substituting for the United States and Mexico as in other spaghetti westerns. They do sell the ingenuity of Italian craftsmen and technicians a bit short in suggesting that this film had a higher budget than most Spaghetti Westerns while otherwise complementing its look, and a discussion of Aumont does devolve into a tangent on her mother Maria Montez; although the track is a nice extra that might be worth checking out on its own (but perhaps not so soon after taking in the film). The disc also includes international and Italian trailers (3:40 and 3:44, respectively) and a poster and stills gallery. (Eric Cotenas)
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