Videophiled: ‘Man, Pride and Vengeance’

Blue Underground

Man, Pride and Vengeance (Blue Underground, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – There were hundreds of spaghetti westerns produced by Italian studios in the sixties and early seventies. Only a small percentage of them were particularly good, and fewer still genuinely great. You’d think we’d be running out of discoveries by now but Man, Pride and Vengeance (1967), from director Luigi Bazzoni and star Franco Nero, is a respectable find. Based on the novel Carmen by Prosper Merimee, with Nero as the loyal, straight-arrow soldier José demoted after he’s tricked by gypsy hellion Carmen (Tina Aumont), it’s the rare spaghetti western that is actually set in Spain, where it was shot.

In this take, José is has no fiancée to betray, which perhaps makes him more susceptible to Carmen’s flirtations, and Nero plays him as an affable career man whose equilibrium is completely upset by the surge of emotions—lust, rage, resentment, jealousy—that the wild free spirit brings out in him. Aumont makes a cheeky Carmen, not malicious so much as unapologetically mercenary and sexually independent but with a code of conduct that she follows faithfully. She pays her debts, which complicates José’s life more than he can handle. Soon he’s on the run from a murder charge and joins her criminal gang, where he meets her husband Garcia (Klaus Kinski), fresh out of prison and ready to take charge of the gang and take on anyone he sees as a threat. While José earns the nickname “Preacher” for his insistence on a disciplined plan and a non-violent execution of the stage robbery (both a moral and practical decision; murder brings out the soldiers in force), Garcia is like unstable dynamite pulled from the storage of a long prison sentence and ready to blow at the slightest nudge.

Things take a more savage turn when it leaves the city for the frontier, a dusty, desolate landscape of threatening hills, chalky trails, and sunbaked days that (along with Garcia’s taunting and baiting) eat at the gang as they hide out in primeval caves. But this isn’t about barbarous cutthroats picking off rivals. Bazzoni wrote the screenplay with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, one of the great screenwriters of Italian cinema (Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Leopard, and many others), and they give the characters more complexity. These aren’t the bloodthirsty thugs who feed off of violence and chaos, merely folks born to this way of life, and they have their own moral codes and clan loyalties. In this Darwinian setting they provide an unexpected humanity and a contrast to José, whose own code is swamped by his emotional impulses outside of his military home. And best of all, Aumont’s Carmen is fascinating, a woman who pays her debts and honors her obligations, lives and loves as she chooses, and never apologizes for her choices. Aumont hasn’t the strength to give Carmen much depth but she does instill her with a lively spirit and an fierce way of taking life head on.

The film was also released under the title With Django Comes Death, just another of the scores of movies trying to cash in on the iconic hit. At least it stars the original Django himself, even if the sensibility is as far from the cold justice and pitiless violence of Django as can be.

The film debuts on Blu-ray and DVD in a new High Definition transfer from the original camera negative with both original Italian and English dub soundtracks and optional English, Italian, and French subtitles. Features commentary by Italian western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke and the 28-minute interview featurette “Luigi, Vittorio & Franco,” featuring new interviews with Franco Nero and Vittorio Storaro (who was the film’s camera operator) talking about their lifelong friendship with one another and director Luigi Bazzoni, begun before any of them had experienced cinema success, and reuniting on this film to make good on their promise to one day all work together. It’s as touching as it is illuminating.

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Blu-ray: ‘Torso’

Sergio Martino’s Torso opens by ogling naked flesh. A couple of anonymous models writhe around while a photographer (face unseen, only a camera in close-up) snaps away softcore shot, interrupted by shards of flashbacks involving a child’s doll, not exactly threatening but still a bit weird. Which pretty much us gives all the building blocks for what would become standard for the stalk-and-slash horrors of the seventies: nudity, voyeurism, a traumatic memory pounding away at our killer’s perspective while his identity remains pointedly hidden. All that’s missing is the violence and we don’t have to wait long for that. Not even the first murder, in fact. An art history lecture at the international university in Perugia shows us the images of suffering saints in renaissance paintings. But there’s no blood in these paintings, as the students remark after the lecture. Rest assured that Martino makes up for that in his scenes of assaulted flesh.

One female student drives off with her boyfriend for a little car sex in the woods. The killer, his face hidden behind a white stocking mask, strangles her with his own scarf (which he gently wraps back around his own neck with slow satisfaction) and then sinks a knife into her chest (a jarringly unconvincing effect with a pasty dummy that cracks open like a shell and oozes red paint). The killer, intimidating under black leather jacket and gloves and a ratty mask, straddles two clichés, the haunted psychos of the Norman Bates variety and the hooded zombie-like automatons of Halloween and Friday the 13th.

And so begins the spectacle. For the next hour or so the audience is treated to scenes of topless dancing, languid make-outs at a hippie hangout, Sapphic seduction, nude sunbathing and skinny dipping, inevitably followed, sooner or later, by the killer strangling said lovelies, removing their tops for a little post-murder findling and then hacking up their bodies. It’s familiar slasher movie territory, right down to a cadre smirking and suspicious men constantly hanging around and peeping in, and there’s no shortage of suspects – a stalker boyfriend, a creepy professor, an ogling scarf salesman, an older lover who is always “traveling.” It gets even more familiar when four female friends, headed by British art history student Jane (Suzy Kendall of Bird With the Crystal Plumage fame) and her Italian friend Daniela (French actress Tina Aumont, Fellini’s Casanova), head out to a villa in the country and the killer follows. Meanwhile, the girls make quite a splash in the small town; they lounge around the village square looking like supermodels in a rustic shoot and the men all but gape in stunned silence at these international beauties.

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