Genre: Spaghetti Western/ Action/ Suspense/ Drama/ Comedy
Director: Sergio Corbucci
TRASH CINEMA HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MOVIE
For the most part, Compañeros is a solidly directed, well written piece, with a sturdy structure and a killer ending, but what really makes it work are the wonderful characters created by writer/director Sergio Corbucci and fleshed out by the quartet of Tomas Milian, Franco Nero, Fernando Rey, and Jack Palance.
First off, I have to apologize to Franco Nero. I once called him a wooden actor, based on his performances in flicks like Django and Keoma, in which he portrays iron jawed men of action. Nero doesn’t have the force of personality to create a character if it isn’t written on the page, but as he proved in How To Kill A Judge, Confessions Of A Police Captain, and now Compañeros, he is perfectly capable of rising to the occasion if the material is there.
In Compañeros, Nero plays Yodlaf Peterson, a Swedish arms dealer with zero scruples. He would like to sell weapons to General Mongo (José Bódalo), but the money to pay him is locked up in the safe in San Bernadino. Mongo has already slaughtered all the bank clerks. The only living person who knows the combination to the safe is Professor Xantos (Fernando Rey), the intellectual and spiritual leader of the Xantistas, who wants to create a Peoples’ Democracy in Mexico. And Xantos is a political prisoner, locked up in Yuma prison, in the United States. For not entirely convincing reasons, Vasco (Tomas Milian), a recently recruited peasant in Mongo’s army, is recruited to assist and keep an eye on Peterson while he journeys to Yuma to spring Xantos and bring him back to San Bernadino.
But there is a wild card. John (Jack Palance), who used to be Peterson’s partner until he was betrayed by him, is looking for revenge and also wants what is in the safe.
As Yodlaf Peterson, Franco Nero seems to be in a constant state of amusement, knowing he’s always the smartest person in the room. That is, except when he is imminent danger of an ugly death, which happens regularly. Nero makes you understand that Peterson cannot conceive of a world which doesn’t include him.
Vasco is a variation on a character Tomas Milian has played before; an ignorant peasant who is quick with a gun and knife, but nonetheless has a grain of decency in him. As usual, Milian is fun to watch.
Jack Palance makes wonderful decisions in regard to wardrobe and hairstyle to support his character, John. John is rotten through and through, which is accentuated by the contrast between his three piece suits and his greasy, unkempt hair. A soggy, unlit cigarette hangs perpetually from his slack lips. This is a guy who despises his fellow man so thoroughly that his best and only friend is a peregrine falcon, who he has named Marshall.
And finally, Fernando Rey does his usual amazing job of depicting a man at the peak of civilization, a man of intellect and principle.
Another factor in the success of the movie is the score by Ennio Morricone, which includes the absurd title song. Mostly, it’s Morricone’s music which creates the context for the comedy in the picture. Unlike some comic spaghetti westerns, nobody acting onscreen seems to be in on the joke. The humor grows out of character and the juxtaposition of events against Morricone’s music cues.
So far, this movie has been a rave, so why am I not giving it a Essential rating?
Well, sometimes the action lacks believability. In some cases, we’re talking about gunfights between two and several dozen men. Director Sergio Corbucci stages these scenes well, but not well enough to overcome their inherent lack of believability.
Then there also certain plot contrivances that don’t work. For example, Professor Xantos leaves a trail of small turtles behind him in the same manner as a trail of breadcrumbs. But, as Xantos explained, turtles live close to water, and when Yodlaf Peterson makes this logical connection, the turtle he found happens to be near the water. Might the turtle just be there by accident? This plot point might have worked better if Peterson had found the turtle elsewhere.
So no, Compañeros isn’t perfect, but it’s damned good, and thoroughly entertaining and amusing from start to finish.
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