Thursday, October 2, 2008


"Django" director Sergio Corbucci's Spaghetti western "The Mercenary" (**** out of ****) about an itinerant Polish pistolero Sergei Kowalski (Franco Nero of "Camelot") in Mexico at the turn of the century who takes a poor ignorant peasant (Tomas Musante of "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage") under his gun arm and elevates him to the status of hero of the Mexican revolution beat Sergio Leone's "Duck, You Sucker" by three years. In "Duck, You Sucker," an Irish revolutionary (James Coburn) took a penniless peasant (Rod Steiger) and elevated him to the status of Pancho Villa during the Mexican revolution. Indeed, the basic plots of "The Mercenary" and "Duck, You Sucker" resemble each other closely, except the characters and the endings differ drastically. The peasant here in "The Mercenary" is Paco Roman, a young, wifeless, childless, blue-collar laborer toiling in the mines of a wealthy aristocrat with a taste for opera. In "Duck, You Sucker," the peasant was much older, with a brood of trigger-happy sons, and a passion for thievery. In retrospect, the similarity between "The Mercenary" and "Duck, You Sucker" shouldn't seem too surprisingly when you consider that the same scenarist, Luciano Vincenzoni—who penned "Death Rides A Horse," "For A Few Dollars More," and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"—wrote both "The Mercenary" and "Duck, You Sucker." "The Mercenary" was Corbucci's first Mexican revolutionary western that he would follow up with "Companeros" starring Franco Nero as a Swedish arms dealer, Tomas Milian as the Mexican peasant, and Jack Palance as the villain.

"The Mercenary" opens in an arena with clowns simulating a bullfight. The main clown is really Paco; he is on the run from wealthy mine owner Alfonso GarcĂ­a (Eduardo Fajardo of "Bad Man's River") and a deadly but dandified gambler Curly (Jack Palance) who is in league with Garcia. The Polish gunman Kowalski (Nero) sits in the stands and watches Paco until the time for the sundown comes. At that point, Corbucci and his multitude of writers—among them Franco Solinas of "A Bullet for the General" and Vincenzoni—flash back to the first meeting between our heroes who later become fast friends. Two Mexican mine owner pay Kowalski to get their silver. Curly follows them after he sees them talking to Kowalski. Curly is deeply interested in them because he had to have one of his henchmen, Studs (Franco Ressel of "Sabata"), killed for trying to kill Kowalski. You see, Kowalski caught Studs gambling with loaded dice and made him swallow the dice with a glass of milk.

Anyway, Curly kills the two Mexicans and rides out to get the silver and Kowalski. Meanwhile, at the mine, Paco and his fellow miners—exploited at poverty wages—dine on execrable food and Paco discovers a lizard in his food. Everybody has a good laugh about the 'meat' in the grub. Later, in Garcia's office, the mine owner comes face-to-face with Paco holding a pig on a platter with a pistol sticking out of its mouth. Paco hand feeds Garcia the lizard and the two are enemies for life. When Kowalski shows up to pick up the money, he finds himself surrounded by Paco and his men. They are going to kill the Polish gunman until the Mexican army, with a vengeful Garcia in the ranks, intervenes with an artillery barrage. Vincenzoni wrote a similar scene in Leone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" as Tuco was about to hang Blonde from a hotel rafter. In the middle of all the shooting, the wealthy Paco explains that the silver can never be gotten to but he has fistfuls of paper money. He pays Kowalski to teach him how to operate a machine gun and the two become revolutionaries.

Kowalski takes his hard earned money and leaves Paco, only to be trapped in the desert by Curly and his gunmen. This time Paco intervenes in the showdown between Kowalski and Curly and kills all of Curly's men and forces Curly to walk away without a stitch of clothing on in humiliation. Now, Curly has it in for Paco as well as the Polish soldier-of-fortune. Essentially, Kowalski teaches Paco how to run a revolution until an interfering woman Columba (Giovanna Ralli of "Cannon for Cordoba") joins them and turns Paco against his pal. As they make more money, Kowalski's demands become outrageous. He prefers to be paid in coin and he forces Paco's army to stop in the middle of the desert so that he can improvise a shower to cool himself off. No sooner have Paco and Columba wed and left Kowalski tied up in a stable than Garcia and Curly arrive, again with the Mexican army and a bi-plane that drops bombs.

Spaghetti director Sergio Corbucci wrote and directed twice as many westerns as Sergio Leone. Corbucci lacked Leone's flamboyant style and his lucky break in establishing the Italian western. Nevertheless, he was his equal when it came to staging gunfights and helming snappy action stories. Franco Nero became his Clint Eastwood and Corbucci gained fame as Burt Reynolds called him 'the other Sergio' for his diverse oaters. Corbucci bucked the 'southwest' look of Spaghetti westerns with his oddball oater "The Great Silence" and his muddy western "Django" where the hero dragged around a coffin with a machine gun stashed in it. Corbucci maintains a furious pace throughout "The Mercenary," even though it starts up with a flashback and sacrifices some suspense—because you know the principals cannot die until the flashback ends. Predictably, the body count is as high as the film's cynicism. At one point, Curly jams a hand grenade into a revolutionary soldier's mouth and blows him up. However, Corbucci shows uncharacteristic flair when he stages a killing and a torture scene and declines to show the violence in each scene. In one scene, a thug batters the truth out of an unwilling victim while we watch Curly ride around in a circle. This kind of subtlety is very unusual for a Spaghetti western.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Giovanna Ralli, prorompente avvenenza mediterránea