Friday, September 7, 2012


 This cynical Sergio Corbucci horse opera about the eponymous Native American hero exacting vengeance on a murderous gang of cutthroat renegades for murdering his woman and massacring his village qualifies as a stalwart, traditional Spaghetti western with nonstop riding, shooting, and killing galore.  Killing constitutes a virtual reflex action in this savage, above-average shoot'em up.  “Gunsmoke” actor Burt Reynolds must have been in the best shape of his life to pull off some of his stunts.  He leaps and he lunges as if he were a born acrobat. For example, trussed upside down by the evil villains, he gets a little help from a sneaky city slicker and crunches up to untie his ankles. Remember how Richard Gere did sit-ups dangling by his ankles from the ceiling of his apartment in "American Gigolo?" Burt performs similar stunts and is as nimble as a ninja.  Masquerading as Leo Nichols, "Fistful of Dollars" composer Ennio Morricone conjures up another memorable, atmospheric orchestral soundtrack with traditional Indian chanting, screaming, and steel string guitar thumping.  Quentin Tarantino thought so much of it and he sampled Morricone’s score in his two sword-wielding “Kill Bill” bloodbaths.  “Hercules, Samson, and Ulysses” lenser Silvano Ippoliti confines all the rampaging violence very skillfully with his widescreen compositions so everything looks aesthetically cool.  Some of Ippoliti’s more imaginative images occur when he hides the identity of one of the villains during a saloon conference scene.

"Navajo Joe" is one of a fistful of westerns where the only good Indian isn't a dead one. Few American westerns would celebrate the Native American as Corbucci does in "Navajo Joe." Joe is pretty doggoned smart for a savage. Veteran Spaghetti western villain Aldo Sambrell is as treacherous as they come. So filled with hate is he that he kills without a qualm. No sooner has Mervyn 'Vee' Duncan  (Aldo Sambrell of "For A Few Dollars More") shot, killed, and scalped Joe's Indian wife than Joe hits the trail in pursuit of Duncan and his gang. Gradually, Joe begins to whittle down the opposition. Meanwhile, Duncan discovers that the authorities in the town of Pyote where he once sold scalps have posted a bounty of both himself and his half-brother.  Just before Duncan’s blonde-headed brother Jeffrey (Lucio Rosato of “4 Dollars of Revenge’’) drills the sheriff with his six-shooter, the lawman informs an incredulous Duncan that he is wanted for murder.  Duncan points out that he has been bringing the sheriff the scalps of Indians for years. “The scalps you brought then were those of troublemakers,” the lawman points out.  According to the sheriff, things have changed. “Now, you’re attacking peaceful tribes, killing even the women and the children.” A prominent doctor convinces Duncan to rob a train heading for the town of Esperanza. He warns Duncan not to try and blow up the safe because an explosion will destroy the half-million dollars in the safe. He knows the combination and they can split the loot.  This part of the “Navajo Joe” screenplay by “Fistful of Dollars” scribe Fernando Di Leo, “Hills Run Red” writer Piero Regnoli, and “Mafia” scribe Ugo Pirro sounds somewhat like “For a Few Dollars More” when Colonel Mortimer persuades El Indio to let him open the safe because too much dynamite might destroy the loot.  Before Duncan leaves town, his gang and he set it ablaze.   

Predictably, Joe intervenes and steals the train from Duncan after the villainous dastard has massacred all the passengers, including a woman and her baby, along with the U.S. Army escort. Joe takes the train to Esperanza and offers to liquidate the gang if they will pay him a dollar for each head.  Eventually, Duncan captures Joe and tries to learn the whereabouts of the money, but Joe does not talk. Duncan ranks as one of the most heartless outlaws. He shoots a preacher point blank in the belly with his six-gun after the minister thanks him for not wiping out their town!  This trim 93-minute oater features a lean, mean Burt Reynolds wielding a Winchester like a demon and decimating the ranks of the bad guys. The Spanish scenery looks as untamed as the ruthless desperadoes that plunder one town after another.  “Django” director Sergio Corbucci never allows the action to slow down.  Despite its many sterling qualities, “Navajo Joe” never achieved the status of other Corbucci westerns like “The Mercenary,” “The Grand Silence” and “Companeros.” The no-frills MGM DVD presents the action in widescreen with several languages in subtitles.

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