Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Navajo Joe (1966)

Sergio Corbucci’s Django is my favourite spaghetti western so I felt I was entitled to have fairly high hopes for his Navajo Joe, made in the same year (1966). And while it’s not in the same league as Django it’s still a decent entry in the genre.

A guy called Duncan leads a gang of cut-throats and bandits. Their favourite means of income is killing Indians and selling the scalps to the local townspeople for a dollar a head. Their preference is for butchering defenceless Indians in surprise attacks. One raid on an Indian village turns out to be a very bad mistake. They leave one survivor, an Indian known as Navajo Joe (Burt Reynolds). And Navajo Joe turns out to be a one-man army, and he’s bent on vengeance.

Duncan has discovered that a train carrying half a million dollars is headed for the town of Esperanza. The town’s doctor has a shady criminal past and he makes a deal with Duncan to help steal the money. This is a peaceful little town where no-one carries guns and they are going to be entirely unable to defend themselves against Duncan’s gang. Unless they can get some assistance. Some assistance from one-man mayhem machine like Navajo Joe, for instance. And Navajo Joe is willing to help since it’s likely to provide a convenient opportunity for him to take his revenge.

Joe gets little help from the townsfolk in general, but he does have a few unlikely allies. The saloon-keeper and his saloon girls display more courage than the rest of the townspeople combined and get Joe out of a particularly tight spot. And a beautiful half-Indian woman also lends a hand. She sees like she’s being set up as the love interest for Joe but nothing eventuates, and eventually we find out why. But mostly Joe is a one-man band and pitting this one Indian against a gang of several dozen hardened outlaws is hardly a fair fight - the outlaws don’t really stand a chance!

There’s very little substance to this film. It’s mostly an excuse for lots of action sequences and lots of gunplay and assorted carnage. Fortunately Corbucci is very good indeed at this sort of thing and the action scenes are exceptionally well executed. And there are enough of them to keep any spaghetti western fan very happy. The ambush of the train is a standout.

Corbucci and his director of photography Silvano Ippoliti (who has had an impressive career) have crafted a visually extremely impressive movie. Something is always happening, and they always film it in an interesting way but without appearing gimmicky. The violence is relentless but without much in the way of gore. The movie generates sufficient excitement not to require the gore.

Despite some dodgy makeup Burt Reynolds does a solid job as Joe. He’s a convincing action hero and he isn’t required to do much more. The characterisation in this movie is basic to say the least. Aldo Sambrell makes a suitably villainous bad guy as Duncan.

And as an added bonus it has a score by Ennio Morricone.

Surprisingly enough the Region 4 DVD release is excellent with a beautiful transfer preserving the correct Technicope aspect ratio.

Not one of the all-time classic spaghetti westerns but fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy despite some deficiencies in plotting and characterisation. Recommended.

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