El Tunco Maclovio is a hermetic bounty killer, a cold-hearted and nihalistic philosopher, who embarks on a journey that will change his miserable outlook on life forever when he is hired by the rich and powerful sadistic Mrs. Montano. She is first seen (well, her hand is) slapping around one of her men saying “Your life depends on you getting this letter to El Tunco Maclovio.” So off into the wilderness (which is strikingly and weirdly beautiful - with strange balancing rock formations) he goes to find our fellah - but unfortunately he stops on the way for a drink from a rather unappetising pool. The horse has better ideas though, and unlike the fellah, has noticed some of skulls of his horse-kind and a human skeleton nearby. The bloke doesn’t realise til too late, but manages to get the letter to Maclovio all the same. Crippled with pain and asking for help, Maclovio puts him out of his misery with a bullet to the back of the neck. So, now we know what sort of bastard we’re dealing with!
Our man has been hired to put yet another bullet into a cool young gunslinger (who’s in love with the mistress’s daughter Sara, much to her Ma’s annoyance). And it is with him that we see the film open - as he dispatches a few fellahs in a shitty little town (as dusty as Django’s was muddy) in a gunfight that contained many sideways glances, moody stares, a sigh and a twist - which is all excellent stylish stuff so far, and all bodes well - well at least for us.
All I’ve mentioned so far clocks us in at the 12 minute mark and only now do we get the credits played over a rather marvellous Spanish (?) song - in fact all the music is suitably marvellous in this, from disturbing, discordant twangy stuff, to almost hollywoodish dramatic pieces towards the end aimed to lull us into believing in a possibility of a similarly mushy hollywood ending - but you just know it cannot be in such a doom laden tale as this … maybe?
So - between these first 12 minutes and the superb climax (I’ll keep this brief) - our man is on a journey that meets him up with a stunningly beautiful whore (check her ‘blouse’ out in the ‘nudity thread’ if you will), an orphan kid, and an enigmatic stranger who acts at times like Moclovio’s guardian angel - but to what end? There’s a great line when the stranger meets up with the whore and she says “An older man like you and a young woman like me only have two reasons for doing it - one is pity, the other is money - how much have you got?” And she has equally good lines to say when she meets up with Maclovio at the water side and later in a graveyard, and wants to jump his bones after being impressed (as was I) with some smart pistol action. And again the sets and framing of the shots are superbly stylish, the graveyard looks great, and the setting for Miss sexy-blouse’s dip, and the orphan boy’s home are a backdrop of cliffs and waterfalls.
There’s more marvellously quirky scenes - a dentist/shopkeeper setpiece that slices a rare bit of dark humour into this otherwise stylish and miserable fable, a tangle with a topless woman with a machete :o, and then we’ve got a flashback (hurrah) to give us an insight to the reason why our man only has one hand (and chose to cut it off himself). And through all these journeys and adventures our miserable ‘hero’ has grown somewhat out of his sombreness, and has maybe found a reason to live again.
In this film people die (of course), but with a randomness sometimes that imo adds realism, but also it ‘disturbs’ the storyline in a good way - making it less predictable an outcome.
Overall this a great little violent tragedy of a film - that owes much to the spaghetti western genre that it has emulated. But being Mexican, it has allowed itself to flirt with the erotic a little more than most of its Italian counterparts.
The acting, particularly from El Tunco, the stranger, and the whore, is excellent - and these are well fleshed-out characters (I’m tellin’ ya again - have a look at the nudity thread).
The only downsides in this gloomy tale occur with a poor attempt at humour when the boy fires his gun, and it gets a bit too self indulgent with the deep and meaningless musings at times which slow the film down too much on ocassion, which disturbs the otherwise good pace. The copy/print I have is a bit scratched at times, and there are a few jumps and the odd word goes missing. It doesn’t seem to miss much though and is probably relatively uncut at nearly 92 minutes (I hope).
Overall - this is highly recommended viewing - particularly if you like your spaghetti gritty.
(Trivia - the cover of Cutthroats Nine utilises a picture of a shot of El Tunco gnawing on a bone for its cover. ??? )