Keoma: The Avenger (Castellari/76)
Keoma: The Avenger (1976), is a Spaghetti Western directed by Enzo G. Castellari (who would late make the 1976 film Inglorious Bastards, a film that Quentin Tarantino paid a large homage to in Inglorious Basterds ) and stars genre stalwart Franco Nero. This film comes from the dying days of the genre, when it was in its protracted and some times painful decline. Only one or two more Spaghetti Westerns were made before it died, but this particular entry is among the best and can stand comparison with anything made in the 1960s. It is a great last hurrah, all the better for being resolutely un-nostalgic.
The script is by Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, and Enzo Girolami; it covers familiar territory but in an unusual fashion: Half-breed Indian Keoma (Nero) returns, after the American Civil War, to his border hometown where he finds it under the control of an ex-Confederate raider called Caldwell (Donald O’Brien) and his gang. Keoma’s three half-brothers have also united with Caldwell and want to make sure Keoma doesn’t hang around.
What distinguishes this banal storyline is the overt use of not just allegorical mysticism, but also borrowings from ancient Greek plays, such as the wandering Earth-mother character, which is splendidly played by Gabriella Giacobbe. This surprising if obvious use of symbolism coupled with apocalyptic imagery really makes the film standout in your memory.
The direction from Castellari is highly efficient, and one of the best parts of the film. However, the frequent use of slow motion, while well done, is derivative of Sam Peckinpah, but without his mature understanding of violence. Here, it is just done for “cool” effect.
The cast is exceptional in its bringing together icons of the genre, from Franco Nero, Django himself, to such great supporting actors as William Berger, Woody Strode and Donald O’Brien. All give performances perfectly suited to their roles and are almost reason enough to watch the film.
On the debt side, unfortunately, is a fairly terrible score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, with some terrible singing (sounding like drunken amateur folk singers) punctuating the action like nails on a blackboard; ah well, you can’t have it all, can you?
Still, this is a hugely enjoyable late entry in the spaghetti Western oeuvre that I highly recommend.