The Mercenary / A Professional Gun / Il mercenario (Sergio Corbucci, 1968)

(Stanton) #41

I also love Companeros (it’s in my top 10) because of the music and lots of brilliant scenes and sequences, but there are also considerable flaws. Unfortunately.

Which means Companeros could be better, but Il mercenario is nearly perfect.

And Il mercenario is much more intelligent.
It’s no comedy, as some people think, but in Companeros Corbucci starts to replace the irony by using comedy elements. (“Klamauk” is the fitting german word, but I don’t know a proper translation)

(scherpschutter) #42

Don’t worry, Stanton, IL MERCENARIO is in my Top 10 and I’m a huge Corbucci fan, so you won’t find any sacrilege here.
Still, in my opinion being a fan doesn’t mean I have to close my eyes for Corbucci’s shortcomings. I called him brilliant when at his best, but very often careless or indisciplined. And Corbucci has an odd tendency to be more brilliant in his more flawed movies.

‘I Crudeli’ (The Hellbenders) has a brilliant opening and a devastating finale, but is plodding in between most of the time; ‘Compañeros’ is better balanced than ‘The Mercenary’, but it’s also less lively and more aloof.
‘The Mercenary’ is visually stunning, ferociously violent, wildly uneven and totally wonderful.

Like most Southern European intellectuals, Corbucci was a marxist (at least sort of). Adorno, Marcuse and Foucault (among others) were read and discussed in artistic circles. There were high expectations that revolution was imminent. The Mexican revolution was the ideal setting for Corbucci’s political westerns. There is little doubt that he wished to equate it to the situation back home, where a right-wing, fervent pro-American government surpressed any kind of revolutionary initiative. The Mercenary is still a hopeful, optimistic film, ending with Nero saving Musante’s life, so he can fulfill his revolutionary mission.
‘Compañeros’ was made after it had become clear that the Paris student uprising of May '68 - considered by many to be a genuine revolution - had failed. All hope for a radical change was gone. Therefore ‘Compañeros’ is a more introspective, pessimistic movie, ending with Nero’s suicidal attack, screaming the famous words, ‘vamos a matar, compañeros’. As a result it also lacks The Mercenary’s livelyness and brilliance.

Most of The Mercenary’s flaws are due to Corbucci’s lack of discipline and his need to fit in jokes. Of course there is that running gag with lightning matches on all kinds of surfaces, that is funny at first but becomes tiresome very soon. But Nero also shoots a plane out of the sky and brings down a horse by using his rifle as a blunt instrument. We see the revolutionaries dressed like angels - a complety silly device (yes, I know it’s a disguise). In some scenes the body count is so high that they flirt with slapstick.
But what worried me most, was the fact that Palance’s part is so ill-defined; he comes and goes in the movie, seems only to be introduced because he is needed for the film’s most famous scene, the Arena. On the the other hand, his screen presence is - as usual - so strong that the film’s main villain, Fajardo, is more or less eclipsed. All this make the film seem disjointed, almost arbitrary from time to time.
But still …

Still, in my opinion, it is a true masterpiece of the genre. Many people would have preferred Milian in the part of Musante, but I think Musante’s rather restrained performance provides a perfect counterweight for Nero’s lovely mannered, laconic acting style. Moreover I simply adore his character: we see him evolve from a simple peon to a ruthless gang leader who develops a revolutionary ardour by the aid of the peasant girl who has started to love him. There is a very touching scene in which Musante, confronted with the map of Mexico, confesses that he never realized how big the country was. The scene is both simple and brilliant, and probably even more brilliant because it is so simple.
And who can ever forget that scene in the Arena?

Even if I rated ‘The great silence’ higher (currently no 3 in my Top 20), if I had to take one Corbucci to that proverbial Robinson Crosoe island, this could well be the one.

(Stanton) #43

[quote=“scherpschutter, post:21, topic:711”]As for Corbucci, I have five of his films in my Top 20, so it’s clear that I adore him. He certainly was a very inventive director, but not a disciplined one and very often, even in his best films, he was rather careless. At his best, he was brilliant, but very often, he simply wasn’t at his best.
Even his undisputed masterpiece, The Great Silence, counts several under-directed sequences, and The Mercenary is (I’m exaggerating a little) a series of brilliant and mediocre scenes thrown together in a narrative that, for most part, doesn’t make much sense.[/quote]

Ok here we are.

And I’m interested in learning about the underdirected and mediocre elements in these 2 films which are Corbucci’s most assured works.

I agree with your over-all statement about Corbucci.
If he had died soon after The Mercenary, or after Companeros, he would have a much better reputation nowadays. Maybe he would regarded as a lost classic. But in the 20 years after he had worked hard to kill his reputation.

I was always surprised that The Mercenary wasn’t regarded as high by SW fans as The Great Silence or Django. Even the more superficial successor Companeros seems to be preferable by many viewers. ( See my above post, I’m repeating myself)
Maybe this film only needs a proper worldwide DVD release to come to it’s rights.

You have The Mercenary at #8 of your top 20, so you can’t see too much mediocre scenes in it. I think that the narrative in The Mercenary works extremely well, and the only weak scene is the comical style brawl between Nero and Musante (including falling into a pigsty), but even this scene is strictly within the concept of the relationship between both, with the mercenary always manipulating the unreflected revolutionist.

Stylistically here (and also in The Great Silence) everything becomes fruitful what in Django was promised, but in Navajo Joe and The Hellbenders only partially was delivered.
Stylistically and thematically both are the peak of Corbucci’s career, and also together with Leone’s first four the peak of the SWs.

In The Mercenary Corbucci walks with a dreamlike competence, by creating breathtaking images and always cutting at the right point, through a more complex (and cynical) narrative than it seems on the surface. Astonishingly the film manages to be serious and parodistic at once.

In The Great Silence Corbucci takes the audience by surprise by refusing the expected end. In The Mercenary the audience didn’t get the end when it was expected, instead the flashback is closed, the great Leone like duel in an arena is finished, but not the film, which starts again and goes on with more complications and an still increasing body count (brillantly filmed like all the other shoot-outs).
And shortly before the film finally ends, there is another scene which should be the end, but is only another fake end, now complete with music and the typical long shot of a vanishing rider when the camera movement suddenly seizes riders with rifles in their hands.

(Stanton) #44

Oops, Scherpschutter, my dear friend, my last post was written at the same time of yours, without reading yours.

(Chris_Casey) #45

THE MERCENARY is one of the best SW’s ever made, in my opinion.
It is definitely in my Top 5.
I like it much, much more than COMPANEROS.
And, yes…I would much rather watch THE MERCENARY than THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY.

(Guerrilla) #46

I make an bulgarian subs for Il Mercenario right now… :))))) Last year i tranlsate Companeros :))))))))

(Phil H) #47

I really wanted to say something about this film but, having read back through previous comments on this thread I found that Scherpshutter and Stanton have both made so many excellent points I have little to add.

What I will say is this, Il Mercenario is, without doubt, one of Corbucci’s very best and is a must see for any spaghetti fan.

I am a solid fan of Corbucci’s but, unlike with the other two Sergios, I am always a little wary when I sit down to watch one of his films for the first time. I am always wondering ‘What Corbucci am I going to get with this one’? Because although he is rightly considered to be one of the very best directors in the genre and was responsible for some of the most memorable films ever made within it, he was at times sloppy and ill disciplined and as a result not all his work is of the highest standard. I should qualify that by stating that even second rate Corbucci is usually better than most. But the point is, for me, he is less reliable than Leone or Sollima. Even less reliable than some of the lesser directors whose work rarely reaches Corbucci’s quality. At least they can be more consistant. With Corbucci he can be brilliant or just Ok.

Il Mercenario, for me, is from his top drawer. My own personal favourite I think will always be Il Grande Silenzio but Il Mercenario ranks up there with Django and Companeros as some of the directors best work. It also benefits from one of the best scores from Morricone (how did he write so many masterpieces??) and excellent performances from Nero, Musante and Palance. My criticism, if I’m going to be totally honest, is that the narrative lacks cohesion in parts. I’m never fully sure about the characters’ motivations or relationships to each other. And Palance’s character (although a delicious treat) is something of an enigma to me. But now I’m just being picky. This is a great film and it’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. And you’ve got to love that whole match striking thing. I never get tired of that.

(scherpschutter) #48

It is suggested sometimes that Corbucci made Compañeros because of The mercenary’s incoherences. Anyway, I like this one better but am still happy to have seen the other one too.

I really learned to love Corbucci when I did a post-graduate course at the Sorbonne, Paris in the eighties.
SWs were rather popular among students, and Corbucci’s political ones in particular. We watched french videocassettes, fullscreen, worn-out, but the nights were great.

Later I saw The Mercenary on german television an now I own the italian colt collection DVD; this DVD has good image quality, even though it’s a bit dark overall, and both DD 5.1 + 2.0 audio, but only in italian. The point is that I have never seen the film in English (I have seen Compañeros and The Specialists in cinema, in Holland, in the seventies, of course with english audio).

What DVD did you watch, Phil, and how were video/audio ?
(It still seems a bit hard to find a good english-friendly DVD of the film)

(Stanton) #49

If you understand german, stick to it.
I have both, german and english audio, and the german version is the better sounding dub.

(Phil H) #50

Unfortunately I only have a DVD-R version of the film. It is widescreen but the picture quality is not what it could be.
This is a shame because I have become increasingly aware what a difference picture quality and format can make to my enjoyment and appreciation of a film. Having said that, I enjoyed this plenty despite the picture quality.

(Silvanito) #51

The best dub is of course, as always, the one where you hear the actors own voices.

But this seems less important to people from countries where they regularly dub film and television, like Germany and France.

People there generally don’t want to read subtitles, and they don’t care if there is another person speaking the actor’s lines.

On the other hand, english-speaking people also seem to prefer their own language most of the time, and do not like subtitles?

It’s just that with many SWs the actors did their own english dub for the international market, Franco Nero and Tomas Milian for example!

In Scandinavia and Holland this practice of dubbing foreign films does not exist, everything is always subtitled.

(Chris_Casey) #52

Funny but IL MERCENARIO is one of the only films where I actually prefer the English dubbed version to the original Italian one. I guess it helps that most of the main actors, apart from Giovanna Ralli, did their own dubbing (and if you look closely you will see that in many scenes the actors were speaking English during the shooting).

(Silvanito) #53

I think there are many SWs where at least the main actors spoke english on the set, both European ones and those who came from America.

Edit: Regarding my comment above, maybe I should correct myself, most of the time the actors own voice is the preferred one, but of course there could be instances where the dubbed voice sounds better or more appropriate!

Volonte didn’t do his own english dub for the Dollars films and it still sounds awesome!

(scherpschutter) #54

Well, I don’t know.
I’m half dutch, half belgian, so as a child a got used to german and french dubs; since german is much closer to dutch/flemish, I could understand german dubs more or less, even as a child. My mother, who was belgian and spoke french pretty well, helped me a lot when I watched, for instance, Rawhide or Gunsmoke in french, and from the age of twelve, thirteen I started to understand those dubs too.
I learned italian as an adult and still have some problems understanding it; I understand the likes of Nero and Gemma very well, but they tend to give the villians (Sancho etc.) an odd accent that is hard to catch, at least for me.
And than of course, there’s the problem with bad audio quality; I usually prefer - in french and italian and even in english - the stereo-tracks to the fake surround-tracks that favour ambient sound to dialogue, sometimes to a degree that dialogue almost becomes incomprehensible.

(Silvanito) #55

You’re multilingual scherpschutter!

But what language do you generally prefer for westerns?

(Phil H) #56

Just noticed on the database page for The Mercenary that the review has a number of strange character names that certainly don’t match the film that I’ve seen.
Franco Nero as Bill Douglas?
Tony Musante as Eufemio?
Jack Palance as Ricciolo?

Is there a version with a different dub or should this just be deleted from the page? ???

(scherpschutter) #57

[quote=“Phil H, post:56, topic:177”]Just noticed on the database page for The Mercenary that the review has a number of strange character names that certainly don’t match the film that I’ve seen.
Franco Nero as Bill Douglas?
Tony Musante as Eufemio?
Jack Palance as Ricciolo?

Is there a version with a different dub or should this just be deleted from the page? ???[/quote]

Ricciolo is curly or curl in italian.
In the italian version Jack is indeed called Ricciolo, Tony is called Paco Roman and Franco Il Polacco.
Don’t know where the other names come from.

(Stanton) #58

As far as I know Musante is named Eufemio in Italy but Paco in all international versions. Palance is called Ricciolo in the german dub too, even if it is an italian name.

Bill Douglas was according to Howard Hughes a redubbing made for unknown reasons for a rerelease called Revenge of a Gunfighter.

(scherpschutter) #59

I checked Musante’s name in a standard italian book on the spaghettiwestern and on the official italian SW database from altervista (see below), it’s Paco Roman everywhere.

The screenshot are taken from the italian release (Colt Collection), I already said here (or on another thread) that it’s a fine widescreen DVD with little print damage, but that it’s, unfortunately, a bit dark.

A remake of Il Mercenario called Revenge of a Gunfighter ?
According to Howard Hughes ??
Dear me !!!

(Stanton) #60

No remake. A rerelease where Nero’s name was changed for unknown reasons (Hughes, page 214). Maybe he should sound american.

The Eufemio name in the italian print is also based on Hughes (page 211).
It seems that Hughes book is also not so reliable. The errors are mounting.