Sergio Corbucci (director)
18 May 2020 (released)
18 May 2020
A curious hotch-potch (and that’s an understatement) starring French rock ‘n’ roll legend Johnny Hallyday, a bunch of ‘revolutionary’ pot-smoking hippies and the most outrageous climax in the history of Westerns… Sergio Corbucci’s 1969 THE SPECIALISTS needs to be viewed with more than just an open mind in order to be appreciated.
Hallyday stars as Hud Dixon, a lonesome gunslinger dressed in tight black leather pants (well, Hallyday was a rock ‘n’ roller after all) out for revenge after his brother has been lynched following false accusations of bank robbery and embezzlement. Right at the opening scene the aforementioned hippies (looking like flower power children from the Woodstock Festival which took place that same year) are given a hard time by Mexican bandits who drag them through the mud (clearly they haven’t encountered Glastonbury…) after a stagecoach robbery. Chucking a coin at them and announcing that the one who can return the coin will be spared his life (or hers, seeing how one of the hippies is female) the four outcasts are unexpectedly saved by Hud Dixon who had been at the right place at the right time and before you can say ‘Pronto’ the banditos meet their well-deserved demise. Hud calmy rides on but not before pointing out that “he hasn’t got a single friend in the world.”
Arriving in the town of Blackstone, Hud hopes to get to the truth of who really robbed the bank. Along his search he encounters naïve and idealistic Sheriff Gedeon (Gastone Moschin) who dreams of domestic bliss and one day having two children. Then there’s manipulating seductress Virginia Pollicut (Francoise Fabian), the filthy-rich widow of the town’s former bank owner who seems to pull all the strings and has everyone over… or so it would seem. Her attempts at seducing Hud usually end in failure – perhaps he can see right through her? His path also crosses a pretty farmer’s girl called Sheba (Sylvie Fennec) and a strange undertaker (many things in this film are strange) with ulterior motives. Hud finds an unexpected ally of sorts in El Diablo (Mario Adorf) – a one-armed former Mexican revolutionary-turned-bandit who hasn’t lost his hatred for all things bourgeoisie. As Hud discovers the truth bit by bit, we can barely keep up with the twists and turns and the intricacy of the script which doesn’t do the end result any favours. According to Halliday, the script was written on set… and it shows.
As for the film’s climax, it won’t be forgotten in a hurry, with Hud burning all the townsfolk’s money – stacked away in a big bag – by throwing the burning notes from a balcony while our four parasitic hippies force the town’s people to crawl along the main street butt-naked like pitiful worms. Yep, it has to be seen to be believed! Admittedly the film offers several thoughtful moments such as the hippies representing radical political ideas, or Hud burning everyone’s money during an act that screams “Revenge” as much as “Money doesn’t buy happiness”. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite come off as intended. The final scene, during which a wounded Hud rides off into the sunset after having chased the hippies off with an empty gun is classical Western lore.
While the town of Blackstone was built in a Rome film studio, all the other outdoor scenes were shot in the Italian Alps. While the Alpine panorama is breath-taking in its beauty it is too green and too wholesome to suggests the more copper-hued Nevada mountain terrain, neither does it feel realistic to see Mexican bandits amid juicy green meadows and glorious snow-covered mountains, but hey. That said, Dario Di Palma’s cinematography is superb! Halliday is surprisingly good as the steel-hearted gunslinger, he even loves smoking his fags and wears his black hat just like Clint Eastwood… or Franco Nero in DJANGO, the very Western which put director Corbucci on the international map. Mario Adorf of course is always worth his salt. Although THE SPECIALISTS bears all the hallmarks of a ‘spaghetti western’ this one was actually filmed in French language – a lingo with doesn’t go particularly well with the tough Western genre. There’s also an Italian language option available though bizarrely the English subtitles for the Italian dialogue seem more refined than those for the French dialogue.
Available for the first time in the UK on home video, THE SPECIALISTS is presented in a 4k restoration and a Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase (2000 units) including Collector’s booklet.