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October 31, 2017

The Mercenary


Il Mercenario / A Professional Gun
Sergio Corbucci - 1968
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The Mercenary was first released in Italy in December of 1968, just days after the director's acknowledged classic, The Great Silence. In that context, it is even more noteworthy when a prolific genre filmmaker can keep up the quality given the tight schedules and strict budgets required. The Mercenary may not be quite on the level of The Great Silence or Django, but it still has some remarkable moments.

Early on, we see the idiosyncrasies of the two rival mercenaries. The arms dealer, Kowalski, has the habit of striking matches against any available surface, be it the hat worn by a man sitting in front of him, or another man's teeth while in conversation. This match lighting business offers a bit of low humor, but also signals Kowalski's view of people in terms of their perceived usefulness. As he's played by Franco Nero, Kowaski's misbehavior is given a pass by the viewer. The more villainous Curly, played with evident self-amusement by Jack Palance, is provided with a couple of visually inventive scenes given his briefer screen time.

Disappointed by the failure of one of his henchmen to murder Nero, the camera follows Palance riding away from the inept killer. In a single take panning shot, we hear, but don't see, what is happening off-screen. The camera and Palance, complete a full circle, revealing the henchman dead, a pitchfork in his stomach. The camera continues to follow Palance as he makes the sign of the cross while slowly riding away.

The film is one of several of the sub-genre known as Zapata westerns, taking place in the early part of the 20th Century, where the putative hero is a Mexican revolutionary, fighting for social and economic justice. The story was by Franco Solinas, most famous for his hand in writing The Battle of Algiers. Solinas contributed to several westerns that served as parables about the then current issues of American interests in Third World countries, but also may have served as critiques of Hollywood's version of Zapata and Mexico. The other major name of the several writers here is Luciano Vincenzoni, the main writer in collaboration with that most famous Italian Sergio, Leone. Alex Cox's commentary points out what he identifies as those parts of the film that were contributions by Solinas as well as those by Vincenzoni. One of the bits of information of interest is that Battle of Algiers director Gillo Pontecorvo was originally scheduled to direct The Mercenary, but instead went on to make Burn!, starring Marlon Brando, a somewhat fictionalized account with similar themes of First World capitalism versus Third World revolution. Curiously, Cox doesn't mention that he made his own film, Walker almost twenty years later, based on the same events in Burn!.

Like any good Italian western, The Mercenary can be enjoyed for its own surface pleasures. There are several twists and turns with Nero and the peasant leader, played by Tony Musante, scheming with and against each other, plus a spectacular battle with machine guns and a World War I era bi-plane. The music is mostly by Ennio Morricone with some assist from Bruno Nicolai, with Morricone's themes familiar from use by Quentin Tarantino.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 31, 2017 07:59 AM