Release Date: December 18th, 1970 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sergio Corbucci Actors: Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben, Karin Schubert
ompaneros” (originally titled “Vamos a matar, compañeros” in Italy) immediately announces itself as a Spaghetti Western, with signature elements of bad dubbing, extreme close-ups, and rapid cuts between steely eyes and loaded guns. Copious mustaches, dusty terrains, iniquitous commanders, and complex setups waiting just outside the frame, further affirm the genre. Indeed, director Sergio Corbucci is no stranger to neo-Westerns, having previously helmed “Specialists,” “The Great Silence,” “The Mercenary,” “Hellbenders,” “Navajo Joe,” the original “Django” (with Franco Nero), and many more notable entries.
Corrupt Porfirio Diaz is running for his fifth term as the president of Mexico. Anyone not voting for him is lined up against a wall and shot. But young El Vasco (Tomas Milian) the shoe shiner initiates a rebellion by slaughtering the crooked official, leading to an instant appointing to lieutenant by fanatical bandit General Mongo (Francisco Bódalo), who is intent on controlling San Bernardino.
A short time later, Swedish gunslinger and mercenary Yodlaf Peterson (Franco Nero), frequently called “The Penguin” due to his formal attire, strolls into San Bernardino and dispatches two of Mongo’s men. He’s confronted by Vasco and buried in the sand up to his head as punishment for conspiring with revolutionaries and aiding local rebel girl Lola (Iris Berben). Yodlaf is a longtime friend of Mongo, however, and is released to locate Professor Xantos (Fernando Rey), a morality-preaching, turtle-collecting, peaceful protester – who happens to know the combination to a safe full of money needed to fund the war. Vasco accompanies the Swede as a chaperone, carving their way through soldier-filled deserts, mercenary towns, and heavily armed forts.
A major predicament comes from cackling, marijuana-smoking gunrunner John (Jack Palance in a deliciously idiosyncratic role), a bitter man with just one friend: Marsha, a bird of prey that saved him from a torturous crisis in Cuba by chewing off his hand. He continually pops up at inconvenient times to thwart their advancement. Another hardship arrives in the form of constant attacks by Xantos’ revolutionaries, even though they don’t believe in bloodshed and refuse to cause physical harm. Additionally, Yodlaf and Vasco can’t seem to get along; they’re forced to help each other to complete the mission, but they’re also adamant about toying with one another’s lives and neglecting deadly dilemmas that affect them individually. They also engage in spontaneous fistfights and verbal spats for good measure.
One of the most entertaining aspects of “Companeros” is the humor that presides over the adventure, giving the serious violence and zany characters a level of enjoyable lightheartedness. The cinematography is also stunning, with its bright blue skies, vividly colored costumes, and highly detailed desert landscapes. A snappy Italian theme song by Ennio Morricone frequently and thrillingly cuts into the action sequences, accompanied by whistling tunes and compositions reminiscent of “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” While a tiresome message of “violence begets more violence” interferes slightly with the pacing, the explosive and bloody conclusion (involving Yodlaf swiping a Gatling gun, Vasco bringing a machete to a gunfight, and the anticipated demise of John) is grandly electrifying.
– Mike Massie