• Navajo Joe

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: August 18th, 2015.
    Director: Sergio Corbucci
    Cast: Burt Reynolds, Aldo Smabrell, Lucio Rosato, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Fernando Ray
    Year: 1966
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Sergio Corbucci (with none other than Ruggero Deodato credited as the assistant director) and written by Fernando Di Leo, 1966’s Navajo Joe is known not only for the somewhat odd casting choice of having Burt Reynolds play a Navajo Indian but also for its amazing Ennio Morricone score (which Tarantino would borrow from and recycle for the ending of Kill Bill Volume 2).

    When the movie beings, a gang of bandits lead by Mervyn Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his brother Jeffrey (Lucio Rosato) approach and then scalp an innocent Indian woman as she washes at the riverside. These guys are mean dudes, and they’re not to be trifled with. From here, they set out take down some travelers but those travelers are saved by a lone Navajo man (Reynolds). When word gets back to the people of the town of Esperanza that the Duncan gang intends to highjack a bank train and then use the town for their own nefarious needs, it would seem that they have no one to turn to.

    And yet, there’s that Navajo man – the man who saved the travelers. He says for a dollar a head for every man he kills from every man in town, he’ll take care of the gang. Nobody in the town will have to dirty their hands. At first the local sheriff protests but eventually the townsfolk realize that this man is their only hope. They’ll have to put aside their own politics and hope that he can get the job done… but someone in the town is cooperating with the Duncan’s so he’s going to have his work cut out for him. And when they talk that foxy maid (Nicoletta Machiavelli) that he had his eye on hostage? Well, all bets are off.

    This is a fast paced and surprisingly violent (even by the already violent standards of the genre) Spaghetti Western that works well as a fairly standard revenge film but also as a showcase for a young Burt Reynolds in the lead. He’s surprisingly nimble here, hoping off of train cars and jumping over horses all while evading the bad guys’ bullets and tossing his knife around. And he does that a lot. His character is a killing machine, happy to take down any and all comers whether it be for financial gain or just out of a need for revenge. While casting Reynolds as a Navajo (and giving him skin toning makeup and a black dye job) might seem to be in bad taste to some, the movie is actually a little more progressive than you might expect. There’s a scene where the town sheriff tells Reynolds he can’t do the job because he’s not white, to which our hero notes that his father was born here, as was his father before him – which makes him more American than anyone else in town.

    Aside from Reynolds, we get a few other noteworthy performances. Aldo Sambrell (instantly recognizable from Leone’s westerns) is flat out malicious as the bandit leader, he scowls his way through the movie and is the type of guy you love to hate. As such, he’s pretty great here. Nicoletta Machiavelli, who was previously in The Hills Run Red and later acted in Zulawski’s L'important c'est d'aimer, is a bit underused here but her performance is good and she’s gorgeous to look at. Less gorgeous to look at but also underused is none other than Fernando Ray from The French Connection as the town priest.

    Stylishly shot and featuring some great camerawork, the movie looks great and that score… one of Morricone’s most unusual and gripping Spaghetti Western works. Worth the price of admission for that alone.


    Navajo Joe debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen. This isn’t a reference quality HD transfer by any stretch but it’s decent and the detail is there more often than not. Sometimes the grain is heavier and thicker in certain scenes than others and color reproduction can vary as well, which is a bit odd. This probably comes down to the source material available. Print damage is present throughout but it’s not severe nor particularly distracting. Black levels are good and there aren’t any compression artifacts to note, nor are there any obvious instances of noise reduction or edge enhancement. Some restoration work would probably have helped here but we didn’t get that. This is still considerably better than what DVD could provide, however.

    The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in English. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. The dialogue sounds fine and although the gunshots don’t pack as much punch as they probably should, the score absolutely benefits from the lossless audio format. Those caterwauling vocals sound really good here and help to draw you into the film quite a bit.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track from film historian Gary Palmucci, who also happens to be Kino’s VP of Theatrical Distribution. He’s obviously got a lot of love for this movie and he knows his stuff, but there are frequent and sometimes fairly long stretches where he goes quiet. When he does speak up he’s got some pretty interesting insight into the film, however, with a lot of emphasis on the music. He covers not only Morricone’s work here but he also talks about the different musicians who actually played on the score and he makes some interesting observations about Reynold’s character and how he’s portrayed in the film.

    Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Burt Reynolds movies available from Kino (White Lightning, Gator and Malone), static menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Navajo Joe is a top tier Spaghetti Western. While it may not reach for the lofty heights of Leone’s better known pictures it’s an action packed picture with a unique protagonist, a fun cast and an absolutely fantastic Morricone score. Kino’s Blu-ray may not be the be all, end all presentation but it does offer quite a nice upgrade over the previously released DVD from MGM.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I have not seen this. I should remedy that.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Yeah, you should fix that.