• Mercenary, The



    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: November 7th, 2017.
    Director: Sergio Corbucci
    Cast: Franco Nero, Tony Musante, Jack Palance, Giovanna Ralli, Eduardo Fajardo
    Year: 1968
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    The Movie:

    The lesser of Sergio Corbucci’s three most important spaghetti Westerns, 1968’s THE MERCENARY cannot match DJANGO for pure iconic power or the political brilliance of THE GREAT SILENCE. As the third of a trilogy of overtly political Westerns (we are going to overlook the faintly ridiculous misfire NAVAJO JOE with its absurdly cast lead Burt Reynolds for the purposes of this discussion), this one was never going to approach the heights of the first two. But it still remains an upper tier entry in the genre.

    Corbucci’s communist leanings are evident all over THE MERCENARY. The title character - as essayed by star Franco Nero - is a greedy Polish gun for hire named Sergei who’s only loyalty is to a paycheck. When socialist Mexican bandit Paco (Tony Musante of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) runs afoul of Sergei during the mercenary’s attempt to smuggle a shipment of silver over the border on behalf of bourgeois capitalist mine owner Alfonso Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo), the clash begins. Sergei wants to make a buck. Paco wants to finance a revolution and help the peasants. But once Sergei realizes that Paco and his band have a good shot at procuring the silver in bulk he quickly switches sides for a heftier chunk of the profits.

    This of course enrages Alfonso who promptly sends his deliciously nasty assassin Curly (Jack Palance in full scenery chewing form) to set things right. And Sergei’s falling for sexy revolutionary Columba (Giovanna Ralli) further complicates matters.

    While lacking the gut punching power of THE GREAT SILENCE and the sheer brazenness of the first DJANGO film, THE MERCENARY is a respectable entry in the political Spaghetti Western genre. It suffers from a certain conventionality however and the casting, aside from Nero and Palance, is weaker than the two aforementioned films. It also feels a bit behind the eight ball of Sergio Leone’s epic success THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY with its emphasis on stolen precious metals and double crossing thieves. Musante here has the kind of role that Tomas Milian specialized in knocking out of the park in films like THE BIG GUNDOWN - a brash and funny peasant with a twinkle in his eye and a larcenous soul. But while Musante is a gifted performer he comes up a bit short against Franco Nero who’s at the top of his game. Unlike DJANGO where he was sometimes clumsily dubbed, this film uses his own voice effectively. The film also has a great deal of humor and Nero excels in that department with excellent comic timing. Always a gifted physical performer he handles those aspects with aplomb. Palance is pretty OTT but a blast to watch. The character is clearly gay and Palance plays with that aspect to bring an interesting element to his portrayal. This is also an exquisitely costumed film. Palance’s all white getup and Nero’s immaculate suits with razor sharp white collars and Musante’s grimy peasant clothing are all perfect. And let’s not forget the facial hair. Nero’s cookie duster and sideburns belong in some kind of facial hair hall of fame alongside a bunch of British naval sea captains of yore.

    There are moments in this film that approximate a lighthearted romp. That’s not something DJANGO or especially THE GREAT SILENCE is ever going to be accused of. And while I find that a weakness of the movie, it’s hardly fatal. Even the predictability of the plot is offset by the strength of the performers and Corbucci’s strong sense of visual style. The director handles the actions sequences extremely well, and Ennio Morricone’s first rate score helps enormously. Overall, while not exactly a classic, THE MERCENARY is very entertaining.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino bring THE MERCENARY to HD in a 2.35.1 framed AVC encoded 1080p presentation that’s almost boring in its uniform strength. There just isn’t anything negative to report here. The restoration, while obviously not one with huge sums of money spent on, is organic and natural. Colors and fine detail are good. Flesh tones look right and no problematical sharpening or denoising is evident. Print damage is confined to the odd lightly colored speck here and there and only truly noticeable to a dedicated AV trainspotter. Call this one a strong B grade.

    Audio is handled by a DTS-HD mono track that sounds quite strong. There’s nothing negative to report. Balance is good and there is a decent amount of range to the track that highlights Morricone’s excellent score. All dialog is clear - a good thing considering the lack of subtitles of any kind on the disc.

    Extras are confined to the film's trailer, a couple of stills galleries and other Kino trailers and an audio commentary by director Alex Cox. Cox has a beautiful speaking voice and the fact that his Italian pronunciations are impeccable coupled with his knowledge and enthusiasm for the film make this one of my favorite commentaries. This is precisely what a historical commentary for a film done by someone not directly involved in the production should be: enthusiastic and engaging with plenty of knowledge on offer tinged with some well-placed humor. And I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to hear someone steadfastly refuse to butcher the Italian language - a far too common failing on other audio commentaries. Bravo Mr. Cox.

    The Final Word:

    Aside from NAVAJO JOE, Corbucci’s Spaghetti Westerns are all worth a look. And while this is lesser Corbucci, it’s still a very worthwhile film for fans of the genre. Kino’s strong AV presentation and excellent commentary on this make it a recommended purchase. For those with multi region players, this set trumps the German barebones releases and the U.K. 88 Films version lacking the crucial Cox commentary. Buy with confidence.

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