• The Hellbenders (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: January 7th, 2020.
    Director: Sergio Corbucci
    Cast:Joseph Cotten, Norma Bengell, Julián Mateos
    Year: 1967
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    The Hellbenders - Movie Review:

    One of the more interesting aspects of the Spaghetti Western genre was that most of its greatest practitioners tended to lean decidedly left politically - some being outright practicing communists - while their American counterparts like John Ford tended to veer right - sometimes sharply. This made for some interesting films. Instead of the usual stalwart American heroes we often got deeply flawed but heroic Indians and Mexicans or tragic failures attempting redemption or, even more fascinatingly, entire films based around despicable but fascinating characters.

    Such a film is Sergio Corbucci’s THE HELLBENDERS.

    Of the three great Italian Sergios, Corbucci is second only to the mighty Leone and followed by the great Sollima. This film, sandwiched in between his twin masterpieces DJANGO and THE GREAT SILENCE was also a return to form after the disappointing NAVAJO JOE. The story of southern patriarch Colonel Jonas (Hitchcock legend Joseph Cotten) and his three sons and their scheme to restart the Civil War this is a brutally cynical film showcasing a fearless performance by Cotten.

    The plot is quite simple. Jonas simply refuses to accept the surrender of Robert E. Lee and plans to ambush a Union supply convoy and steal one million dollars. This money will be used to fund a Southern insurrection. A million bucks buys a lot of guns and ammo. But as difficult as pulling the robbery off is, transporting the loot is even harder. They need to get this cash through hostile Union territory. Hence this brilliant ruse - the money will be placed inside a casket and a woman playing a fake army widow will travel with the group. When stopped at various checkpoints, the gang will simply play the pious mourning funeral party. Complications ensue when the “widow” is killed en route by one of Cotten’s psychopathic sons. Another woman, a barfly named Clair (Norma Bengell), is then picked up to play the role. Of the three boys - Ben (Julian Mateos), Jeff (Gino Pernice) and Nat (Angel Aranda) - only Ben is halfway decent. The other two’s primary interests seem to be greed for money and murder and rape for fun and profit. Ben and Claire develop a romantic attachment and become the closest thing to likable characters in the film.

    Episodic in nature, the film has little interest in a traditional narrative and plays more like a series of vignettes as our band of wannabe Johnny Rebs travel onward encountering hostile Indians, pissed off bandits, suspicious Union soldiers and even a crafty and deadly beggar. This is a brutally violent film featuring an unrepentant bastard of a protagonist in Cotten’s Jonas. He’s a fanatic and a vicious hypocrite. The ambush of the Union caravan is one of the more spectacularly coldblooded scenes in the Spaghetti Western canon. Corbucci also gets his licks in at organized religion by having Jonas pray regularly for their despicable cause.

    It all builds to a nasty but satisfying climax that’s about as deeply cynical as you’d expect from the creator of the brilliant GREAT SILENCE.

    The Hellbenders - Blu-ray Review:

    Kino’s AVC encoded 1080p 1.85.1 widescreen framed high definition transfer isn’t exactly pin-sharp but it still looks mighty damn fine. Cinematographer Enzo Barboni, who also shot DJANGO, knew how to capture grit and grime and Kino’s natural and film-like presentation does his work justice. Sweat and pores look natural, color is robust and no problematic filtering is present in the image. Expect some minor print damage and the usual occasional soft shot but everything here looks pretty organic.

    Audio is a solid DTS-HD 2.0 Mono English track with good balance and no obvious hiss or dropouts. Ambient sound and the first rate Ennio Morricone score (one of his very best) sound strong. The dubbing gets a bit iffy here and there but Cotten did his own vocal track and he sounds terrific, which is crucial. English subtitles are also provided.

    The only real extra here is a fantastic audio commentary by film director and Spaghetti Western scholar Alex Cox. I can’t heap enough praise on Cox. He knows his stuff stone cold and is a fountain of information about everything from the casting to the origins of the story (amazingly based loosely on true events!) to location shooting spots. One of his more fascinating deep dives is into the source novel - a piece of cheap American pulp fiction that one wouldn’t necessarily expect to be turned into an Italian movie. The film’s politics and Cox’s own affinity for Corbucci are addressed. Cox also has a beautiful melodious voice and delivers flawless Italian pronunciation. Definitely worth a listen for fans.

    Past that we get a gallery of Kino trailers and a trailer for this film.

    The Hellbenders - The Final Word:

    Gripping, intense and featuring a stellar performance by the great Joseph Cotten, THE HELLBENDERS is a terrific transgressive Spaghetti Western by the legendary Sergio Corbucci. Kino’s AV presentation is excellent and the disc contains a wonderful Alex Cox audio commentary. Highly recommended!

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