• The Specialists (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: January 7th, 2020.
    Director: Sergio Corbucci
    Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Françoise Fabian, Mario Adorf
    Year: 1969
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    The Specialists – Movie Review:

    Hud Dixon (Johnny Hallyday) is a rough and tumble gunslinger who arrives in in the small town of Blackstone, Nevada. Why? To find out who killed his brother Charlie, a man he knows as murdered – lynched, actually - after being wrongly accused of robbing a local bank. As with most gunslingers that arrive under circumstances such as this, Hud – very much the strong, silent type – would like some good old-fashioned revenge.

    As he starts digging about, he uncovers the truth about what happened to his brother. It involves not just one culprit, but an unnecessarily dense plot involving Sheriff Gedeon (Gastone Moschin), the beautiful bank owner named Virginia Pollicut (Françoise Fabian) and many of the other townsfolk. Complicating matters further is the not insignificant matter of a one-armed bandit known as El Diablo (a scene stealing Mario Adorf) and a gang of young hippies who are more dangerous than anyone first suspects.

    What a striking film this is from a visual perspective. Cinematographer Dario Di Palma really knocks it out of the park with the visuals in this one, from the quirky, unorthodox camera angles to a long, lingering shot of a pile of burning money, there isn’t a frame wasted in terms of how this picture has been lensed. Use of color can also be impressive. Outdoor scenes can look a bit drab, as there’s a lot of mud in the picture, but then we get those gorgeous long shots showing off the mountain ranges and beautiful, natural scenery that look like they come out of a Herzog picture. The score from Angelo Francesco Lavagnino borrows heavily from Ennio Morricone’s style, there are a couple of cues that sound like they could have come out of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, but even if it feels derivative it still proves effective. The story gets a bit messy in spots, not plotting out character motivations are well as it could and should have, but the production values here score high marks across the board.

    As to the acting, well, Johnny Hallyday, who played a huge role in bringing rock ‘n’ roll to the collective consciousness of the French music buying public (he was, essentially, the French Elvis), looks the part but doesn’t bring the necessary amount of menace to the role. He handles himself well in the shoot outs and he looks especially cool running about in a blue overcoat, brimmed hat and chainmail undershirt but he’s not Clint Eastwood or Franco Nero. He’s sufficient in the lead, but no better than that. More interesting is the supporting cast. Gastone Moschin, as the sheriff who has, with the best of intentions, had all the townsfolk surrender their guns, is pretty decent. He’ll always have a special place in the hearts of Italian crime film fans for his role as Ugo Piazza in Fernando Di Leo's Milano Caliber 9. Françoise Fabian, of Buñuel Belle de Jour, is quite alluring as the woman in charge of the bank. Her performance is quite good, as is that of Sylvie Fennec as Sheba, Hud’s only real ally in the film. Mario Adorf, of Short Night of Glass Dolls and, again, Milano Caliber 9, does a fantastic job of chewing the scenery. He might be borrowing from Eli Wallach’s performance as Tuco in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but he does it so well you don’t mind so much. He’s a blast to watch.

    The Specialists – Blu-ray Review:

    The Specialists is presented on a 50GB region free Blu-ray disc with the feature taking up just under 32GBs of space on that disc. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is framed at 2.35.1. Taken from a new 4k restoration (presumably from French elements if the text in the credits is anything to go by), the picture here is very strong. Outdoor scenes are a bit heavier with teal and blue than maybe they should be but otherwise, no complaints. Detail is very strong, especially in close up shots, and there’s great depth and texture here too. Skin tones look very nice and very lifelike and there are no noticeable compression artifacts. The image is virtually pristine, there isn’t any print damage here worth noting at all, nor are there any problems with noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, the movie looks really, really nice.

    Audio options are offered in both French and Italian language 16-bit DTS-HD Mono tracks with optional subtitles provided in English only. Both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced. Range is a bit limited but there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. Both versions are dubbed so take your pick as to which one works better. The tracks are balanced well, no problems here at all. The score in particular benefits quite a bit from the lossless boost – it sounds great.

    The main extra on the disc is yet another audio commentary from filmmaker/spaghetti western expert Alex Cox that is once again completely worth taking the time to listen to. Cox’s knowledge of the genre and of Corbucci’s work in particular is impressive. He’s able to dive pretty deeply into some of the political angles that the film deals with but he also covers the contributions of the cast and crew, the shooting locations used in the picture, Johnny Hallyday’s interesting life and times and lots more. He’s clearly done a lot of research here, quoting from different interviews with the late director and laying out just exactly the right mix of facts and critical analysis.

    Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for Navajo Joe, The Hellbenders, The Mercenary, A Fistful of Dollars, and Return of Sabata. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.

    The Specialists – The Final Word:

    The Specialists does take a little bit of time to hit its stride but once it does, the film proves quite engaging. It gets very tense towards the end, and also benefits immensely from some seriously great cinematography. Kino Lorber, who are doing more for spaghetti westerns on Blu-ray than anyone else in the North American market, has done a great job with their release. The movie looks and sounds really good and the inclusion of another interesting Alex Cox commentary is the icing on the cake. Highly recommended!

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