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Blu-Ray Review - THE SPECIALISTS

the specialists 1969 review
A gunslinger seeks vengeance for the lynching of his brother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sergio Corbucci

Starring: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Françoise Fabian, Sylvie Fennec, Serge Marquand, Angela Luce, Mario Adorf

the specialists 1969 bluray


The list of singers who appeared in western movies includes such superstar crooners as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, not to mention "singing cowboys" Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Even France's answer to Elvis, rock 'n roller Johnny Hallyday got in on the craze, taking the lead role in Sergio Corbucci's Gallic flavoured spaghetti western The Specialists.


the specialists 1969 review

I'm not sure why Corbucci's title opts for the plural, as Hallyday's anti-hero Hud Dixon is very much the classic lone gunslinger. After dispatching a gang of Mexican bandits in a pre-credits sequence, Hud arrives in the Nevada town of Blackstone seeking vengeance for the lynching of his younger brother, who was accused of robbing the town bank. The town's leaders immediately begin soiling their pants on Hud's arrival, all too aware of his abilities with a pistol, but well-meaning Sheriff Gedeon (Gastone Moschin) is determined to avoid any bloodshed in his town, disarming Hud before he enters the town.

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Not having a pistol by his side doesn't stop Hud from throwing his weight around, and in one barroom brawl he beats up his opponents using only his distinctive chain mail waistcoat. As items of clothing in the western genre go, Hud's waistcoat is one of the most distinctive, and most practical. Later he uses it to break out of his prison cell, while in the final shootout it acts as a bulletproof vest. It's an item that belongs in the international museum of the spaghetti western.


the specialists 1969 review

Such opportunities for Hud to employ his waistcoat are all too rare, as The Specialists follows a narrative structure that has more in common with a detective movie than a western. Like a gumshoe without the wisecracks, Hud quizzes Blackstone's various inhabitants in search of answers regarding his brother's fate, uncovering a conspiracy involving his old lover, now the widow of the late bank manager (Françoise Fabian). As with many detective movies, the plot is overly complicated, and often leaves you with more questions than answers. Significant plot details are left unexplained, like how a character suddenly shows up despite having been nabbed by the Mexican bandits in the previous scene.

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So much of the movie gets bogged down in its dense plot that it may test your patience. But hang on in there, because Corbucci lays on a climax that will have you sitting up from your slumber, a rapidly edited shootout that reminds you just how great an action director the Italian could be. On the outskirts of both Blackstone and the film's narrative is a gang of anachronistic, pot-smoking hippies who appear to serve no real purpose until the movie's final moments, when they seize the chance to take over the town in the aftermath of Hud's gun battle with Mexican bandit El Diablo (an enthusiastically sleazy Mario Adorf). Their presence sees Corbucci's film enter the realms of the "Acid Western", and the image of a wide shot of the town's inhabitants crawling naked in the dirt feels like it belongs in a Jodorowsky film. A politically engaged leftist, Corbucci hated the "drop out" mentality of the hippy movement, and The Specialists sees him transfer that contempt to the screen.


the specialists 1969 review

Hud is a largely forgettable figure, a poor cousin to the protagonists of Corbucci's more well known "blood and mud" westerns Django and The Great Silence, as played by Franco Nero and Jean-Louis Trintignant respectively. But with his piercing blue eyes, designer stubble and rugged good looks, Hallyday certainly looks the part, and he portrays a convincing physicality in his fight scenes. Halfway through Corbucci's film, as it gets mired in unravelling its plot, you may find yourself wishing his Hud would break out a guitar and give us a song to liven things up.
Extras:

You can choose between the Italian, French and English dubs (for authenticity, opt for the French); feature commentary by filmmaker and spaghetti western buff Alex Cox; interview with author Austin Fisher; trailer; collector's booklet (first 2000 units only) featuring writing by western expert Howard Hughes.

The Specialists is on blu-ray May 18th from Eureka Entertainment.