Recently I was talking to one of my editors about Spaghetti Westerns. I had submitted an outline to him for a book in one of the series I write, and I mentioned that I thought it had a little Spaghetti Western influence in it. He said that he really liked the films directed by Sergio Corbucci and considered them as good or better than the ones made by Sergio Leone. I hadn’t see any of Corbucci’s films, but as a Leone fan from ’way back (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is one of my all-time favorites in any genre), I had to check out Corbucci’s work.
The first of his movies I watched turned out to be NAVAJO JOE, a 1966 entry starring Burt Reynolds about five years before he became a big star in the U.S. In this one, looking slim, athletic, and impossibly young, Reynolds plays an Indian on the trail of some scalphunters who wiped out his family. The scalphunters give that up and become train robbers instead, and the rest of the movie is an extended cat-and-mouse game as Navajo Joe picks off the bad guys one by one and tries to keep them from getting away with the money they stole.
This movie looks great, with excellent photography and well-done action scenes. Reynolds gives a pretty good performance even though he’s not actually called on to do much other than handle the action. Long stretches of the film are dialogue-free, at least where his character is concerned. The villains are suitably despicable.
I only have two complaints: The ending is something of a letdown and not as epic and dramatic as I hoped it would be, and the theme song is one of the most annoying I’ve ever heard, consisting mostly of a typical Spaghetti Western chorus droning, “Navajo Joe . . . Navajo Joe!” I can’t get the blasted thing to stop playing in my head. The music is by Ennio Morricone, for some reason working under the pseudonym Leo Nichols, and while I love Morricone’s work, I think his score for this one is sort of a dud. Looking around on the Internet, I see that a lot of Morricone fans don’t share my opinion, having a generally high regard for this score. Some even consider it his masterpiece. So what do I know.
Overall, though, I enjoyed NAVAJO JOE quite a bit. I have a couple more Corbucci films on the way, THE GREAT SILENCE and DJANGO. I’ve heard good things about both of them, and I look forward to seeing them for myself.