Thursday, June 04, 2009

Navajo Joe

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.

15 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I've had DJANGO for about 6 months now. I've heard great things about it, and maybe you've given me the inventive I need to watch it.

Bruce said...

DJANGO is just pure greatness, and you get ot see a scene that a certain director ripped off for his debut feature. Also has one kick ass theme tune.

Also The Great Silence has to be the darkest and most downbeat Spaghetti Western ever. I mean its just one kick to the balls of an ending. It makes Thomas Hardy look like a laugh riot. It's brutal and kick ass all at the same time. Plus its got Klaus Kinski as the baddie.

Navajo Joe has one of my favorite Ennio Morricone scores

Randy Johnson said...

Django and The Great Silence are scheduled to be delivered by UPS tomorrow, coincidentally, along with a third Corbucci film, Companeros.

Randy Johnson said...

Oh, I almost forgot, I enjoyed Navajo Joe as well. Reynolds did indeed look impossibly young,

GeoffS said...

Reynolds made a few decent Westerns around this time. He followed up Navajo Joe with 100 Rifles and Sam Whiskey -- both worth checking out.

Another Corbucci Spaghetti worth checking out is Companeros w/ Franco Nero, Thomas Milian and Jack Palance!

Fred Blosser said...

James, I'm glad to hear that you're mixing a little spaghetti into that upcoming book.

The relatively low budget of NAVAJO JOE shows. It was a Dino diLaurentiis production and typically for Dino, quickly made to cash in on a new trend, in this case the big popularity of Leone's first two movies. Burt Reynolds' autobiography has some funny stuff about the film, including Burt's claim that Dino paid him with a suitcase-full of cash. "Leo Nichols" was the name pasted onto three, I think, early Morricone scores, at the time when Spaghettis were trying to sneak by as American movies.

THE MERCENARY and COMPANEROS, Alberto Grimaldi productions from 3-4 years later in Corbucci's career, are better scripted and slicker. DJANGO and THE GREAT SILENCE have a big cult following, but I like THE MERCENARY better myself. For some reason, it doesn't have a legitimate, widescreen DVD edition in the U.S., but it sometimes runs on TCM, and better than nothing I guess, there's a pan-and-scan cheapie DVD edition under the title A PROFESSIONAL GUN.

Richard Prosch said...

Just saw DJANGO for the first time earlier this year. One of the most authentically muddy western towns on film.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for the comments and recommendations, guys. DJANGO and THE GREAT SILENCE should arrive in today's mail, and I'll probably watch one of them tonight. Going to add COMPANEROS to my list, too.

Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't know about these movies either. Sounds interesting.

Maybe Morricone changed his name because it wasn't so good. I normally like his stuff a lot too.

Vince said...

Can't wait to hear your takes on the other Corbucci films. DJANGO is grimy fun, but THE GREAT SILENCE is truly apocalyptic. Have you watched any movies by the third spaghetti Sergio, Sollima, like THE BIG GUNDOWN?

James Reasoner said...

Nope, haven't seen any of Sergio Sollima's films, either, but I just added a couple of them to my list. Not THE BIG GUNDOWN, though, which Netflix doesn't seem to have. I'll be looking for it elsewhere, though.

Randy Johnson said...

If you find The Big Gundown, you might also look for Run, Man, Run, a sequel involving Tomas Milan's character from Gundown, but not Lee Van Cleef.

Andy said...

I love Morricone's score to Navajo Joe :) I also really enjoy the movie although I have trouble watching it occasionally because so many of action scenes feature horse tripping.

I enjoy Django, but I'm not as high on The Great Silence as a lot of other folks. I can see what they were going for but (without spoiling too much) I just came away from the movie thinking the hero was a freaking moron.

James Reasoner said...

I noticed the Running W's, too, and hated to see them. They made for spectacular stunts but wound up causing a lot of horses to be injured and destroyed.

Ray said...

Can't wait to hear what you make of THE GREAT SILENCE. It's my personal favourite of the lot, mostly because I'd already heard how downbeat it was, but really didn't expect the reality of it. Plus you have all that lovely snow.