= Highest Rating
is a superior example of the Italian-made "spaghetti western".
Gritty and violent, it's loaded
with existential themes and imagery. As Keoma, a half-breed
Indian gunfighter who dresses like a '60s Haight Ashbury hippy,
the great Italian star Franco Nero (Django,
Hitch-Hike) has yet another iconic
role. The film's simple story is
told in flashbacks, using an abstract editing style; action
scenes are a slow-motion ballet of choreographed carnage straight
out of the Peckinpah playbook. (I wonder if John Woo ever saw
this film...) It also features a supernatural element, in the
character of an old witch-woman who is meant to personify death.
There's actually quite a lot to like here. Too bad the
movie's almost ruined by a song. (I'll get to that in a minute.)
is Keoma, an orphaned half-breed adopted by Shannon (William
Berger), a benevolent gunfighter who raised the boy as one of
his own sons. While growing up, Shannon's three biological sons
bullied and tormented Keoma
relentlessly. (Perhaps it was the kid's "I am Kirok!"
outfit that set 'em off.) His one friend was George (Woody Strode
of Spartacus), Shannon's black
ranch hand. When he reached manhood, Keoma took off to "find
himself" but ended up serving in the Union Army during
the Civil War, winning medals for heroism. Shannon's sons stayed
behind, growing up to be callous thugs.
Now, sometime after
the war, Keoma returns to his dusty, wind-swept home town. (There's
a lot of dust in this flick, akin to Django's
setting in a clapboard cowtown amid a sea of mud.) Things have
gone decidedly downhill in his absence. Shannon has retired,
living in seclusion on the ranch. His three sons have thrown
their lot in with Mr. Caldwell, ruthless leader of a small army
of ex-Confederate raiders who's taken over the town and runs
it with an iron fist. (A plot element shared with Django.)
Many of the townspeople have been stricken with plague but Caldwell
won't allow anyone to leave and get needed medicines. Boyhood
mentor George has become the town drunk, a whipping boy for
the amusement of Caldwell's racist goons. Keoma immediately
incurs their wrath when he frees a pregnant woman (Zombie's
Olga Karlatos), mistakenly
thought to be plague-infected, who was to be quarantined with
the other sick people in an old mining pit. Defiantly Keoma
makes a stand in the town, confronting on not only Caldwell's
gang but the three brothers as well. Buoyed by Keoma's stoic
courage, George gives up the bottle and takes up his trusty
bow to stand with him. Even Shannon straps on his guns one last
time to aid his adopted son — with
fateful consequences. (Whenever the witch-woman appears something
unpleasant is usually in the offing.) Much mayhem and a very
high body count ensues. All of it is helmed in epic spaghetti
western style by director Enzo
Castellari (1990: The Bronx
Warriors). The action scenes are particularly good. Sounds
Well, there's this song, you see... the 'Keoma Theme' I'll call
it. It's absolutely horrible. Now usually one of the
coolest aspects of an Italian western is the music. Keoma's
score is okay actually, except for this song that recurs at
agonizingly regular intervals. In the disc's audio commentary
Castellari states he wanted it to be integral to the film, like
the Bob Dylan songs
in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy
the Kid. It's integral, all right...
to damn near sinking the movie. Trust me: it's that bad.
Beginning with the opening credits, a woman and later a male
vocalist periodically warble the folkie, heart-tugging ballad
of Keoma. The female singer sounds like Joan Baez on crack —
strangling a cat — while the man comes off like a drunk Leonard
Cohen doing a bad Bela Lugosi imitation. The Keoma theme's music
isn't bad, but the vocal stylings (artists thankfully remain
nameless) make it hands-down the worst film song I've ever
endured. Much restraint was required to keep from fast-forwarding
the disc every time it made an appearance.
It's really a shame.
Keoma could've easily become one
of my all time favorite spaghetti westerns. But that damn song*...
What, I wonder, is the Italian word for shit?
it not for that crappy song, I'd give Keoma
a Movie Rating of 7... maybe 8!
Keoma disc's video looks somewhat
faded and seems a tad dark in spots, but is generally good.
The Dolby Mono audio track is serviceable. (Some faint background
noise was detected in quieter scenes, however.) The animated menu
screens are nice, given a sepia-toned color scheme befitting such
a dust-caked western. Unfortunately a snippet of that godawful
song plays over the main menu... Arggh!
Bonus features: The
theatrical trailer is included, along with a 10-minute interview,
filmed recently, with star Franco Nero. As he relates a few interesting
anecdotes about the movie it's obvious Nero genuinely has great
affection for it and director Castellari. (Nero still looks great,
by the way; he could play an action hero today.) The disc's best
feature is the audio commentary with Castellari and American Euro-western
Wahl. Little coaxing is needed for Castellari to hold forth on
numerous aspects of the film's production.
A surprising amount
of Keoma turns out to have been improvised
on a day-to-day basis, with Nero and other cast members writing
their own scenes and dialog. Quite proud of the film, the director
is candid about the influence various American movies and filmmakers
had on his own approach. His English is good, if heavily accented,
and I enjoyed "sitting in" on the conversation. (And
yep, even Castellari says had he the chance to re-edit Keoma,
he'd cut out a lot of the singing.) All
in all this is a commendable treatment for a very obscure film.
Anchor Bay gets a razzie from me for Keoma's
packaging, though — the front cover
art is some of the ugliest I've seen in some time. 8/06/01
Blue Underground will be issuing an edition of Keoma
in March 2007, identical to the disc reviewed here (including
the ugly cover art).