NAVAJO JOE
Italy - Spain | 1966
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Starring
Burt Reynolds
Aldo Sambrell
Nicoletta Machiavelli
Color
| 93 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
Music from the film
Main Theme
MP3 format - 7.0 MB
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
 
6
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
The Burt Reynolds Spaghetti Western Experience!
   
A little-known American TV actor when he starred in this film, Burt Reynolds subsequently disavowed Navajo Joe as his all-time worst movie. Now I don't know exactly when he's supposed to have made that statement, but surely he couldn't have been serious. Aside from Boogie Nights (1997) this Sergio Corbucci Euro-western is more entertaining than virtually anything Reynolds has done in the last 30 years. As a relentless killing machine on a righteous mission of vengeance, he displays all the right action hero moves.
    Paid a dollar a scalp, the vicious raiders of the Duncan Gang earn their scratch slaughtering Indians for the upstanding citizens of the territory. Problem is, local tribes have finally submitted to white rule and the troubles are now over. Suddenly the cutthroats aren't only out of a job, they're also charged with murder for their latest unauthorized rampage. Their leader, sadistic misanthrope Mervyn Duncan (Aldo Sambrell, Satan's Baby Doll), guns down a sheriff who tries to arrest him, then orders the entire town pillaged and destroyed. Adding to Duncan's frustrations, a mysterious Indian (Reynolds) is methodically stalking the gang and bumping members off a couple at a time.
    Amidst these woes Duncan is unexpectedly offered a deal to strike it rich. An old prison buddy (Pierre Cressoy), now living as a doctor under an assumed name, contacts him with a proposition to split $500,000 in cash. The money will be arriving by train the next day in the town of Esperanza. A prominent citizen of Esperanza, the doctor who's also the son-in-law of the town's banker knows the combination to the train's safe. All Duncan and his boys have to do is capture the train before it arrives and eliminate all the passengers. This they do with bloodthirsty zeal. However, while waiting for the doctor to show up and open the safe, the mystery Indian stealthily kills the guards and takes off in the train, money still onboard.
    The citizens of Esperanza are surprised when the Indian shows up with their cash and tells them of the massacre. Joe, as he calls himself, warns that the Duncan Gang will soon come to town looking for the money and they won't be very happy about it. He offers to wipe out the whole gang for a dollar a head plus the bounty on Duncan. At first dismissive, the meek and defenseless residents agree to the deal once it's learned that the telegraph line's been cut. The odds against Joe would seem grim. He's outnumbered 30 to 1. Other than a "half-breed" servant girl (sultry Nicoletta Machiavelli) he has few real allies in town, and at least one concealed enemy, the traitorous doctor...
    Navajo Joe certainly has its share of flaws. Chiefly, the story and characters are woefully thin. People do really dumb things in this film. None of the townspeople get the bright idea to simply leave before the gang shows up. Duncan makes an idiotic move when, after discovering the leverage he needs to force Joe to surrender, he then inexplicably foregoes that leverage when it comes to making Joe reveal where the money's been hidden. (Our villain prefers to have him tortured, even though it's obvious that the stoic warrior would rather die than talk.) Of course, it practically goes without saying that neither Reynolds or Machiavelli look much like real Indians. It's not just the "I am Kirok!" buckskin attire, either. Coated with skin bronzer, Reynolds sports a shaggy Beatles wig that could've been plucked from the Japanese "Frankenstein" of Frankenstein Conquers the World.
    Yet the movie works regardless. Action is plentiful and fast-paced; within the first five minutes we're shown the reason for Joe's vendetta (later fully explained with a single line of dialog), get through the opening credits and see two of Duncan's goons slain with brutal efficiency. Reynolds may not be all that convincing as a Navajo brave but he is believable as a guy who can kick ass and take names. In his athletic prime, he performs most of his own stunts in this picture (even potentially dangerous ones), which goes a long way in selling the character and, indeed, the entire film. Equally important is his nemesis. Sambrell may just be playing a generic psychopath with a six-gun, but he does it very well.
    This was director Sergio Corbucci's third spaghetti western. From a technical standpoint it's a bit more rough around the edges than his later, more famous works in the genre (Django, The Great Silence and Compañeros, which obviously benefited from higher budgets), but his facility for interesting widescreen compositions and masterful use of strikingly rugged Spanish locales is evident throughout. Corbucci isn't concerned with existential questions or political themes here; Navajo Joe is strictly an action-fueled revenge drama, and as such delivers the goods. The film isn't particularly bloody there's a little PG-level gore near the end but is nonetheless extremely violent, with a very high body count. Duncan and his gang gleefully terrorize and kill innocent people purely for sport, so the merciless punishment Joe dishes out is richly deserved.
    I'd be remiss not to mention the score of maestro composer Ennio Morricone (billed as "Leo Nichols"), whose main theme memorably blends Native American-style chanting with his more familiar spaghetti western sound. It works nicely for the film, even if it is hammered into the dirt from overuse.

Another bare-bones MGM disc that doesn't even offer a trailer — optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish are the extent of the "extras". Its anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer looks marvelous, however, taken from a pristine, virtually unblemished source. The mono audio track isn't particularly strong but is at least clean, free of any hiss, pops, distortion or drop-outs. 8/29/08
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