Certainly Sergio Leone's collaborative work with star Clint Eastwood - today still one of the top international stars of all-time - keeps the Leone westerns in circulation. While actor Franco Nero was no slouch in the genre - watching his later efforts, one can see his confidence, and desire to have fun with his archetypal characters - his lack of recognition among broader, English language fans has arguably kept much of director Sergio Corbucci's work largely unavailable on DVD.
Nero achieved meteoric stardom in Europe via "Django," also directed and co-written by Corbucci, and began a rather steady wave of flavorful westerns and the occasional Hollywood production, continuing straight into the Seventies. When viewed with jaded contemporary eyes, "Compañeros" is a classic buddy film, yet while that formula has been reduced to action adventures with police or detectives as the leads, Corbucci's western - noted in the DVD's brisk, informative bio notes as his last great work - is an amazingly fresh film; ageless primarily because of the goofy humour between co-stars Nero, and the inimitable Tomas Milian (made up to resemble Che Guevera, right down to the cap).
Neither actor plays a moral, honest, compassionate character; Milian's Vasco is a classic rube with juvenile mannerism deserving reciprocal physical abuse from pretty much anyone, while sandy-haired Nero plays Yodlaf Peterson, a Cheshire-grinning Swede who finds glee even when buried to the neck when threatened with stampeding horses. Outrageous, regularly hysterical, and great action scenes captured in gorgeous widescreen, it's all pushed a little farther by Ennio Morricone's inspired score (and utterly insane theme song).
Interviewed in the featurette, the composer deconstructs his theme to its basic origins, while co-stars Nero and Milian (the latter better known today as the corrupt General Salazar in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"), offer great anecdotes and funny comments on their respective working methods, with fond recollections of director Corbucci. Nero also touches upon the more accurate usage of accents and immigrants for a period of history often portrayed by Hollywood without much ethnic diversity. Does Nero look Swedish? It's a lesser issue when his performance is so funny, much like Jack Palance, who uses a drifting Mexican/Irish brogue when addressing his pet falcon, Marsha.
Originally released separately on July 24th, 2001, “Compañeros” is also available as part of Anchor Bay's “Once Upon A Time In Italy” Collection (Cat. # DV12436).
The boxed set includes “A Bullet For The General,” “Companeros,” “Four Of The Apocalypse,” “Keoma” and “Texas, Adios”. This 5-disc set is housed in a sleeve, each film in a clear slim case, with chapter index and lobby card printed on the inner side, plus attractive tan covers reflecting the set's western theme.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan