Corbucci. I see both the case for and the case against Corbucci. You could describe him fairly accurately as simply as a Leone imitator, the details are below but the ways in which he borrows Leone be far beyond working with Morricone and in the western (or spaghetti western sub) genre. When Corbucci would move away from the zooms, Morricone and the genre he wouldn’t amount to much. I’ve seen a decent amount of his 60+ films he directed and the ones outside of the 1966-1970 stretch are mostly really bad. However, the flip side of the coin that is to look at just how strong Corbucci’s work was during that important stretch. The spaghetti western isn’t the French New Wave and there’s no Godard/Truffaut dueling godfather figures here with Corbucci up there with Leone. This isn’t the Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles. I’d argue it is closer to the Beatles (Leone) and the Monkees (Corbucci). Still– Django, The Great Silence, Navajo Joe and the others are all extremely accomplished and examples of undeniable filmmaking talent.
Best film: Django
- Corbucci’s Django ends with one of the best frames of the year- a jaw-dropper- that shot alone takes the film a rung higher
- Starts with the title song sung by Rocky Roberts which would be reused by Tarantino 36 years later- superb
- Franco Nero’s titular character (hero? antihero?) dragging that coffin behind him- great imagery—a massive zoom by Corbucci (certainly his preferred stylistic choice) to introduce him
- Nero’s performance (tight-lipped, blue eyes) and casting certainly owes it all to Leone and Eastwood. The premise itself (technically from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo) is essentially A Fistful of Dollars (preceding this by two years)—two rival gangs, Nero playing them in the middle. I hesitate to call it a meditation but it nihilistic, sadism
- A great shot at the 10 minute mark through a fence of main street of the muddy town
- Another great shot of an open window framing the two women at 19 minutes- Corbucci isn’t going to be mistaken for Antonioni but strong stuff here
- A few impressive instances of William Wyler-like depth of field—a shot of the saloon owner/bartender in the foreground and Django in the background at 23 minutes
- Again- heavy zooms- Corbucci’s tool
- The racist southerners clad in red – like the Klan
- Tarantino again—the cutting off of an ear
- As strong as the title song is—and it’s awesome—this film misses Morricone
- A holy f*ck last shot– what a mise-en-scene design. An amazing frame that’s held for 60 seconds
total archiveable films: 6
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 0
most overrated: Corbucci doesn’t have a single film in the TSPDT consensus top 2000 actually so there is absolutely nothing in this category.
most underrated : There are plenty of options—by the letter of the law I’d go with Django, Great Silence isn’t far behind but I’m mentioning both as either best film or gem below so I’ll single out Navajo Joe here. Not only is it not on the TSPDT top 2000 (shared with Django and The Great Silence) but it has two reviews on RT and it’s split 50/50- one lukewarm and one negative.
- A prolific period for Corbucci – this is one of the four films he made in 1966—they almost all borrow from Sergio Leone’s superior films and feature music from Ennio Morricone
- You have to get past Burt Reynolds as a Native American and the title character. The film does not have a great critical reputation and the critics are wrong here. It was panned upon release, also working against it is Reynolds who for decades would make fun of this movie (making fun of the wig, claiming he signed up thinking he was working with Leone saying Corbucci is “the wrong Sergio”— Corbucci claims he thought he was getting Marlon Brando). Sorry Burt- this is an excellent film and the only ones you made better than this were Boogie Nights and Deliverance
- Reynolds clearly chased Eastwood his entire career. Tried to direct, followed him from TV to spaghetti western here, box office champion and extremely popular in the south and rural America
- Revenge narrative and disruption of the Native American Eden in the opening as the film’s villain scalps a beautiful innocent woman
- Reynolds is actually very good in the performance as well. It’s mostly a physical performance and his athletic background (a college football stud at FSU until a knee injury) pays off. He probably has less than 100 words of dialogue and doesn’t speak at all for the first 18 minutes
- Corbucci is not Leone—not the perfectionist Leone is—Corbucci made four films in 1966 and Leone made seven his entire career.
- Tarantino loves this movie of course- uses the score in Kill Bill, uses the narrative arc as inspiration for much of Leo’s Rick Dalton character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—score one for Tarantino over the critics here. He’s right, they are wrong
- Gorgeous shot at 25 minutes – long shot of Reynolds on horseback on a hill with the sun in the background
- The score is simply one of Morricone’s best which has to put it with one of the best of all-time. I can’t picture this movie without it. Morricone is billed as Leo Nichols for some reason- not sure why—and if you’ve seen Alexander Payne’s Election (great use of it there) or Kill Bill as I mentioned you’ll recognize it. Masterful.
- The valley as a natural set piece- looks like Shane
- Strange to see Fernando Rey as a good guy straight priest after Bunuel’s Viridiana
- It is not a great script- but the “which one of us is American” speech by Reynolds’ titular character is sharp—poignant—“where was your father born?”
- In production named “a dollar a head” (again almost everything steals a little from Leone for Corbucci)—that’s in the text- as is “dollar a scalp”
- Zoom camera movements – strong style choice consistent with the era and Corbucci’s choice as a go-to aesthetic
- The staging of the five bad guys in the shootout finale is strong—shootout among the rocks like Mann’s Winchester 73
- At 90 minutes a shot through the wheel spoke – horse approaching
gem I want to spotlight : The Great Silence
- Corbucci’s most serious film, a brilliant revisionist western starring two titans of European cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski, just because they became household names
- A devastating Morricone score as well- perhaps not as catchy as some of his other works—but more nuanced and layered- quite beautiful
- Corbucci’s trademark zooms throughout
- Both actors play it pretty close to the vest actually- which is Trintignant’s trademark style (and he’s one of the best ever at it) but it’s rare to see Kinski not go bananas (who was no stranger to Spaghetti westerns- he was in For a Few Dollars More with Leone a few years before)
- Corbucci had an impressive run here- (this is his fifth archiveable film from1966-1968) but it is impossible to talk about him without talking about the superior Leone. He’s using Morricone, names like “Loco” for Kinski’s bounty hunter villain. And Trintignant’s name is “Silence”- like Bronson’s “Harmonica” in Once Upon a Time in the West– Trintignant never speaks (and it’s still a great performance).
- Breathtaking shot of the foggy with snow-filled backdrop- almost a whiteout – Kinski on horseback at 19 minutes.
- Corbucci revels in the long shot here, the mountain ranges to Morricone’s score
- Largely humorless, the least pastiche of Corbucci’s films— the Trintignant scene where he makes love to the widow wouldn’t work at all in his other films and it’s quite poignant here
- The dedication to snow as the backdrop is inspired- apparently much of it is shaving cream—it is pervading- a part of the film for sure—makes it unique in the western canon (McCabe from Altman for sure a few years after—and both using heavy camera zooms)—another one is Tarantino’s Hateful Eight which owes much to this film (Tarantino in general owes much to the spaghetti western and Corbucci). Like Corbucci’s film this snow-laden film about the carrying philosophies of bounty hunters and law men, new sheriffs, stagecoach rides, and Morricone scores
- Duality in two leads- both men paid $1000 for a kill, one to kill a criminal for a bounty, one to kill the bounty hunter for revenge – I’m not going to say this has the moral weight of like an Unforgiven but the weight of the leads and equality among them remind me Hackman and Eastwood
- A great edit match to a flame at 44 minutes—which leads to a flashback to a horrific past (and the reason Trintignant is silent)—a flame out again to end the flashback – well done
- They’re both awesome- but at 5’7 and 5’8 Trintignant and Kinski aren’t exactly John Wayne and Lee Marvin (I think Alan Ladd and Jack Palance in Shane were even smaller so whatever- haha).
- An absolute jaw-dropper at 97 minutes- reminds me of the Ikiru shot at the playground through the play structure- here it’s a wood structure- but a perfect frame of a designed mise-en-scene
- Slow-motion shootout
- The ending is grim, dog eat dog nihilism—slaughtering, masochistic
- Heavy use of camera zooms as his main stylistic visual tool
- Certainly copies Leone- a silent character who plays an instrument, a blonde largely silent antihero like Eastwood (in Nero for Corbucci), the rodeo arena finale with a three-pronged standoff just like The Good The Bad and the Ugly in The Mercenary), nihilism, greed, Morricone—worked in the western
- Politics (revolution a heavy theme- and we’re in the mid to late 1960’s here) vs. commerce and greed
- Multiple praise-worthy frames (like that final one in Django) that are on the level of the best of Leone—von Sternberg/Murnau frames
- Corbucci is not Leone—not the perfectionist Leone is—Corbucci made four films in 1966 and Leone made seven his entire career.
- 5 out of 6 archiveable films have scores by Morricone- he’s not propped up by them though as Django (arguably his finest film) isn’t by the great maestro
- Haha I love that in many of his films there’s a bad guy eating chicken with his hands here
- Nero often as his lead but he’d use international talent from Palance, to Joseph Cotten, to Kinski, to Burt Reynolds- the dubbing allowed him to work with whoever he wanted
- sadistic villains, good humor, bad dubbing
- self-referential- after the success of Django his plots would often include coffins
- Wyler’s depth of field work is mentioned a few times, Antonioni in places
- The Great Silence
- Navajo Joe
- The Hellbenders
- The Mercenary
By year and grades
|1966- Navajo Joe||R/HR|
|1967- The Hellbenders||R|
|1968- The Great Silence||HR|
|1968- The Mercenary||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
@Drake, Hey, I’ve been loving this director series of yours. Since you’re close to #200, I noticed the absence of a few notable directors that I’ve heard some great things about and have seen a couple films from. I was just curious if that’s because you haven’t seen many of their films or just simply don’t think they’re very good directors. The ones I’m thinking about are people such as Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Ken Russell, and Masaki Kobayashi. I always seem to come to this site when I’m looking for a new director to dive into and was wondering if you’d recommend any of them. Thanks and keep up the great work!
@Thomas Locke– thanks for the comment and the praise on the site. It’s mostly the lack of availability. I’ve seen a few films of each but not exhaustive.
I’m closing in on both Chabrol and Kobayashi on my list and they’ll land between 200-215 or so. Russell will come before I finish (i think i’m stopping at 250) and Rivette I’m not sure- I’ve had a hard time over the years putting my hands on Rivette’s films (including Celine and Julie Go Boating) but a few just came available on Criterion so I’ve circled that as a study coming up later this year.
You think very high of these four? Or what makes you ask about them? For whatever its worth only Rivette lands in the TSPDT top 250 directors list (and in the top 100 actually).
@Drake-Well, I haven’t actually seen any films from them as of yet so I can’t give my own opinion on them. I’ve just been looking for some new directors to get into recently and I’ve heard many great things about them, specifically Harakiri from Kobayashi and The Devils and Women in Love from Russell are highly praised and was just curious why such highly regarded directors were so low on your list. Maybe they’re not as great as I hear, was just curious. Oh, and if you’re looking for Rivette’s films, there’s a few (including Celine and Julie go Boating) on the criterion channel if you have that. That’s how I’m gonna watch them.
@Thomas Locke- Oh gotcha. Yeah as I said I actually think I’ll have Kobayashi ahead of the consensus ranking and right in line (or close) withKen Russell and Chabrol.
Yep- I have the criterion channel and have some of Rivette’s films circled– very excited to get to them.
Awesome lecture from Tarantino: