The Specialists [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (19th May 2020).
The Film

The stagecoach to Blackstone is in the middle of being robbed by the gang of one-armed Mexican bandit El Diablo (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's Mario Adorf), who is also having his fun tormenting a quartet of hippies – Rosencrantz (Teorema's Andrés José Cruz Soublette), Kit (Stefano Cattarossi), tomboyish Apache (Gabriella Tavernese), and Buddy (Christian Belegue) – when they are blasted away by "specialist" Hud Dixon (singer Johnny Hallyday). The stage coach passengers are anything but pleased, however, and not just because Hud sets El Diablo's second-in-command Romero (Texas, Adios' Remo De Angelis) free rather than let him be lynched in Blackstone. After all, the residents of Blackstone lynched Hud's brother Charlie when bank manager's widow Virginia Pollicutt (Belle de Jour's Françoise Fabian), upon learning of El Diablo's plans to rob the bank, entrusted the money to Charlie to transport it to Dallas only for all of it to go missing. The town bigwigs – including Judge Ham (Totò Story's Mario Castellani) and lawyer Mac Lane (Riccardo Domenici, the film's production designer) – are worried about Hud seeking revenge on them, especially since Sheriff Gideon (The Conformist's Gastone Moschin) has outlawed all weapons in the town limits. Although the sheriff feels that Hud's retribution is justified, he plans to uphold the law and disarm Hud as soon as he arrives in town. Hud's first stop, however, is at Charlie's farm which he discovers has been bought up by brutish Boot (Blood and Roses' Serge Marquand) whose daughter Sheba (Goodbye, Emmanuelle's Sylvie Fennec) may be the only person in town Hud can trust. Hud learns from local prostitute Valencia (Dirty Love's Angela Luce) that everyone in town believes that he knows the whereabouts of the stolen money; and they are not the only ones since El Diablo summons him for a meeting, and the hippie quartet, their hero-worshipping of Hud rebuffed, who have made a proposition to the sheriff to steal the money out from under Hud as soon as he finds it. When the sheriff accompanies Hud to his meeting with El Diablo and does not return, Virginia convinces the other town leaders to promote professional gambler Cabot (Lulu the Tool's Gino Pernice) to sheriff in order to hasten for Hud a fate similar to his brother once the money is recovered.

Italian spaghetti westerns as co-productions between Germany, Spain, and France are not at all unusual, but there exists a pair of French co-produced ones that feel more Gallic: one being Cemetery Without Crosses (written, directed, and starring Rififi's Robert Hossein an co-starring Black Sabbath's Michèle Mercier), and the other being The Specialists. Although helmed by Sergio Corbucci of the influential westerns Django, The Great Silence, and The Hellbenders, and entertaining turns by co-stars Moschin, Fabian, and Adorf, the presences of (more so than the performances) the striking Hallyday and the willowy Fennec are not quite charismatic or compelling enough to make novel this shuffling of familiar spaghetti western tropes and plot points. Moschin and Fabian have good moments, and the photography of Dario Di Palma (Death Laid an Egg) is handsome, but the scoring of Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (War of the Planets) often undercuts the drama as if even the filmmakers were not entirely sure whether they were doing a serious western or satirizing one. The hippies are an interesting touch, particularly with Corbucci's seemingly middle-aged take on them as less idealistic and more opportunistic, simply rebelling against authority (even Hud when he is wounded) and easily slapped down with violence; on the other hand, if any character is truly emblematic of the era of production's ideals, it is Hud himself. As if they had seen other spaghetti westerns, the guilty parties assume that he has come after them for revenge – when he actually does kill his brother's murderer, it is without knowledge of the man's guilt as he acts in self-defense – and those cozying up to him think that he is after the money when all he really desires is the truth about his brother's death and the identity of his killer. The only person who seems to understand this is the cemetery's gravedigger (L'Avventura's Renato Pinciroli) who claims to have pieced Charlie back together after he was left to buzzards and put him to rest in a coffin he designed for himself (for which Hud pays him despite his protests). As with a number of films in the genre, there is a riddle to finding the location of the stolen gold – this one seemingly vaguely inspired by Poe's "The Gold Bug" or, more likely, Mario Bava's Roy Colt and Winchester Jack – but what Hud does with the loot once it is found strikes out at all of the venal characters, be they the hypocritical township or the hippies who should be cheering him on (instead, the only people who do take pleasure in this anarchic act are the minorities who are the only ones seen laboring); by contrast, the final indignity visited upon the townspeople seems less an extension of that than a bookending to the humiliation of the hippies in the opening sequence (cementing Corbucci's depiction of their nature). The film was little seen outside of its co-production countries, with an English dub not appearing until 1973 and disappearing shortly after. Although jobbing director Corbucci reportedly hated the genre, the most exported titles in the latter twenty years of his career were mainly westerns: The Mercenary, Companeros, and Shoot First... Ask Questions Later.
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Video

Unreleased in the United States and not released in the U.K. until 1973 in a cut down English-dubbed version titled Drop Them or I'll Shoot!, The Specialists was all but impossible to see in English due to the rarity of the dubbed version while the first DVD releases – including a non-anamorphic Japanese boxed set with the English-friendly The Bounty Killer, Run Man Run, and Vengeance Trail – offered only the French and Italian audio tracks, while the German and French DVDs were also not English-friendly. Surprisingly, the film was the recipient of a 4K restoration in 2018 that premiered on 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray in France. The 4K restoration got its English-friendly premiere stateside from Kino Lorber earlier this year. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray utilizes the same master, and the results are spectacular. Colors pop in the set dressing while the rustic browns, grays, and greens of the terrain also reveal nice textures and depth.
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Audio

Audio options include the French and Italian dubs in LPCM 2.0 mono, and it is a toss-up over which is the more "authentic" dub. Presumably based on the film's reception in co-production countries Italy and France, an export version was not prepared at the time, so the English dub track seems to have been prepared specifically for the later U.K. release. Not all of the track survives, and the materials for it also suffered from damaged passages, so the English LPCM 2.0 mono "partial dub" track reverts to French for damaged portions and cut scenes. The running time for the shorter English version is unknown, but Tony Rayns' Monthly Film Bulletin review stated a running time of ninety minutes (the German version runs eighty-four minutes, although that is not necessarily the same since it was a German co-production and some German versions of spaghetti westerns sometimes either delete footage or include scenes shot during production specifically to cater to German audiences). English subtitles are included for the Italian track, the French track, and the French portions of English track. The two subtitle translations reveal some interesting differences in the dubbing. On the English track, Hud calls the sheriff a fool, an asshole on the Italian track, and a cunt on the French track. The French and Italian tracks also change the last line of El Diablo, putting a different spin on his character on each.
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Extras

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray included only an audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, and that is ported over here, with Cox revealing that Corbucci was quoted as saying he wrote the film out his dislike for hippies and their "disinterested passivity," drugs, decadence, and violence (pre-Manson) – he apparently also stated that he hated Easy Rider; although, Cox also points out that Corbucci was very much a leftwing filmmaker, but his feelings about hippies may have also colored his interactions with Hallyday whose character he minimized in favor of Moschin's sheriff. In contextualizing the film within Corbucci's western oeuvre, he does indeed classify it as a lesser work with "moments," pointing out its indebtedness to other westerns – including his own The Great Silence – as well as its weaknesses from Lavagnino's "Mediterranean party music" to the unnecessary scene between the hippies and the sheriff. He does note some of the differences in dialogue between the French and Italian versions and also suggests that the title for the British version was derived from the finale. Exclusive to the Eureka Blu-ray is “Austin Fisher on The Specialists (18:48), in which the author of "Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema" notes that the film ranked seventeenth in the thirty westerns released in Italy in 1969, and that the various criticisms by reviewers about it – including those of Tony Rayns and others in the British press in 1973, suggested that the overfamiliar tropes and Corbucci's "going through the motions," were indicative that the genre was on its last legs. Fisher, on the other hand, argues that the recycling of tropes and self-referential (in a non-postmodern sense) touches were actually a money-making business model of "repetition with incremental innovation" designed to maximally exploit a genre trend before it lost popularity with audiences. The original English dubbing script is present on the disc in slideshow fashion as well as a BD-ROM .pdf file, but those interested in the English version or just English dubbing of Italian films in general would be best served downloading .pdf's directly from Eureka's product page for the disc. Also included is the film's French theatrical trailer (3:21) and Italian theatrical trailer (3:34).
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Packaging

Packed with the limited edition first pressing are an O-card slipcase and a 31-page collector's booklet featuring a pair of essays by Howard Hughes. In "Western Excess: Sergio Corbucci and The Specialists," he posits that the film is the third of a "Mud and Blood" trilogy for Corbucci in the way it replays certain elements from both Django and The Great Silence while being original in other aspects, discusses Hallyday's casting in the context of Hollywood casting rock stars in western roles, the excess of the film's violence, differences in the soundtrack between the French and Italian versions, and how the film was changed for target audiences in different markets which notes that the British version ran ninety-two minutes but that aforementioned damaged source for the English track may have been the rare Greek VHS which ran only seventy minutes. In "Baguetti Westerns: Cowboys dans le Far-west," Hughes notes that the very first filmic examples of the genre during the silent era were British and French, that the American westerns were popular in France while home-grown examples tended to be musicals or spoofs. The French were mainly present in a co-production status in the Italian and German (noting Pierre Brice's role in the Winnetou series of Karl May westerns) and Jean-Louis Trintignant starring in Corbucci's The Great Silence; however, he does include The Specialists and Cemetery Without Crosses in a subset he refers to as "continental westerns" which also includes Terence Young's French/Italian/Spanish Red Sun, Jean-Luc Godard's experimental pseudo-western Wind from the East, Marco Ferreri's satirical Don't Touch the White Woman, and a few other examples.
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Overall

Whether spaghetti western fans are of the opinion that The Specialists measures up to Sergio Corbucci's other better-known westerns or not, Eureka's Blu-ray certainly treats it like one of the top tier examples of the genre.

 


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