Johnny Hamlet (1968)

PG   |    |  Drama, Western


Johnny Hamlet (1968) Poster

Back from the Civil War, Johnny Hamilton learns that his father was murdered by Santana the bandit and that his mother Gertrude married his uncle Claude but Johnny is determined to find out the truth.


6.7/10
486

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6 March 2011 | Perception_de_Ambiguity
8
| That Dirty Shakespeare Story Set in the West
The first 30 minutes of 'Johnny Hamlet' might be the most inspired in all of Spaghetti Western. The movie opens with a misty nightmare scene that immediately let's you feel the mindset of the war-struck antihero. He awakens by an actor reciting Shakespeare with the chosen text being very appropriate for Johnny's situation. After that we get a scene of Johnny finding his father's grave which is on a cemetery in a cave. The scene has a surreal feel to it and impresses with its moving camera. Then he comes home to his mother after having been away fighting in war for two years to find her having a jolly hot time with his uncle, Johnny's father's brother. Johnny is understandably flabbergasted learning that his father got killed and finding his mom living together with his uncle all on the same day. After that Johnny meets his old flame who got married while he was away. When asking her what she knows about the killing of his father she refuses to talk, out of fear apparently. That's when two guy shows up advising Johnny not to ask so many questions and a fistfight ensues. Johnny is saved by an old friend (and a good friend of his father's) who's a tough guy and enjoys this kind of thing.

And that's how this thing starts. Yes, it's an adaption of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'. Not only is this revenge story like made for a Spaghetti Western but the film doesn't even struggle with the complex source material. The directing is inspired and clever (in those first 30 minutes I was especially impressed by the prevailing theme of melancholy) but beyond anything else it is well-written. Instead of feeling constructed the plot development feels remarkably natural with the individual characters simply following their own interests. Nevertheless this is a Spaghetti Western through and through with everything we've come to expect from films of this subgenre, including shootouts and a fine score. A bit of Spaghetti Western routine sets in after the magnificent beginning and while the action is merely competent the film thanks to its writing nevertheless manages to stay interesting until the showdown.

It's an extremely well-working mix of low-brow and high-brow cinema, if you will, with elements that fans of only low-brow cinema would call "artsy". 'Johnny Hamlet' is not only a new Spaghetti Western favorite but even an unexpected Shakespeare adaption favorite. If you are a fan of both of those "genres" I reckon this is a must-see.

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