14 August 2008 | Bunuel1976
THE SPECIALIST (Sergio Corbucci, 1969) ***
Cult film-maker Corbucci's rarest of his thirteen Spaghetti Westerns (of which I'm only left with WHAT AM I DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE REVOLUTION  to catch) is one I only became aware of fairly recently via Marco Giusti's "Stracult" guide; it's an atypically bleak genre gem in the style of the director's own masterpiece, THE GREAT SILENCE (1968), complete with desolate snowy landscapes.
Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis Presley, whom I first saw in Jean-Luc Godard's DETECTIVE (1985) is a curious but highly effective choice to play the loner anti-hero Hud (who, like Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name from Sergio Leone's celebrated "Dollars Trilogy", is fitted with a steel-plate armor for protection); incidentally, I had 'met' Hallyday's stunning daughter Laura Smet at the 2004 Venice Film Festival but was distracted by the presence of her esteemed director, Claude Chabrol! Gastone Moschin is another curious addition to the fold (serving pretty much the same function that Frank Wolff did in THE GREAT SILENCE) but acquits himself well and is amusingly clumsy in the presence of a bathing Francoise Fabian; the latter, then, plays a greedy nymphomaniac of a banker's widow who seduces all and sundry in the pursuit of her goals. Sylvie Fennec has the other major female role as a farm girl looked after by Hallyday and who, at one point, is entreated into Free Love by 'hippie' Apache Gabriella Tavernese (with this is mind, it's worth noting that the movie features surprising but welcome bouts of nudity from both Fabian and Tavernese)! Incidentally, the anachronistic addition of a bunch of long-haired youths (who also engage in dope-smoking and revolutionary talk) is a somewhat half-baked attempt at contemporary relevance but it all eventually adds to the fun (besides, even the black barmaid sports an Afro hairdo!).
Mario Adorf, too, enjoys himself tremendously with the smallish role of a larger-than-life Mexican bandit nicknamed "El Diablo" who keeps a youthful biographer constantly by his side (an element which may have influenced Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN ) and, at one point, challenges the captive Moschin to a head-butting duel! Having mentioned this, the film also contains one very unusual 'weapon of death' as Hallyday disposes of an adversary by kicking the cash-register of the saloon into his face! As always, the enjoyably fake fistfights are accompanied by over-emphatic sound effects; equally typically for the genre, however, the wistful score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino emerges a most significant asset. Actually, the ambiguous ending is entirely in keeping with the film's generally somber tone after Fabian's comeuppance at the hands of the locals, the hippies (who had previously idolized Hud) suddenly turn against him when wounded and terrorize the town (forcing everyone on the street and unclothed)
but the unflappable gunman manages to lift himself up to meet their challenge (they, however, scurry away at the prospect of facing him!) and then rides out of town, leaving Fennec behind.
In conclusion, I acquired this via a good-quality Widescreen print in Italian albeit with French credits and the occasional lapse about one minute of screen-time in all into the French language (where, apparently, the original soundtrack wasn't available).