The Specialists Review
1969's The Specialists (Gli Specialisti) is an odd film even for the delightfully insolent Spaghetti Western sub-genre. Sergio Corbucci was like Sergio Leone’s unruly cousin, with a penchant for violence and motifs of death and the macabre that made Leone look romantic, however, he pulls most of his punches here. While Leone is a strong influence on Quentin Tarantino, so too is Corbucci, arguably embodying Tarantino’s more grungy aesthetic. It was Corbucci he honoured by naming a film after Django.
While it finds Corbucci almost running on auto-pilot, this little mongrel of a film has still left an indelible mark. The plot is, once more, a play on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, yet it’s interesting that Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter and Unforgiven all feature a similar storyline but with the same sense of foreboding, even supernatural, that haunts The Specialists. You can also draw a line from this film directly to Sam Peckinpah’s seminal and violent The Wild Bunch.
Notorious gunfighter Hud Dixon (Johnny Hallyday) arrives in Blackstone, a town where his brother was wrongfully accused and lynched for robbing a bank. As Hud seeks revenge and the stolen loot, he has to contend with an idealistic sheriff, a beautiful and seductive female banker, a corrupt businessman and a one-armed Mexican bandit. And some hippies.
Tough, scrappy but routine, The Specialists does have its moments of astonishingly staged gun play and Corbucci’s audacious, often harsh editing stands out. It runs out of steam before the protracted end although there is imagery here that you're unlikely to find in any other Western. The superb 4K restoration makes the most of Dario Di Palma’s beautiful photography even if it also betrays a meagre production; nevertheless one that serves the nihilistic story well. French singer and actor Johnny Hallyday is no Clint, but is still suitably impassive, with a deadly stare, and his slight frame and fair complexion puts him at dangerous odds with the stoic Sheriff (Gastone Moschin - Don Fanucci from The Godfather Part II). Françoise Fabian does well with an underwritten and unnecessarily sexualised role. The gang of hippies though, we could all do without.
This underrated film is definitely worth seeing - it’s still a Sergio Corbucci Western - but what really pushes Eureka's prestige release over the line is the feature-length commentary by Alex Cox. Regardless of the subject, Cox is always worth listening to and the Corbucci oeuvre is fertile ground for his own filmmaking style. Also included is an excellent interview with author and Spaghetti Western expert Austin Fisher (Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence & Popular Italian Cinema). So while, perhaps, one of Eureka’s lighter releases, the extra features are well chosen and essential to anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.
This limited release contains an O-card slipcase, 1080p presentation from a new 4K source, restored Italian and French audio and a rare English dub track, and Collector's Booklet (first run of 2000 units) featuring new writing by Westerns authority Howard Hughes.
The Specialists (1969)
Dir: Sergio Corbucci | Cast: Françoise Fabian, Gastone Moschin, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Fennec | Writers: Sabatino Ciuffini (story and screenplay), Sergio Corbucci (story and screenplay)