Cemetery Without Crosses Review
Even if, as mentioned several times in the bonuses of this disc, Cemetery Without Crosses (original title: Une corde, Un Colt... ) is not really the first French Western (this would more likely be Joë Hamman’s Cow-boy in 1906), it is definitively the First French Italian Western and a very interesting take on a genre which by 1969, the year the movie was released, had already reached its limits (the first comedy/parody Italian Western, Enzo Barboni’s They call me Trinity, which would spell the end of the genre, would be released a year later).
After her husband is lynched by bandits, Maria (Michèle Mercier, Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath) seeks revenge and turns to her old friend Manuel (Robert Hossein, Rififi), a solitary figure who lives in a ghost town and is haunted by the phantoms of the past, for help.
Shot just after his last collaboration with Michèle Mercier on the final chapter of the Angélique series of movies, Angelique and the Sultan (by far not the best instalment in this wonderfully adventure/romantic series but nonetheless a satisfying conclusion), the movie was thought by Robert Hossein has a French take on a genre which allowed directors to create Shakespearian tragedies while injecting their own thematic and preoccupations, while paying homage to the father of the genre, and one of his friends, Sergio Leone.
It is easy to see the commercial interest such a movie could have had in the eyes of the director and his producers. His cinematic couple with Michèle Mercier was still extremely popular in Europe and having them reunited again for the first incursion of French cinema in one of the most popular genres of the 60s would certainly have represented a way to make an easy success. However, despite some minor elements which would tend to consider the movie as an opportunistic undertaking, Cemetery Without Crosses is perfectly in line with the body of work of a director still not really recognised at its fair value.
The great strength of the Italian Western genre, and what make a lot of its interest for cinema lovers today, has always been to give the opportunity to directors to create variations to the initial canvas created by Sergio Leone by injecting the genre with their own orientations and sensibilities (bleak atmosphere and snowy settings in Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence, political themes in Sergio Sollima’s Face-to-Face, comedy in Enzo Barboni’s They call me Trinity to cite only famous ones). Robert Hossein’s movie perfectly embraces this idea by enhancing the genre with strong noir elements showcased in his previous directorial efforts of the 50s and the 60s such as the wonderfully atmospheric Night Is Not for Sleep.
Despite several obvious nods to Sergio Leone’s movies, which at the time of the post credit message become quite embarrassing, Robert Hossein brings to the genre a funeral aura which surrounds the movie and explodes in beautifully shot and choreographed scenes in the ghost town (most noticeably the rape scene and the final shootout). In these instants, Cemetery Without Crosses even reaches a tragic dimension to become the doomed tale suggested by the Black & White opening and closing sequences.
There is also an evident will from the director to do something different with a threadbare material. As such, there are many key “Italian Western moments” in the movie which are treated in a different manner by Robert Hossein; for example, there are no superfluous explanations or unnecessary flashbacks about Manuel’s past and his relationship with Maria, just a picture with her and her husband Ben to convey the depth of the relationship between them. Similarly, some scenes which are not usually given a lot of importance in Italian Western are treated here with lyrical emphasis; for instance, the scene between Manuel and Maria in the ghost town is filmed like a sentimental duel where all emotions are expressed by eyes and posture.
Cemetery Without Crosses also benefits from a great cast of French and Italian “faces” familiar to the genre (Guido Lollobrigida) or not (Serge Marquand more familiar to audiences for his roles in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella) led by the director and his Angélique co-star. In an archetypal role, which could have easily fall into caricature (a quasi silent ex-pistolero who puts on a black leather glove every time he is about to kill...), Robert Hossein manages to bring a palpable feeling of sadness and despair, and Michèle Mercier magnetically reigns as the tragic figure who looms over the doomed destiny of the characters around her.
In short, a worthwhile movie for Italian Western lovers and a great discovery for viewers interested by the directorial work of Robert Hossein.
Arrow Academy released Cemetery Without Crosses’s combi Blu-ray and DVD discs on 20th July.
The Blu-ray disc features a brand new 2K restoration of the film from original film elements. The disc is presented in a high Definition 1080p transfer which, despite allowing to see the movie in good conditions, is not exempt of defaults. This is quite notable on several outside scenes at the beginning of the movie which present numerous scratches and defaults such as yellow stains. Overall, I would say that this does not have a detrimental effect on the viewing experience (it still allows to appreciate the nice cinematography of Henri Persin, who also worked on the Angélique series of movies with Robert Hossein and Michèle Mercier) but do not expect the kind of rendering achieved by Arrow Video on other Italian titles of the same time such as Milano Calibro 9.
On the sound side, Arrow Video has included the Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed 1.0 PCM). The tracks are both very clear and enhance the viewing experience. I am personally very disappointed that Arrow Video has not managed to include in this release the original French version which features the voices of the French actors. This is definitely more an issue for francophone viewers familiar with Robert Hossein’s very particular and recognisable voice but even for non francophone viewers, I think it diminishes the impact of Manuel’s scarse but important dialogues.
As usual, Arrow Video has also included the possibility to view the versions with newly translated English or English for the deaf and hard of hearing subtitles.
The bonus section is scarce but relevant and allows Robert Hossein to express himself about his movie.
Remembering Sergio (6 min)
In this short brand new interview, Robert Hossein briefly explains how he came to make the movie and what he wanted to achieve with it. He also mentions his relationship with his friend Sergio Leone and his involvement in the movie.
Location Report(8 min)
This extract of the French television program Cinéma features interviews with actor and director Robert Hossein (focusing a lot on the French take on the Western genre) and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand (who plays Larry Rogers in the movie). It also gives the opportunity to see great behind the scene footage of the movie.
Archive Interview with Robert Hossein(3 min)
In this short archival interview for the French television program Côte d'Azur Actualités, Robbert Hossein talks about the movie after the end of the shooting.
The remaining bonus is the Italian trailer of the movie.
Arrow Video's disc also includes a fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Ginette Vincendeau and Rob Young.
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