Navajo Joe Review

The Film

For those of us who like spaghetti westerns, there are a number of advantages that they have over their American counterparts. First of all, they represent a European, and possibly more objective eye, on the formation of the United States of America. There is no national chauvinism to overcome in the re-writing of the history, and even if the films remain Euro-centric they are at least decidedly more liberal than the homegrown product. Secondly, they are less predictable. I can't imagine that Hollywood would make anything as downbeat as The Great Silence or as crackers as Django Kill, If You Live Shoot. Finally and most importantly, their heroes are less clean cut, less wholesome and less white, if only sometimes purely in the screenplay.

Sergio Corbucci's Navajo Joe features a very pink Burt Reynolds as an avenging Native American called on to help a town fight back against outlaws. This town, Esperanza, is full of supposedly respectable people who are actually weak, venal racist chinless wonders and they find themselves dependent on the help of a man whom they would normally have paid one dollar for as a corpse. Interestingly, when Joe offers his services to save their hides he values their lives the same - one dollar a head. Joe is protecting the townsfolk from a half-breed whose hatred of his roots made him the natural assassin for Joe's fellow Indians when the town had him on the payroll. Once Duncan, their former henchman, becomes an embarrassment to his former employers he returns as their nemesis.

True to form, Corbucci sets up parallels between Duncan and Joe. They are both possibly of mixed race, their status is undesirable with respect to Esperanza's bourgeoisie, and they both kill for a dollar a head. Reynolds' Joe may be a more temperate man than Duncan but when he savours his revenge he becomes like a beast as he pummels and tries to kill with his bare hands as his bloodlust rises. Corbucci makes neither of these characters true monsters, this status is left for the crooked capitalist and the director shows the pompous weak priest as no use to anyone with his sermonising. In Navajo Joe, the good are whores, servants and social outcasts.

So Western norms are turned on their head, with the Native American the hero and the villain a product of a hateful world of prejudice and corruption. Clearly this is less successful when the hero is in fact played by the poster boy for wholesome American heterosexuality, albeit looking somewhat raw from too long in the desert sun, but Reynolds is physically impressive and allows his character's revenge to take on a rather nasty edge. Solid support comes from Aldo Sambrell as the self loathing Duncan, Fernando Rey as the useless priest, and Nicoletta Machiavelli reddens up to be Joe's love interest.

You will recall parts of the score from its use in the set pieces in Kill Bill as Ennio Morricone delivers another belter for Corbucci which allows the fights and the climax to exceed their purely dramatic elements. The screenplay comes with involvement from Fernando Di Leo and even if the film does not have particularly quotable dialogue there is enough in the way of doppelganger allusions and leftie politics to make things satisfying, if not achieving top notch status. The company the film keeps in the director's career may embarrass it, with Django made the same year and better efforts like The Mercenary, Companeros and The Great Silence appearing in the next two years. Still this is a film which is every bit as flawed and enjoyable as The Hellbenders and as such a good to middling example of this sub-genre.

Navajo Joe is a solid if not distinguished spaghetti western that Reynolds seems to have made by mistake - he allegedly believed Leone would be directing. Some trademark playing with politics, and a lone outsider hero guarantee an entertaining ride.

The Disc

Cut by six seconds to remove supposed animal cruelty, the film comes on a dual layer region two disc with the single extra of a theatrical trailer. The quality on the trailer is somewhat rough with the action cropped and squeezed into full screen from the original Techniscope ratio and the colours are muddy and dark and wear and tear is unavoidable. The trailer is presented as one of the three options on the very simple menu, along with "Play" and "scene select".

The audio track provided here is an English mono dub which is a reasonable quality track given the usual materials offered up for other cult westerns. The track distorts when the music swells and there is an almost metallic tone to some of the dialogue, along with an amount of echo on some of the sound effects. The imperfections don't irritate greatly and the voices are easily discerned and the music presented well enough. Visually, this is a film with a lot of evening scenes and the changes in light were not always well managed by the contrast. Some action is very dark and there is a lack of detail at times even if the sharpness is usually very strong. Contrast looks a little boosted at times, just look at the sky in the above still, and edges around the landscapes are over emphasised. Still this is very acceptable given what has been offered before with previous releases. The film comes in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.


This seems to be a basic port of the R1 release with few extras. Corbucci fans won't be able to help themselves if they don't own the R1 disc and fans of the genre will definitely need to give this a rental.

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