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  Specialists, The Johnny Got His Gun
Year: 1969
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Stars: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Françoise Fabian, Mario Adorf, Sylvie Fennec, Angela Luce, Serge Marquand, Gino Pernice, Andrés José Cruz Soublette, Gabriella Tavernese, Stefano Cattarossi, Christian Belegue, Renato Pinciroli, Remo De Angelis
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: An outpost in the mountains, and a stagecoach of travellers have had their journey interrupted by a gang of bandits who not only mean to rob them, but humiliate them too. The younger members of the party are thrown into the mud by the criminals, and as the leader walks into the building to see if he can find some alcohol to imbibe, he is raising a barrel to his lips when a stranger walks down the stairs from out of the shadows. This is Hud (Johnny Hallyday) who has his gun drawn and proceeds to force the bandit leader into the dirt himself, with the travellers demanding justice or death for his gang. But Hud is not that way inclined - the nearest town is Blackstone, and they hang folks there...

Not that Hud is averse to killing people, in fact that's what we think he is about to do in this, one of the baker's dozen of Spaghetti Westerns directed by "specialist" (if you will) Sergio Corbucci. He seems to have shown up in this armpit of a town to get back at the townsfolk who lynched his brother, but hits a snag when the Sheriff, Gedeon (Gastone Moschin) makes it clear he has to hand over his weapons as there is a gun ban in this place. If you think that will stop the residents and visitors working out a way around that so they can shoot anyone they think deserves shooting, then you have not seen a lot of Westerns, but it does give rise to some eccentric sequences by and by.

Hallyday dabbled in acting, though of course he was best known as one of France's most beloved singers, the "French Elvis Presley" as he was forever styled, perhaps not entirely convincingly, though he certainly put the work in. Despite not really being a movie star, he did manage to rack up a respectable career in this area, working with Jean-Luc Godard and Johnnie To, for instance, though nobody termed him "noted actor" in his obituaries, not when you've sold millions upon millions of records. He appeared to be named Hud in this film because of his piercing blue eyes, reminiscent of Paul Newman's in Martin Ritt's Hollywood Western likewise named Hud; there the similarities ended.

Well, Technicolor can be very kind to a star, but there the connections to Paul Newman ceased, for his was a non-performance here overall, merely called upon to look good and sporting a stubbly beard not unlike another iconic American, Clint Eastwood. Indeed, there have been some commentators who compared The Specialists to Eastwood's later Western High Plains Drifter, though that was probably because he was using a very Spaghetti Western template to tell his story in that, and if there was one thing the Italian film industry was good at it was imitation for fun and profit. Yet Corbucci's idea for this did not so much stem from other movies, though you imagine he was well-steeped in the world of this genre in the late nineteen-sixties, so knew what succeeded and what did not.

What Corbucci wanted to impart in this, bizarrely, was his hatred of the hippies, making it a post-Manson Family murders movie before those murders had taken place. Most filmmakers were at the very least bemused by this new youth movement of the sixties for the ones in charge were generally older, but a new generation was emerging who were anti-materialist, pro-peace and sexually liberated, or that was the idea. But for Corbucci they were clowns responsible for the end of civilisation, and he was staging a fight back by having a youth icon of an older vintage - Hallyday - mess with their heads and ultimately send them packing, which was apparently more important than, say, getting the brother's stolen money back from Françoise Fabian, playing the corrupt town banker (more oddball casting). Oddities abounded, like Hud's chainmail vest, or Mario Adorf as a literal one-armed bandit, and that finale was truly remarkable, so no matter how reactionary, The Specialists was difficult to wholly dismiss. Music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (Johnny doesn't sing).

Aka: Gli Specialisti

[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

LIMITED EDITION O-CARD SLIPCASE [First Print Run of 2000 units]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from an incredible 4K restoration
Restored Italian and French audio options
Rarely heard English dub track
Optional English subtitles
Feature-length audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox
A brand new and exclusive interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
Trailer
PLUS: A LIMITED EDITION collector's booklet [First Print Run of 2000 units] featuring new writing by western authority Howard Hughes on both the film, and the "French-western" sub-genre.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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