Shawn Gordon returns for this week’s Six Gun Reviews, looking at Man, Pride & Vengeance (1967) starring Franco Nero, Tina Aumont and Klaus Kinski.
Rarely seen and even more rarely discussed, Man, Pride & Vengeance is significant – if for no other reason – for being a rare spaghetti western to be actually set in Spain, not just filmed there. Tony Anthony’s Get Mean (which I will be reviewing here shortly) and the western homage 800 Bullets (2002) are the only other westerns I am aware of which are actually set in the country. It is a richly told, absorbing and suspenseful movie, a crowning achievement from the height of the genre’s international peek.
The film is virtually never discussed in tomes examining the genre; perhaps this is due to the Spanish setting, which makes it seem not quite like a western. It is certainly not a traditional western, fuelling the belief that the genre must be classified into very narrow terms regarding time and location… yet westerns can be seen to encompass much more, a larger genre more about style and themes than setting and era.
Man, Pride & Vengeance is set in hot, sweaty and beautiful open plains. It features all the other hallmarks of the genre: horses, gunplay, stagecoaches, bandits, hats, etc. Man, Pride & Vengeance also eventually turns to a subplot involving stolen gold, a popular device for the spaghetti movies. It was even advertised in some countries as a sequel to Django under the intriguing title With Django Comes Death. This lack of coverage and discussion – not to mention its absence from U.S. screens for more than forty years – led to the movie languishing in obscurity. This is unfair because it is actually quite good, one of the more interesting movies of the genre, deserving of an appreciative audience who will welcome its wonderful and unique qualities.
Adapted fairly faithfully from Prosper Merimee’s classic novella Carmen – famously adapted as a popular French opera by Georges Bizet – it has been filmed more than a hundred times. This one is set apart by having a western twist.
Euro-western hero Franco Nero stars as Don Jose, a brigadier in the Spanish army recently relocated to Seville. Jose’s troubles begin when an attractive gypsy girl, Carmen (the hauntingly beautiful Tina Aumont), is being escorted to the police station because of a violent confrontation she had with a co-worker. Carmen takes advantage of Jose’s kindness and uses it to her advantage to escape. Busted down in rank but intrigued by the gypsy girl, Jose finds her again and begins a passionate affair with her. Carmen becomes an obsession for him, but she is forthcoming enough to warn Jose that she can “only bring him bad luck”.
Bad luck is what happens as Jose become more aware of Carmen’s job as a prostitute, and finds her with his army superior (Franco Ressel), who he ends up killing in a violent jealous rage. Carmen helps Jose hide from the authorities with her friends, a group of bandits, and Jose joins them in their plans to rob a stagecoach full of gold. They formulate to travel to the new world (America), but things get much more complicated when Carmen’s husband, Garcia (Klaus Kinski), is sprung from prison and joins the gang.
Man, Pride & Vengeance makes for an unusual, atypical viewing experience. More textured and fully realized than most typical Euro-westerns, with its emphasis on fatalism and its doomed protagonists, rarely has high art and low culture been so successfully blended. Everything comes together to create an offbeat, often operatic western full of genre conventions and literary inspirations. Much of this can be attributed to director Luigi Bazzoni, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Suso Cecchi D’Amico. Bazzoni had a limited and sadly sporadic film-making career, which is a terrible shame, a missed opportunity. Bazzoni could have become one of the great Italian genre directors, probably in the same league as Leone or Corbucci. As is, Man, Pride & Vengeance should be enough to convince anybody that he was an under-utilized talent. Having said that, he also left behind better known and wonderful giallo films – for example The Fifth Cord (1971), again starring Nero, reinforces this belief.
Man, Pride & Vengeance flows at a leisurely pace for a Euro-western. The pace serves the movie well, allowing the story to be fully developed as well as the characters. It also allows for Jose’s obsession wth Carmen to be more developed, felt and believed. Man, Pride & Vengeance unfolds much like a classic film noir, a favorite genre just behind the Euro-western for many, with its femme fatales, occasional flashbacks and narratives about decent men destroyed by their obsession, lust and a criminal streak. Man, Pride & Vengeance really utilizes its literary source, making it one of the most fully plotted Euro-westerns.
Django legend Nero leads the impressive cast, and has singled the movie out as his finest performance. He captures Jose in every detail as he goes from a noble – if naïve, clean-shaven – young man to a hardened, broken, scruffy-looking desperado. Alluring American-born French model Aumont embodies Carmen in all her desirability, sexuality and unpredictably wild mood swings. She was a second generation film actress: her mother had starred in a number of Universal horror and adventure films in the 40s and her father was a French leading man. It’s a shame that Aumont didn’t become a bigger star – Man, Pride & Vengeance deserved to be her introduction to greater international fame. Aumont did keep working for the rest of her life, though she died unexpectedly in 2006. She occasionally did films for significant directors (Fellini, Berrtolucci, Sergio Martino), but not often in dominant roles. Also we are treated to a “guest appearance” from the always-interesting Kinski, who brings his usual intensity to a brief ten-minute role, making the most of the small part and nearly stealing the whole show.
The richly textured cinematography by Camillo Bazzoni is engulfing in its splendour and radiance. The director’s brother lushly photographs the beautiful Spanish locations, taking full advantage of not having to disguise the setting as another country for a change. Bazzoni delivers one of the most visually arresting and accomplished Euro-westerns. The highlight of the picture is a nicely photographed, dimly lit knife fight between Nero and Kinski, who actually did the fight themselves quite nearly for real. The scene is violent and intense, showcasing a fine collaboration between the actors and the cinematographer.
I have been surprised to read a lot of negative reviews regarding the movie recently. I suppose in some respects it is not what is expected of a Euro-western… but that is exactly why I am so pleased with the movie and fascinated by it. Man, Pride & Vengeance is a movie that takes you by surprise, not quite being what you expect, yet still manages to be gripping and exciting. It is also gorgeous to behold and captivatingly told. It’s a one-of-a-kind entry in a much-loved and often loathed film movement, combining artistry and sheer entertainment.
MoM Rating: 7.5/10