Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cemetery Without Crosses (Une Corde, Un Colt)

Westerns are in an odd place these days. The culture of the Western is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that everyone is familiar with some, if not all, of the classic clichés and norms of the Western film. Goodies wear white hats, baddies wear black. They smoke. They shoot. They drink whisky. They fight in bars. They barge through saloon doors, chase each other on horses across the desert, dash over the border to Mexico when the heat's on, have quick-draw shoot-outs at high noon, etc, etc.

Part of the reason for this collective knowledge is that Western films were simply MASSIVE once uipon a time. A well-established genre on both sides of the Atlantic, Western films were big business whilst (for the European Spaghetti Westerns at least) being dirt cheap to produce.

So why, years later do we remember the clichés but forget the films? Why do we remember only Clint Eastwood as THE Western star, Segio Leone as THE director and Ennio Morricone as THE composer?

THe simple, obvious and so most likely true (thanks Occam's razor...) answer to these questions is that, despite the enormous number of Wesrern films they were mostly pretty damn similar, forcing us to rememember the key clichés but being otherwise mostly forgettable. Eastwood, Leone and Morricone just happened to be the best...

Of course, this doesn't mean we should forget the rest. There are some excellent Westerns available and Cemetery Without Crosses is one of the best. And guess what? Neither Eastwood nor Morricone are anywhere to be seen!

Leone however, does stamp his presence here; the film is very much a tribute to his style (which is no bad thing!) and he even guest directed what is possibly the best and most tense scene of the movie, the meal at the Rogers family ranch.

THe story, then, is interesting and tense, albeit very predictably Spaghetti-Western-y. Despite Manuel's (Robert Hossein) rebuttal of "You believe in revenge. I don't. It never ends", this is a story of revenge and, equally predictably, it all ends in tears.

The Rogers have killed one of the Caines and, though the brother Caines are preparing to flee with their cash, the freshly-widowed Mrs.Caine is spitting blood and demmands revenge. Cue involvement of old flame Manuel and a whole lot of people getting shot.

Sexual tension in the Leone-directed dining scene...

So no great innovation in terms of plot, but sometimes its executgion rather than originality that's important. What is noticeable is an unusually positive role for women. Western's female characters tended to be demure and pathetic or prostitutes; here we are thankfully given some strong women who manage to assert themselves. Even without taking off their clothes! Something of a rarity for cheap films of the era...

Cemetery Without Crosses is beautifully shot - full of lots of long static camera angles - and keeps tension high throughout, with sparse dialogue and long silences that threaten to bore at times but mostly thrill. The soundtrack doesn't suffer either, director and star Rob Hossein's father André providing some suitably stompy, whistle-y tunes that fit the picture perfectly.

In all, Cemetery Without Crosses is an exciting, well-written and well-directed Spagheti Western that, although probably somewhat forgettable, is `definitely an entertaining watch.

As an extra aside, it is worth noting the writing credit given to a certain b-movie legend, Mr Dario Argento. Argento was fresh from a taste of success in writing for Sergio Leone's (him again) Once Upon A Tine in the West and obviously saw another Western as a sensible move. Director Rob Hossein has since claimed however that Argento played no role in the cresation of the film, suggesting that his onvolvement might not have gone as smoothly as hoped...

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