Sunday, October 9, 2022

Faces of Italian cinema: 13- Sergio Corbucci

 Dr. Orloff’s Film Diary

By Dr. Orloff

October 1, 2022


La Banda J & S: cronaca criminale del Far West (aka Far West Story) (1972) by Sergio Corbucci with Tomas Milian, Susan George, Telly Savalas, Laura Betti

Should we still present Sergio Corbucci, one of the three great Sergio of Italian cinema, between Leone and Sollima (we could add Sergio Martino but he is not like these three forever associated with the western)? This is probably useless and if you want to know more, I warmly recommend the indispensable book that Vincent Jourdan has dedicated to him[1]. Among the jewels of the Italian western that he wrote, we will obviously mention the most classics, starting with the brilliant Django and the impressive The Great Silence. But we will not forget il Mercenario (with the superb theme of Morricone that Tarantino used in Kill Bill) or even Compañeros.

La Banda J & S: cronaca criminale del Far West (Sonny & Jed) is a late western, while the genre would soon drift towards parody and be supplanted by more contemporary veins, namely poliziottesco. Jed is an outlaw pursued since his escape from prison by Sheriff Franciscus (Telly Savalas, quite impressive). On the verge of being captured, our man is narrowly saved by the pretty Sonny (Susan George, the heroine of Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and the excellent (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry). Crazy Mary now wants to accompany Jed on his journey but he is initially reluctant (that's a sweet understatement!).

The film is quite strange at first. Very classic in its form since Corbucci does not hesitate to air his speech with very beautiful overall plans and a return to the ingredients of the genre (sunsets, vast desert landscapes ...), it forces us to identify with an extremely unsympathetic character. Tomas Milian who takes up a little the character he once embodied in Sollima, a kind of lustful and shaggy bandit but who does not possess the humanity of his peon Chuchillo in Colorado and Run, Man, Run. Here he turns out to be absolutely infectious, not hesitating to beat Sonny or betray her constantly.

This very unpleasant side of the character causes a kind of rejection of the spectator who struggles to identify with him and who does not understand why the beautiful Sonny clings to his brutality. Things change a bit when the idyll between the two is finally born. Corbucci then followed in the footsteps of a great success of American cinema, the beautiful Bonnie and Clyde by Arthur Penn. In both cases, the story of the bandits is treated with a certain irony. At Penn, Clyde is a helpless person who seeks above all to advertise himself. We find this dimension in Corbucci, the time of a very funny scene where Jed and Sonny rob a printer and force him to take a picture of them so that he can add an image to the wanted posters he produces9 . When the couple finds a certain complicity to carry out their thefts, the film becomes quite enjoyable. But soon enough, things go wrong and Jed refuses the idea that he is deprived of his freedom and goes to conquer another woman...

So obviously, the filmmaker's gaze retains a sarcastic dimension and he manages to ridicule Jed's very macho side. In this sense, Milian is good because he presses on the buffoon aspect of his character, obsessed and vulgar (when they interpret the drawing that form the clouds, Jed sees a planturous woman with bare breasts while Sonny sees a trumpet and a pan!). This sarcastic tone (the film is not a comedy but it sometimes makes you laugh) is in line with Italian comedy (think of the portrait of the infamous macho of Risi's Fanfaron) but it nevertheless sometimes struggles to soften Jed's character.

In the end, Sonny will affirm his humanity and his refusal to be constantly reduced to an object but let's admit that despite his qualities, it will be difficult to grasp the "romantic" dimension that Corbucci claims to have wanted to inject into his work.


[1] JOURDAN, Vincent, Voyage dans le cinéma by Sergio Corbucci, Editions Lettmotif, 2018

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