Director: Robert Hossein
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Claude Desailly, Robert Hossein
Starring: Michèle Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas
Country: France, Italy, Spain
Running Time: 90 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I’m a huge fan of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. I class Once Upon a Time in the West as my all time favourite film, let alone western. Because of this I’ve been keen to watch more films from the sub-genre, away from Leone’s work, but unfortunately very few have made their way to UK DVD/Blu-Ray. Perhaps due to the success of Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western homage, Django Unchained, some titles are finally coming out of the woodwork though. Arrow have released a few and their latest acquisition, Cemetery Without Crosses (a.k.a. The Rope and the Colt or Une corde, un Colt) isn’t a 100% spaghetti western, more of what Alex Cox called a ‘baguette western’ (it had a French director and stars), but it’s very much influenced by the Italian films of the era.
The film opens with Ben Caine (Benito Stefanelli) getting chased on horseback and then murdered in front of his wife Maria (Michèle Mercier). The killers are part of the notorious Rogers family and generally get away with their crimes due to their strength, power and influence over the local sheriff. Maria is out for vengeance though and enlists her old friend Manuel (Robert Hossein) to act it out for her. Much like in A Fistful of Dollars, Manuel begins by gaining his enemy’s trust, infiltrating the gang. This doesn’t last however as he kidnaps the beautiful daughter/sister of the family. Maria uses this hostage to exact her revenge.
I will say this before I start going into what I liked and didn’t like about the film; I was extremely tired when I watched it and in a particularly bad mood. So although I did like the film, I imagine I might have liked it even more given a better viewing situation.
Anyway, onto my critique.
Co-writer/director/star Robert Hossein was clearly a fan of Leone’s work (or wanted to cash in on it), as there are a few nods towards his films. The hero doesn’t say much and little back story is given to him, like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. There’s also a little music box moment as in For a Few Dollars More. The tense face-offs with swift, violent conclusions are here too.
Cemetery Without Crosses still has a unique French feel to it though. It’s darker and more sombre than most spaghetti westerns. There’s a sense of nihilism in Maria’s lust for vengeance, whatever the cost. As such, the film is quite cold and brooding. There is very little dialogue at times, with much being mined from stares and glances. It still has action here and there, but it has a distinct art-house feel alongside its genre grounding.
Like a lot of the better spaghetti westerns, the film is nicely shot too. It doesn’t get as showy as Leone’s more striking moments, but there are some well staged long shots and lovely floating camera movements. One shot towards the end stands out which opens on Maria lighting a lamp, then slowly pans around to reveal the group of bad guys who were waiting in the dark and ends on a close up of Maria as a single tear falls down her face. The film sensibly cuts away after this as it displays all we need to know.
I didn’t fall head over heels for the film though. For one, all the moody coldness makes it hard to really feel or care about the characters. It also makes it a bit slow compared to most films of the genre, especially due to the sparse narrative. Without the grizzled charisma of an actor like Eastwood in the main role, it doesn’t pull off ‘cool’ quite as effectively as the Dollars trilogy does.
Cemetery Without Crosses is a very classy example of the genre though and is more beautifully produced than most. However, it’s very grim and serious so won’t be your first choice if you’re in the mood for a fun, action packed western. Keep that in mind and there’s much to admire here.
Cemetery Without Crosses is out now in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Arrow Video. The picture suffers from a few blemishes on some of the wide shots and an occasional soft look, but considering the age and obscurity it looks and sounds pretty impressive. If you compare it to the cheap Wall Mart spaghetti western sets you can pick up in the US (which are the only way to see most of these films) the difference is phenomenal.
For extras you get a newly recorded interview with Hossein as well as an archive one and a French TV news report on the film’s production. I’ve been very busy recently so haven’t watched these yet (I saw the film quite late on a work night and only just managed to stay awake for that).
There’s also a booklet included in the package which includes an essay delving into the background and reception of the film as well as a piece on Scott Walker’s involvement. It’s attractively presented with publicity stills and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips.