Johnny Hallyday Rides Into Sergio Corbucci’s Lonely Western Landscape
DIRECTED BY SERGIO CORBUCCI/1969
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JANUARY 7, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
It’s a long, rough go for the lone gunslinger riding across the landscape. But this time there is no perceived honor, no righteousness in his trot. He’s sharply dressed and intimidating, yes. But more than anything else, the shot simply telegraphs his loneliness. The Western nomad who is, for whatever reason, doomed to wander the barren earth.
And barren it most certainly is. With this film, 1969’s darkly tinged spaghetti Western The Specialists (Gli Specialisti), director Sergio Corbucci demonstrates a top visual form. As Italian Western expert and fellow filmmaker Alex Cox opines on his audio commentary for the KL Studio Classics Blu-ray and DVD release, this title may not rank as top tier Corbucci (though Django is his most well-known, most cite The Great Silence as his finest), it’s still rather high on the list.
In and around the fairly conventional corruption plot, it is the stifling isolation of nature and the frontier that truly resonates. That is what The Specialists, despite its misleading and generic title, is deeply about. The chill of winter out of season, the dark of shadows at peak sunlight… the subliminally askew quality of this world is, at its core, elemental.
Beginning with Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, there’s been an invisible symbiosis between rock n’ roll and the spaghetti Western. Both have anti-authoritarian rebellion in their very DNA, even as they insist upon emulating their formal precursors. The Specialists takes this connection to the next level with the casting of the man credited with introducing rock n’ roll to France, Johnny Hallyday.
Hallyday channels the quiet, festering unease of Eastwood and Nero while dressed like a million bucks. With impressive precision, the brim of his black hat cuts like a dark, thin blade. Naturally, we don’t know much about his character, but we do know that this is apropos. As an actor Hallyday, with his blonde mop and piercing eyes, breaks no ground nor leaves any mark upon the subgenre. He is, however, completely serviceable in his role as the vengeance-seeking Hud Dixon. By the end, the town of Blackstone- already financially ravaged by a crooked banker played by Françoise Fabian- will be striped and smoldering in the bloody aftermath.
KL Studio Classics presents The Specialists in a new 4K restoration which does absolute justice to Corbucci’s vision. The disc includes both French and Italian audio tracks, as well as the aforementioned audio commentary by Alex Cox (Straight to Hell; Highway Patrolman). Cox, per his typical approach, serenades listeners with his soothing delivery but blindsides with his intermittent knowledge bombs. Having spent time in the trenches of dusty Western filmmaking himself as well as having authored a book about Italian Westerns, he can always be counted on for a uniquely informed perspective. The Blu-ray is something that any appreciator of the subset ought to have.
Though Hallyday headlines, The Specialists is, without question, Sergio Corbucci’s show. There’s a frigid brutality to it, but more so, an unsettled darkness; something informed by both the sins of the settlers and the unforgiving natural world which surrounds them.