[toggle title=”Specs” state=”close” ]
Director: Luigi Bazzoni
Writers: Luigi Bazzoni and Suso Cecchi D’Amico
Cast: Franco Nero, Tina Aumont, Klaus Kinski
Length: 100 min
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Italian: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with Journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke
- Luigi, Vittorio & Franco – Interview with Star Franco Nero and Camera Operator Vittorio Storaro
- Original International Trailer
- Stills Gallery
By the release of Man, Pride and Vengeance in 1967, the spaghetti western cycle was not only well underway, it was rapidly reaching its inevitable implosion. Franco Nero, who (next to Eastwood and Terence Hill) was one of Italy’s most iconic Western anti-heroes, was on his way to becoming an international star; in short, Django had helped to make his name bankable. So, it should come as little surprise to learn that Luigi Bazzoni and Camillo Bazzoni’s desire for the film was to adapt the opera Carmen within the context of the Western — quite a feat. The result of this effort is one of the most unique and beautiful Spaghetti Westerns ever released. While the film has taken the backburner to the more violent and explosive Spaghetti Westerns, Blue-Underground (no stranger to the genre) have nonetheless taken the time to re-present the film with a stunning new high definition transfer, restoring the film’s original luster and charm.
Man, Pride and Vengeance begins with a fiery cold open. A whip zoom composes a silhouetted figure prominently figures atop a mountain, the sun obscuring all his features. The image gives the impression of a cutout, akin to something that would adorn the title sequence for one of Leone’s films. Rapid-fire cutting connects the shadowy figure to a set of (recognizable) ice-cold, blue eyes. The scene continues and tension builds as the viewer struggles to piece together the situation. A few more beats pass, and we are met with the image of a haggard, broken Nero on the run from a cavalcade of men in pursuit. From here, the remainder of the film is told in flashback, and depicts a tragic love story-cum-heist film (all told within the visual conventions of the Spaghetti Western).
Written by Luigi Bazzoni and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (one of the most important writers in Italian cinema, who penned such iconic films such The Bicycle Thieves and The Leopard), Man, Pride and Vengeance takes its narrative from Georges Bizet’s famous opera Carmen. The film is rather faithful to the narrative its predecessor, but does so in a way that also feels very natural within the context of a Western. Some may argue that the films differs from conventions too much to be considered a Spaghetti Western, but there are far too many similarities for it to be written out of the genre’s history. Instead, it would be most appropriate to think of the film less a pure example of a Spaghetti than as a reflection of the power of genre’s influence at that moment in time. The Bazzoni brothers — long friends of Nero — understood the exportation power of not only the Italian Western but also their star. Choosing to capitalize on the stylistic tendencies and feel (along with cast the genre’s second or third most iconic leading men), they set themselves up for a sure-fire recipe for a hit…or at least they thought.The choice to set the film in Spain — instead of America or Mexico like the majority of Spaghettis — allows the Bazzoni brothers to really utilize the beautiful and sprawling landscapes. Not hampered by the need to emulate an American or Mexican environment, the film’s use of exteriors actually exceeds a great deal of the most iconic Spaghettis. In fact, it is among one of the finest examples in all of Western cinema, nearly on par with Ford’s use of Monument Valley. The visual look, while certainly also attributable to Luigi as director, has to be credited to Camillo. In the supplementary feature, Franco Nero remarks that Camillo, had he not transitioned to directing before leaving cinema altogether, could have been one of the finest cinematographers. This is hard to argue. Man, Pride and Vengeance may not be one of the most exhilarating Westerns but it sure is one of the most stunning. It is not just exteriors and landscapes that Camillo is able to effectively capture, but every environment he is met with. With some of the night scenes are a bit underlit, Camillo paints scenes at night almost as vibrantly as day. One scene in particular, where Jose (Nero) embraces Carmen (Tina Aumont) under the cover of nightfall, sees Camillo utilizing a thick veneer of backlit fog to imbue the scene with a heavy, foreboding atmosphere (visually similar to what Dean Cundey would later do with Halloween). It is a careful attention to visual detail like this that makes the film standout. Another aspect about Man, Pride and Vengeance that makes it a standout for the genre is Carmen. The strong presence of female characters is mostly absent in nearly all the 600-plus Spaghetti Westerns produced during the genre’s classic cycle. At best, a female character would serve as a catalyst for a character, or pop in and out of scenes without affecting the outcome of the narrative. While it can’t be said that Carmen is necessarily a positive female character (she does share many of the negative aspects of the femme fatale), Aumont’s performance is nonetheless enchanting. Only 21 at the time of the film’s release, Aumont is the film’s driving force, lovable and despicable in the same breath.
Aumont is, however, in good company. The film is almost perfectly cast. Nero, par for the course, delivers as much with his stoic yet sympathetic face as he does through any spoken dialogue. It should be noted that his role in Man, Pride and Vengeance is far more dynamic than Django, providing him much more room to experiment with his craft. Here, he plays a man not yet broken, a man driven by absolute lust and obsession. It is almost as it is the story of how a man like Django was broken. Like always, Klaus Kinski nearly steals the show. In spite of only appearing in a handful of scenes, he dwarfs every actor who dare share screen time with him and gives one of the film’s most memorable performances. He just had one of the best faces in cinema and, like Nero, he is able to use it to deliver a sense of urgency and emotion that requires no dialogue to make itself clear. It was the face of a madman and a genius, with almost no barrier distinction between them.
Beat for beat, Blue-Underground’s newly restored 2.35:1 1080p HD transfer is marvelous. The stunning photography of Camillo Bazzani is really paid a true service, with a presentation that gives us crisp colors and a fine, strong black level. There are times where the print has an orange-ish tone, but — Blue-Underground not known for over-Color correcting — one would assume that this is also present in the original elements. As may be expected, there are scenes that do not hold up quite as well, especially some of the underexposed ones. The knife fight between Jose and Garcia (Kinski), in particular, is (shot day-for-night) void of good contrast. It comes off extremely flat but, again, this is something that is inherent to the filmic elements. There is a strong, natural amount of grain intact, with no digital enhancements that can be seen at work.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (available in both English and Italian) is serviceable and without any noticeable hindrances. One thing that should be noted is that the mastering of the audio is rather low, and I had to turn up the volume on my stereo a lot louder than typically necessary. Other than this, there are no signs of damage or deterioration, such as hisses, pops, or cracks, leaving a nice and faithful rendering of the original aural elements.
While Blue Underground has not presented a huge spread of supplementary features, it is really quality over quantity for this release. First, there is a fantastic commentary track with journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke. Parke and Joyner are well informed about the film and offer numerous interesting factoids and observations about the filming/production. Other than the commentary track, there is a well appreciated featurette with Franco Nero and Vittorio Storaro (who served as Camillo’s camera operator on the film). The featurette is quite moving. Both Nero and Storaro discuss the close friendship that the principle cast and crew shared, and how the film was like a reunion of sorts. In fact, Nero claims it to be his favorite film because of the experience of working with his best friends. Beyond the touching nature of Nero and Storaro’s reminiscing, the piece also serves as a great source of behind-the-scenes information, especially regarding Nero’s career. Additionally, there is an International trailer and Poster/Stills Gallery.
If you are a fan of the genre and you have not thus far had the opportunity to see Man, Pride and Vengeance there is simply no better opportunity than with this newly restored Blu-Ray. William Lustig’s label has proven to be one of the most dedicated brands in presenting high quality prints, and Man, Pride and Vengeance is no exception. It is a necessary piece of Spaghetti Western history, one that demonstrates the impact and popularity of the genre within Italy. Even a story like Carmen that on the surface would not appear to be translatable within the genre, is effortless transfixed. Its easily one of the genres most singular films that offers a unique look at love and obsession rather than — as the title otherwise suggests — machismo and vengeance. Interestingly it is one of the few Spaghetti Westerns to weave into the narrative a strong female presence, which in and of itself makes the film worthy of reexamination. Tapped with two impressive extra features and a stunning transfer, Blue-Underground’s release is a necessary addition to any fans of the genre, although it should probably be warned that those who are not familiar with Spaghetti Westerns may come from the film less pleased. If you are looking for an introduction to the genre or to Franco Nero, it is best to start with something like Django (also available via Blue-Underground) before Man, Pride and Vengeance, but the film is certain to offer something for all lovers of cinema.