BluRay/DVD Reviews

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (aka THE ROPE AND THE COLT) (MVD & Arrow Video)

By • Aug 30th, 2015 •

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This is the first French Spaghetti Western. So it’s really a Baguette Western (it is referred to as such in the booklet enclosed within the BluRay case, attributed, in jest, to Alex Cox). It resembles an Italian oater, although some of the actors do feel French. And the star and director is Robert Hossein, French actor/filmmaker best known to US film mavens as the drug-addled kidnapper/killer in Jules Dassin’s RIFIFI.

Hossein, in fact, had a successful film and stage career in Europe, including a film franchise with actress Michele Mercier – the ‘Angelique’ period romance films (one was released in 1968, the year this film was made) – so Ms. Mercier’s starring role here is no luck of the draw. Audiences must have been delighted to see the two of them inhabiting a different genre.

There’s a touch of noir hanging over this story. There are no good guys (though the bad guys are actually seen having fun, a rarity in any Western – and not the fun of goading someone into a gunfight in the saloon, rather the playful fun of splashing someone with water while they’re trying to get a drink at the trough). Stolen money is involved, and revenge, murder, and abduction. And the film even starts in B&W.

Hossein plays a professional killer, self-exiled in a ghost town. A former love interest (Mercier) comes to him after her husband is hanged in front of her. She begs him to avenge her, and offers him a bag of coins when he refuses. In the Sergio Leone films, Clint Eastwood often looked like he was staring directly into the sun and smelling something bad. In this film, obviously on some level a tribute to Leone, Hossein constantly looks like he needs to go to the bathroom, but has to hold it in.

The direction is solid and unobtrusive, emphasizing long, lingering looks, often without much accompanying depth. There is one scene (38 mins in, but I won’t give away the content here) however, which is pure, kinetic, visual directorial style, and it stands out from the rest of the film. Wouldn’t you know it, in a supplement on the disc, Hossein reveals that this one scene was guest-directed by Leone himself.

The cinematography is simple and functional, but it captures an arid, uninviting West, similar, perhaps, to Monte Hellman’s THE SHOOTING (1966). Rather than with the direction or cinematography, which are adequate, the bursts of imagination come from the script

Two versions of the film are presented here, the English language and the Italian language, with subtitles. While the image is the same in both instances, the dialogue is not. And it is the Italian dub, while not as neatly lip-synched as the English dub, that sells the content better. For example, when Mercier’s character asks him to avenge her, he refuses in the English version and sticks to his guns, so that the reason for his subsequent change of heart can only be surmised. Whereas the Italian dub concludes this scene with his line, “Come back in two days,” indicating that he either went for the deal, or is seriously thinking it over. That’s a major alteration. The English dub is illogical, though it has a rewarding kind of existential lilt. The Italian version has logic on its side, and gives Hossein a good line not present in the English version, when asked to kill for vengeance, he replies: “Revenge is a bad seed. It bears bitter fruit…for everyone.”

The music is familiar and genre-safe, beginning with, and re-iterating throughout, a caricature of a Spaghetti Western theme song – ‘The Rope and the Colt’, as per the original title of the film. The song is good of its kind, and what makes it even better is that it was composed by Hossein’s father.

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is nicely packaged by Arrow Video with good, earth-toned cover art, an informative booklet (which is a little hard to read), and good interview footage extras. In a short clip filmed at the time, Hossein displays a sharp knowledge of the sub-genre and explains to an off-screen reporter, very succinctly, not only what the film will be like, but what the American Western traditions are that he loves and is emulating.

Although Dario Argento is co-credited with the Italian screenplay, Hossein has said that the horror/giallo director had nothing to do with the film. This may be true, and yet, why does the star keep pulling a navy-blue glove over his hand before he does his killing? Seems very ‘Dario’ to me…

Hossein nurses and smokes small brown mini-cigars, another Leone tribute. Steve Reeves (HERCULES) told me that this was one of the reasons why he turned down the Eastwood role in Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy. “I wouldn’t have felt real good smoking a little cigar and squinting my eyes for three months.”

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of this title before, and I’m glad to have caught up with it.

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