Blu-ray Review: Keoma

One of the great cultural advantages of living in Raleigh (and Durham) is Cinema Overdrive. The long running monthly film series digs deep into titles that aren’t even discussed during college film appreciation classes. There’s a mix of exploitation, art house and drive-in flicks that can even force the most hardcore of cinephiles to Google an upcoming event to figure out what’s coming soon to the big screen. Sometimes you don’t even want to find out about the film because you’ve grown to trust the curator (in this case Adam Hulin) isn’t luring you into a dog. You will be shocked, repulsed, disturbed, humored, but never bored. It was through Cinema Overdrive that I got my first viewing of Keoma starring Franco Nero (Django). I knew little about the Italian produced Western going in and came out with the film amongst my favorites of the genre. The film came out in Italy in 1976 and didn’t make it to the shores of America until 1978 when the Spaghetti Western was a bygone era for theaters chocked full of re-release of Star Wars. Luckily you can now appreciate Keoma without hearing laser blasts in the other side of the South Hills Twin theater back in the ’70s.

Keoma (Nero) rides home after fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Turns out his old hometown has changed quite a bit. Keoma’s three half-brothers have joined up with Caldwell (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals‘ Donald O’Brien) to run the town. They aren’t happy with Keoma returning. It seems their father had ridden out on long trip and returned with a new son from an Indian girlfriend. They always hated the old man for that indiscretion. Keoma isn’t a fan of Caldwell since the ex-Confederate soldier is shipping out townspeople that are suspected of having the plague. Keoma at one point rescues a pregnant woman from being dumped at the plague camp. He didn’t fight in a war to comeback to a new battle. But he won’t back down from a fight even if family is on the other side. At least Keoma has family on his side with dad (If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death‘s William Berger) and George (Spartacus‘s Woody Strode) when he wants to reclaim the town for sanity.

Keoma is an amazing Western with plenty of action, gunfights and just enough quirks to not blend in with so many of the 600 films that were made during the Spaghetti Western era. For starters there’s an old woman who haunts Keoma. She acts as a moral compass for the returning sibling. The score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (Torso) really digs into the scenes. What they also do is have a series of songs sung by Sybil & Guy to accent the action. This element feels a bit like Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller with the songs of Leonard Cohen. Except in this case the songs are directly about Keoma and not off a greatest hits record. Guy sounds like Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten. The first time I saw it, the music was rather off putting, but it’s grown on me with repeated viewings. It adds to the mystic element of Keoma. This is not a formulaic Spaghetti Western. Nero is so intense in the role as he tries to win his half-brothers back from the influence of Caldwell. The gun fights are exciting as director Enzo G. Castellari (The Inglorious Bastards) and cinematographer Aiace Parolin (Baba Yaga) frame up and get deep into the action on the level of The Wild Bunch. There’s a finger counting scene as Keoma sizes up his targets that’s beyond badass cinema. Editor Gianfranco Amicucci splices a smooth technique where flashbacks mingle in present tense. We see the immediate memories of the characters. There’s quite a bit of depth to Keoma without losing track that this is an action film. This isn’t merely one of the last Spaghetti Westerns. Keoma is an essential Western masterpiece for fans of the genre.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative gives the rich details of town that’s on the verge of collapse. The audio is both the Italian and English tracks in mono LPCM audio. The characters appear to be speaking English so that dub appears to work best. Depending which language you choose, the credits will be in that language. The movie is subtitled in English.

New audio commentary by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke

The Ballad of Keoma (21:41) a new interview with the legendary star Franco Nero. The biggest thing is that William Holden was originally going to star as the father, but the producers wanted to start right after Holden and Nero worked on movie about the Munich Olympics. Holden had to go back to America for a bit of time so he couldn’t be in it. We could have had The Wild Bunch meets Django.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust (28:52) sits down with director Enzo G. Castellari. He talks about how they were making so many Spaghetti Westerns at once that he got hired to direct since all the major directors were always busy. He and Nero made Keoma because they wanted to make one more Western again.

Writing Keoma (16:14) is a new interview with actor and writer Luigi Montefiori AKA George Eastman. He came up with the original script that was reworked extensively on the set. He speaks of the elements that made it including the woman who haunts Keoma.

Parallel Actions (22:18) chats with editor Gianfranco Amicucci and how he made the flashbacks work so smoothly.

The Flying Thug (24:03) lets actor Massimo Vanni confess to being a henchman in the film. He worked a lot with Enzo.

Play as an Actor (30:02) a new interview with actor Volfango Soldati talks of going from a photographer to an actor.

Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western (18:42) is an appreciation by the academic Austin Fisher. He speaks of having figures from the past and the present intersecting in the film.

An Introduction to Keoma by Alex Cox (5:03) is an archival featurette with the acclaimed director of Repo Man. He enjoys the film.

Original Italian and international theatrical trailers (3:47) are pretty much the same trailer with different languages.

Gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegel Archive

Arrow Video presents Keoma. Directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Screenplay by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori & Enzo G. Castellari. Starring: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos & Woody Strode. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 101 minutes. Released: April 16, 2019.

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