Color, 1970, 118m.
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Starring Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben, José Bódalo, Karin Schubert
Blue Underground (Blu-ray & DVD), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
A rousing Ennio Morricone score, gunfire aplenty, off-kilter humor... yep, we're in prime spaghetti western territory again with Compañeros, one of the best titles from genre specialist Sergio Corbucci (who also helmed Django). Here we go to Mexico where a village stuck in the middle of the revolution becomes the backdrop for an unusual partnership between cultivated "Swedish" arms dealer Yolaf (Nero) and ruffian El Vasco (Milian), who are sent on a mission to release a man from prison at Fort Yuma: Professor Xantos (Rey), the only man still left alive who knows the combination for a safe filled with cash. The man behind the plan is General Mongo (Bódalo), whose enemies want the pair to join the revolution and help them find justice. Multiple gunfights, multiple attempted executions, and other mayhem soon follow.
Most obviously this is a Corbucci film through and through, perfectly in keeping with his other films of the era like Navajo Joe, Johnny Oro, The Mercenary, and the incredibly pessimistic The Great Silence. As with other Italian westerns at the time, it's tempting to read as much political subtext into the film as possible digging for socialist or even anarchist touches in the story. The fact that the lively Milian is on hand to do his usual scene-stealing eccentric Mexican routine is always good news, of course, and he manages to get most of the best moments in the film. Nero's his usual steely-eyed self, of course, while Jack Palance (who returned to the spaghetti western fold after this with Father Jackleg) was apparently let loose to do whatever he wanted as John, Yolaf's cannabis-loving nemesis, complete with large swaths of dialogue that feel largely improvised. In fact, the entire film has a loose, goofy vibe that makes the more violent moments pop out a bit more dramatically, complete with the requisite fiery climax at the end.
Shot by Alejandro Ulloa in between his gigs on Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion and Horror Express, this is a slick-looking film with a knack for colorful compositions. Anchor Bay first bowed this one on DVD in 2001 with a nice scope transfer of the uncut 118-minute international cut featuring both the English-language version, which contains the original voice and line readings for the leads (shot silent but looped back in later) and the equally valid, somewhat more elegant Italian track with optional English subtitles. Since some scenes were never dubbed into English, that track occasionally reverts to Italian with subs for the extra sequences. The main extra is a 17-minute featurette with Nero, Milian ("I am very famous in Italy for being very difficult"), and Morricone recalling the production, with Milian getting one of the best moments showing howmuch a hat can help his acting. The same transfer and extras were later reissued from Blue Underground in 2007 as a standalone, followed by a three-film set in 2012 alongside Four of the Apocalypse and Run Man Run.
Not surprisingly, the film received a Blu-ray upgrade from Blue Underground in 2014 with a nice extra perk: the 115-minute English-only version or the 118-minute Italian version (with the same English hybrid or Italian-only with subs options). Image quality between the two is very similar with identical framing, though the English-only version is a slight notch paler with slightly less intense colors. This isn't the most razor-sharp film in the world thanks to all the heavy sunlight, diffusion, dust, and smoke pervading many scenes, but the transfer looks pleasing in motion with vibrant colors and far more detail than the DVD. All audio options are DTS-HD mono and sound great. Video extras include the same featurette and the Italian and English international trailers, two TV spots, and a poster and stills gallery. The big new extra here is an audio commentary on the longer cut by western writer C. Courtney Joyner and Westernpunk's Henry C. Parke, who earlier performed the same duties for The Big Gundown and The Grand Duel. As usual they're very well versed in the genre and manage a nice balance of factual info about the players behind and in front of the camera and drawing out some of the relevant themes and historical tidbits that distinguish this among the pack of other spaghetti westerns. It's a very solid track for fans of this, one of the quirkiest and most entertaining entries from the genre's golden age.