Color, 1967, 100m.
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni
Starring Franco Nero, Tina Aumont, Klaus Kinski, Guido Lollobrigida, Franco Ressel
Blue Underground (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Koch (Blu-ray & Germany) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
For some reason Europe was going crazy for Carmen in 1967. The tragic novel by Prosper Mérimée was adapted into a legendary opera by Georges Bizet, with its story of the seductive but unreliable gypsy and her stormy love affair with naive soldier Don José was turned into no less than three filmed productions that year including Radley Metzger's swinging German slice of erotica, Carmen, Baby, and a high-profile film of the opera itself with Grace Bumbry.
Then there's Man, Pride and Vengeance, originally titled L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta and sometimes simply titled Pride and Vengeance in English. Marketed as a spaghetti western and drenched in flamenco music, it's a tough one to categorize as it opens with a typical scene in which a scruffy, dust-covered Franco Nero, the original Django, is seen running frantically through the desert, promising gunslinging antics to come. However, we then shift gears to a flashback in which we meet our José as a young, clean-cut officer in Seville charged with keeping the peace. An encounter at a gate entangles him with Carmen (Aumont), a gypsy who soon captures his heart but seems to run hot and cold every time they meet. A brawl over Carmen leads to an accidental killing that sends a wounded José retreating from town to a desert outpost where he recovers under Carmen's care. With a bounty on his head, the film veers from its source as he turns to life as a bandit involved with smugglers and a plan to pull off a robbery, all of which keep leading him back into the clutches of the woman who threatens to destroy his life.
Definitely an odd change of pace, this one looks like a spaghetti western for over half of its running time but doesn't really play by any of the rules. Yes, you get a few fired bullets, lots of horseback riding, and some Spanish desert scenery seen in plenty of other Euro oaters, but the Carmen angle gives it a very different feel with a heavy emphasis on drama and character study. Fortunately Nero is up to the task, anchoring the film with intense, steely-eyed performance as he transitions from an idealistic young turk into a seasoned outlaw. If that weren't enough you also get Klaus Kinski popping up halfway into the film to give things a bit of a jolt, and director Luigi Bazzoni (The Fifth Cord, Footprints) drenches it all with plenty of dusty atmosphere. The one really questionable element here is Aumont, a pretty but uneven actress who made this in between her gigs in Modesty Blaise and Tinto Brass's The Howl. It's a little tough buying her as a hot-tempered queen of seduction when she comes off more like a pouting high schooler, but it's hardly a fatal problem as she spends large portions off screen. It's really Nero's show all the way, which is all for the best.
Widely released in Europe but barely known at all in the US, this film was mostly discovered by spaghetti western fans via dupes of a handful of widescreen VHS editions from the '80s. In 2014, the German label Koch released a solid Franco Nero Italo-Western boxed set in both Blu-ray and DVD iterations along with a great English-friendly release of The Mercenary and a not-so-English-friendly one for Cry Onion! (Cippola Colt). That upgraded HD transfer (nice color and detail, slightly windowboxed, light digital texture but no extreme noise reduction) featured English, German and Italian audio options with German subs as well as the Italian and German trailers and a fun 25-minute featurette with Nero hamming it up on a pool table as he chats (in Italian with German subs) about making the film. Also included was the drastically different German theatrical release version (entitled With Django Comes Death), which drops the running time down to 89 minutes and renames the two leads characters to Django and Conchita.
The 2015 version from Blue Underground (on both Blu-ray and DVD) is an improvement right off the bat by including English subtitles for both HOH viewers for the dubbed track and translated ones for the Italian track. The Italian version is definitely preferable as that's the language Nero spoke on set, though his real voice is heard on both options. (Aumont appears to be speaking French and is awkwardly dubbed either way.) Image quality appears to be the same as the German release with great color and detail, with the one variation being a burned-in English title beneath the Italian one during the opening credits and an English-language card at the end. The Italian trailer is carried over here, but otherwise the extras are totally different including the English-language international trailer (which tries to squeeze in every action shot from the film), a gallery of posters and stills, and a 29-minute featurette, "Luigi, Vittorio & Franco," with Nero and camera operator (and future Oscar-winning cinematographer) Vittorio Storaro in which the actor cites this as a favorite among his output since he became great friends with everyone on the production early in his career. Storaro goes into the technical side of things about the crew members at the time and the camaraderie that existed among people like himself working their way up the ladder. Also included for the feature itself is an audio commentary by familiar Blue Underground spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke, who cover all the ins and outs of the production including the shooting locations, the subgenre elements used here and manipulated by the filmmakers, the status of the actors at the time, and the film's odd relationship to more traditional Italian cowboy fare.