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Keoma is released as part of a Franco Nero DVD double-bill with Texas, Adios
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Keoma / Texas, Adios
cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Woody Strode, Donald O'Brien, and Olga Karlatos

director: Enzo G. Castellari

96 minutes (15) 1976
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Argent DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
It is easy to write Enzo G. Castellari off as a hack director. Too often is his work is represented by murderous hoards of no personality, who die too readily and easily, one stunt cut into the next, it's like some child has taken a game with plastic soldiers one week and been allowed to play it again with grown-ups the next. Castellari appears not to care for his characters, wants to be shut of them completely, kill them all but the protagonist, just in case it is a hit. So there are inevitabilities to a Castellari action film and so can his films wear one down. There is the occasional glimmer of something more in his CV. Anonymous Avenger is still his best and Keoma: The Violent Breed is one of the better. The allotting of important technical duties to the right people is a major factor in the attractiveness of Keoma, cinematography, wardrobe and set dressing with that extra effort put into it or more blessed talent applied, entrusted to the best involved in Italian exploitation cinema at the time. If only he had given the same sensible consideration to the music. Instead we have a sung running commentary on the film's action that sounds like Joan Baez taking the piss out of Hazel O'Connor.

1976, the year in which Keoma was made, was the year in which the comparatively tasteful Italian exploitation film was on the out and the strong sex and hard gore was incoming and indomitable. The spaghetti western was finished, the standing sets over-familiar, the format toyed to death, but you were never going to convince Castellari of that. He believed that it would never die as long as the technical standards were kept, and, boy, if he didn't give it one last real shot. The one thing that Castellari never showed much interest in was generating an original storyline, and as ever, for this decidedly important film, the usual revenge caper was going to do.

Franco Nero is the half-breed Keoma, returning to his plague-ridden hometown to find his father (William Berger) as good a man as ever and his three bully-boy half-brothers now riding with the town's new 'owner' Caldwell (Donald O'Brien). A perimeter has been set up, nobody is allowed to leave, no medicine to counter the outbreak allowed in, and the ill are relocated to a camp outside town. A beautiful pregnant woman (Olga Karlatos, later of Zombie Flesh Eaters, and zombie flesh eaten) becomes Keoma's pet project, to keep her and her unborn well and alive. Her husband murdered and she branded infected, Keoma decides otherwise and the local doctor's examination determines her so free of the plague. Keoma does not ask for assistance and few seem willing or able to offer it. His father is in advanced years (though Berger, wearing a decent make-up job is closer to Nero's true age) and George, the free black man (who had been part of the old household and once impressed him), played in both present and flashback by Woody Strode, is now a street drunk. There is an eventual small accumulation of allies but only to that the major gunfight is a three to many ratio. Typical of a bullet ballet everyone dies doing pirouettes and budgets having to be kept, it's a poor town after all, it's one good-guy bullet per villain, and obviously, Caldwell has hired 60 to a 100 cross-eyed pistol-packers to keep the lead dodging to a minimum for our heroes. Talking of the vision impaired, every step is recorded for renters with that handicap... by a singer with enough, our musical narrator, or is it Lene Lovich having a panic attack.

There is some impressive technical chicanery in Keoma, numerous inventive foreground tricks and some novel approaches to flashbacks, the latter integrating the past with the present. The Eastmancolor scope is pristine, a terrific clean up that reveals every dust particle, fibre and wood grain. As unreal as the community is and rudimentarily alive are its populace, at the other end of the grubbily real scope are the town and the clothes ingrained lived in. It's right to give credit here. The Director of Photography is Aiace Parolin, unknown to me, and a must for further research. The other main contributors are stock, surprisingly. The costumes are credited merely to Costume House (with only the busy seamstress identified, busy girl) that one takes to be the Roman closet equivalent of our Nathan and Berman's... only with a large dose of stylissimo. Furthermore a company named Pompei provided the footwear while the sets were standing veterans. The film draws to a close in a ghost town gunfight that is the usual quick Castellari death batch-work, though the build-up of shots and editing are masterful, and Castellari's fondness and expertise of the edit is put down to his own education, a career start working as an editor on 30 of his father's films.

In the supporting programme can be found an interview with Keoma fan Alex Cox. Chain Productions also conducts an interview with Enzo G. Castellari who is correctly generous to all those who contributed to the successful appearance of the film. He gives a nod to his inspirational fathers on this production, mentioning Elia Kazan (the originator of his flashback style), Peckinpah (on the slow-motion death flails) and Ingmar Bergman (for the grim life and death symbolism in the production). Both of the interviews films directed by Roberta Licurgo, the Castellari interview the longer at 15 minutes with clips editing in well to show a genuine understanding of the work by the makers. There are trailers and easy access chapter and main menu. Unfortunately, that wailing woman of the soundtrack is not only on the main feature but everywhere and so don't leave the disc on menu hold if you nip to the toilet because the caterwauling witch will follow you. I hope there was a reason for the warbling, like someone was throttling her.

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