The Specialists (1969) – Film Review
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Gastone Moschin, Françoise Fabian
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
I’ve seen countless Westerns, but never a French Spaghetti Western, known by some as “Camembert Westerns” or “Baguetti Westerns”. And this 1969 offering is a fascinating curio from cult director Sergio Corbucci.
Gallic heartthrob Johnny Hallyday plays gunfighter Hud Dixon, who arrives in Blackstone, a town where his brother was lynched after being wrongfully accused of robbing a bank.
With a solid supporting cast including Gastone Moschin, Françoise Fabian and beautifully lensed by Dario Di Palma, The Specialists looks and sounds terrific. The stunning wintry backdrops will remind some of Pale Rider or The Hateful 8. I’ve no doubt Quentin Tarantino drew inspiration from Corbucci for his assorted epics, and not just the original Django which inspired his own excellent offering, Django Unchained.
It’s a fascinating chapter in the life of that well-worn genre, with counter culture overtones. A band of youths look more lethal than your average teens in classic Westerns of old, probably because of horrors unfolding in LA at the time it was made. (See Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood for a version of that story).
The setting may be Western-era America, but the tone is obviously a heady mix of Italian and French, with the Gallic dialogue music to the ears for some viewers. Let’s face it, “depeche toi!” is a lot more preferable to “hurry up!”
If you’re a fan of offbeat Westerns such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mesmerising El Topo, released a year after this, then The Specialists is a must-see curio. It’s not all macho heroics. There are lighter moments involving a sheriff sidetracked by an alluring woman in the bath (pure Benny Hill), while the obligatory fight scene in a bar boasts some ramped-up sound effects which are almost comical.
If, like me, you’ve recently lost hours in the world of Red Dead Redemption II, then you may get more out of this than your average viewer. You might even want to select the French dialogue setting to give that blockbuster game a feel of this gloriously unusual epic.
For now, ease off those boots and settle back for one of those films which will make you rethink the good old “all American” Western. Especially that finale, which feels like it pre-empted Spencer Tunick’s art installations, and Arnie’s Terminator staggering towards gun-toting assailants in T2.
A shame Sylvie Fennec failed to make a dent in mainstream movies after this. Her character Sheba is a stunning diversion from the grotesques and gunshots. And naturally, as with all Westerns, there’s a ride into the sunset for the finale. This is one of the best you’ll ever see.
Special features include commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, and an interview with genre expert Austin Fisher. There’s also a beautifully executed accompanying booklet with Howard Hughes (not that one), putting the movie in context and supplying a wealth of trivia.
1080p presentation on Blu-ray from an incredible 4K restoration
Restored Italian and French audio options
Rarely heard English dub track
Optional English subtitles
Feature-length audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox
A brand new and exclusive interview with Austin Fisher, author of Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
The Specialists is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £14.99