Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 6th, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1970
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Writers: Sergio Corbucci, Massimo De Rita, Fritz Ebert, José Frade,Arduino Maiuri
Cast: Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey, Iris Berben, José Bódalo, Eduardo Fajardo, Karin Schubert
BluRay released: October 28th, 2014
Approximate running times: 115 minutes (English Language Version), 119 minutes (Italian Language Version)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English (115 minute version), DTS-HD Mono Italian, DTS-HD Mono Italian / English (119 minute version)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, English for Italian Version
BluRay Release: Blue Underground
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $29.98
Companeros was co-written and directed by Sergio Corbucci, whose other notable Spaghetti Westerns include, Django, Navajo Joe, Hellbenders, The Great Silence and The Mercenary. Key collaborators on Companeros include cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa (The Diabolical Dr. Z, One on Top of the Other, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion), editor Eugenio Alabiso (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Face to Face) and composer Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West).
The Spaghetti Western like all genres has sub-genres and Companeros falls into the Zapata Western genre. This genre is defined by its location and time Mexico during its revolution and the majority of these are political in tone, most notably a Marxist point of view. Another familiar plot device for this genre was one main character was a Mexican bandit who was ignorant in regards to the politics, while the other character a foreigner (of American or European descent) would find a way to interject themselves into a position of power within the Mexican bandit’s inner circle and thus convince them to participate in the revolution.
The two characters at the opposite end of the spectrum which anchor this film are a Swedish arms dealer named Yodlaf Peterson and a Mexican bandit named Vasco. The Swede as he is often referred to in the film is looking for Vasco’s boss a man named Mongo, a self-proclaimed general in name only. In reality he is the leader of a gang of bandits who are using the revolution to disguise their true intentions. The Swede is looking to sell his cache of weapons to Mongo and his men. Unfortunately along the way it becomes apparent that they don’t have the funds to complete said transaction. From there a plan is concocted to rescue Professor Xantos, a real revolutionary who is in prison and also happens to be the only who knows the combination to the safe containing The Swede’s payday. Along the way Vasco becomes a changed man and joins forces with Xantos and the real revolutionaries.
Content wise, Companeros has everything that any diehard Spaghetti Western fan would want and then some. The film was made as the genre as at a cross roads as the violent tone was exchange in favor of lighthearted humor. Fortunately for those who long for the good old days of down and dirty Spaghetti Westerns with mean streak. This film finds that perfect balance between what had come before and what was now in vogue. Another area where this film often excels is the way it interjects social commentary into the story at hand without ever being too heavy handed.
When discussing the Spaghetti Western genre there are two things instantly spring to mind, visuals and the score. There is never shortage of inventive or picturesque imagery in this film as every inch is meticulously framed for maximum effect. With this film’s bookend opening / beginning sequences immediately setting the tone for what is to come visually. Once again Morricone creates a remarkable score that instantly draws you in and is impossible to forget.
Without a doubt this film’s greatest asset is the performances from its cast who are all extremely good in their respective roles. Front and center when discussing the performance are this film’s two leading men Franco Nero in the role of the Swede and Tomas Milian in the role of Vasco. These two have a tremendous amount of chemistry and it is a shame that this is the only film they appeared in together. Of these two performance the slight edge goes to Milan since his character shows more growth then Nero’s character. Other performances of note include Jack Palance (Contempt, Rulers of the City) in the role of pot smoking mercenary with a pet vulture, Fernando Rey (Cold Eyes of Fear) in the role of Professor Xantos and Karin Schubert (Ubalda, All Naked and Warm) in the role of a call girl. Ultimately Companeros is an exceptional film that firmly entrenches itself as one of the best film’s to emerge from the Spaghetti Western genre.
Companeros comes on a 50 GB dual layer (44.8 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. This is a brand new transfer sourced from the film’s original negative. Also for this release there are two versions of this film which are each presented separately and not via seamless branching. When compared to previous releases the area’s where this new release standout the most are a marked improvement in regards to the visual clarity and colors look more robust. In other areas black and contrast levels look very good throughout, there are no issues with compression and DNR is kept in check. One thing of note is how there is a few differences in regards to how the transfers for the two versions the two versions look. With the main difference being that the 115 minute version looks brighter than the 119 minute version.
As mentioned this release comes with two separate versions of the film. 115 minute version comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono in English, while the 119 minute version comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD mono mix in Italian and a DTS-HD mono mix in English / Italian with scenes that were not dubbed in English presented in Italian with English subtitles. Both audio mixes sound great throughout as there are no issues with distortion or background noise. Dialog is always clear, everything sounds balanced and robust when it needs too, especially the film’s score. And when it comes to the gunshots and other ambient noises things sounds very good. Additional subtitles options are English SDH, Spanish and French for the 115 minute version and English subtitles for the 119 minute version.
Extras for this release include a poster & still gallery, a Italian language trailer (2 minutes 32 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), a English language trailer for the film (2 minutes 27 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), 2 T.V. spot’s (1 minute 2 seconds – 4:3 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive and 31 seconds – 4:3 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive) and a featurette titled ‘In the Company of Companeros’ (17 minutes 2 seconds – Letterboxed Widescreen / 1.33:1 aspect ratio 1080 Progressive, in English and Italian with English subtitles) with comments from actors Franco Nero and Tomas Milan and composer Ennio Morricone and an audio commentary with journalists Henry Parke and C. Courtney Joyner who discuss the score, the cast, Sergio Corbucci and other films he also worked on, the look of the film, how politics played a role in many Spaghetti Westerns, comedy in Spaghetti Westerns and there thoughts on key moments in the film.
Topics discussed by Franco Nero include how he likes to use his own voice in all the westerns he made after Django, working with Milan, Sergio Corbucci, the cast, the score and how he often revisits this film. Topics discussed by Thomas Milan include how he has a reputation for being difficult to work with, creating a believable character, why Nero would show up for makeup two hours early, improvising and working with Nero, working with Sergio Corbucci and how Milan would make him laugh, the cast and the score. And Ennio Morricone discusses how he wanted to give the film a score that was distinctively different then he ones he created for Sergio Leone. Overall Companeros gets a first rate release from Blue Underground, highly recommended.