The Western is one of my most unfamiliar genres of film, I have seen a few, mostly modern, but none the less have enjoyed what little I have invested into this vast spectrum of movie watching. A personal interest in the Spaghetti Western more specifically has been present since I discovered the incredible music of Ennio Morricone, and traced the specific tracks that Quentin Tarantino incorporated into his Kill Bill, and most recently Inglourious Basterds films. Unfortunately over the past few years I haven’t really tried my hand at too many. In fact I can shamefully admit that the only Spaghetti Western I had ever watched was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The Mercenary (Il mercenario) marks the second entry I have made into this amazing genre, and I have to say, I LOVED it!
Tony Mustante plays Paco Roman, a peasant who after being poorly treated by his rich boss publicly humiliates him, and finds himself about to be executed, only to be saved at the last minute by a few of him friends. (Admittedly this was probably the one moment I found a bit too ridiculous and a bit cringe worthy.) Now an outlaw he decides to begin a revolution against the Mexican army, but needs steal money to fund an army of his own.
Meanwhile, Franco Nero plays Sergei Kowalski, a Polish mercenary who offers his loyalty and skills with a gun only to anyone who has enough cash in their pocket. He is originally hired by two of the three Garcia brothers to help them carry their silver safely across the border. Their meeting is noticed by the menacing Curly (played so very awesome by Jack Palance) who eventually tracks the two brothers down to find out why they were hiring the Polish, and kills them. When Kowalski gets to a mine to meet the third Garcia brother, he finds his new boss and his men dead, and instead runs into Paco and his revolutionary army instead. After a brief hustle they are all ambushed by a Colonel Alfonso Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo). Paco instantaneously puts his differences aside and hires Kowalski to help defend against the invading army. His investment pays off and the rebels are victorious. The next day Kowalski leaves the group, only to be ambushed by Curly. Paco's group arrives to his rescue, and though they don’t kill Curly, he still swears revenge as they strip him of his entire wardrobe and send him off to the dessert. Paco rehires Kowlalski to teach him how to properly lead his revolution. However the two men seen to have an entirely different opinion on what it means to be loyal, an indifference that could lead to a very rough relationship.
There is certainly nothing groundbreaking about the films storytelling, but it’s everything else that makes this a truly amazing film. As I stated, I am a big fan of Ennio Morricone. His music, especially the famous L’Arena which acts as a theme for Kowalski, is nothing short of amazing. That theme alone plays such a huge role in setting the tone of the film. There is a particular scene later in the film that highlights that song in such a beautiful way, the theme is played in very effective ways throughout, but is brought out in full force, a real highlight.
There is a lot in this film that is unfamiliar to me; this is of course the first Sergio Corbucci I have seen, a director who I have heard compared to Sergio Leone, understandably. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the cast, primarily our three leads. Of course Jack Palance I know of, and thought he was fantastic in his small but important role. Tony Musante was really fun to watch, his Paco was a good combination of difference characteristics, including some well place comic relief. The man of the hour (and 50 minutes) though, Franco Nero! How have I not heard of him before? His presence in the film is so strong! He was a whole lot of badass! Looking through his catalog it would seem I have seen him before, but never to the same degree as his role in this film. The Kowalski character is an instant favorite, and has some very noteworthy characteristics, from his huge handlebar mustache, to the recurring joke of always lighting his match on some unsuspecting sap.
From what I have been able to find The Mercenary goes by a few different names, Il mercenario of course, A Professional Gunman, and an alternative (and pretty poor) US title Revenge of a Gunfighter. Either way the biggest crime of all is tha absolute lack of a decent DVD or Bluray release in North America. In fact in my efforts to track down a decent DVD I was only able to find a German and Japanese release. This is a real shame that this film has had such minimal exposure, as I said my only means of discovering this film was from tracing back the Ennio Morricone track on the Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds soundtracks.(Thanks Quentin)
The Mercenary has taught me two valuable things, I love Spaghetti Westerns, and, I need to watch more Spaghetti Westerns!