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Man, Pride and Vengeance Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)

When stalwart Spanish soldier, Don José (Franco Nero), meets the stunningly beautiful Carmen (Tina Aumont), he becomes instantly obsessed with the mysterious gypsy woman. After discovering she has cheated on him with his lieutenant, José kills the officer during a brawl and flees the city. Forced to become a bandit, José partners with Carmen’s villainous husband, Garcia (Klaus Kinski), to rob a stagecoach and prove his love for the seductive femme fatale. (From Blue Underground’s official synopsis)



Franco Nero’s place in the Italian western pantheon was solidified the moment he appeared in Sergio Corbucci’s seminal classic, Django (1966) (his second western, following Albert Band & Mario Sequi’s The Tramplers [Italian Gli uomini dal passo pesante, 1965]). Corbucci’s movie led to a stream of imitators. Soon, every spaghetti western hero was renamed Django for the sake of international advertising. This went double for the characters portrayed by Nero, himself and, historically, his earliest post-Django westerns found themselves resold as additional entries in the faux-Django lottery. While Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (Italian: Tempo di massacro; aka: The Brute and the Beast, 1966) and Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Addio (also 1966) eventually emerged as popular standalone features (despite both sharing quite a bit in common with the original Django), movies like Luigi Bazzoni’s truly distinctive Man, Pride and Vengeance (Italian: L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta; resold as With Django Came Death, 1968) remains obscure outside of Italy.


Bazzoni’s film is a pseudo-stealthy adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, a novella most famous for being the basis of French composer Georges Bizet’s four-act opera of the same name. The spaghetti westerns were often adaptations of previously-told stories, but most opted to borrow from historical references and other movies. Comparatively fewer were lifted from literature, including Enzo G. Castellari’s Johnny Hamlet (1968, based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet), Gianni Puccini’s Fury of Johnny Kid (1967, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s Ballad of a Bounty Hunter (1968, based on the myth of Phaedra), and Ferdinando Baldi’s The Forgotten Pistolero (1969, based on the myth of Orestes).


I’m not familiar enough with Mérimée’s novella to know exactly how closely Bazzoni and co-writer Suso Cecchi d'Amico’s script follows the original material, but understand well enough to appreciate the novelty of a spaghetti western adaptation. The story is more adult-oriented and romantic than normally expected from the genre, including more complicated character dynamics (feminine points-of-view, even antagonistic ones, are underrepresented in spaghettis), a wider narrative scope, and a sophisticated flashback structure. It also pays greater attention to detail than the typically archetypical genre plots seen in early stage Italian westerns. Regrettably, it doesn’t always work. The story unwinds too quickly (partially a problem with cramming the whole thing into 91 minutes), amplifying the melodrama of Carmen’s schemes and mood swings, and rendering her sham romance with Jose absurd way too early in the movie. This pacing issues undercut the otherwise impressive operatic tendencies (it almost feels like a reel or two is missing from the first act), leaving the more sensationalistic moments stifled and over-extending fistfights/horse chases.



After a nightmarish opening chase, complete with the kind of extreme camera work and editing techniques one might expect from Bazzoni’s later films, Man, Pride and Vengeance settles into a conventional period drama mode, mixing and matching popular styles from the era. Crash zooms and lavish widescreen compositions help maintain the basic flavor of a post-Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964) spaghetti, while the intimate sequences tend to borrow from the neorealist directors that were working in respectable productions throughout the ‘60s, namely Vittorio De Sica, who also tended to shoot character interactions with voyeuristic, hand-held cameras (and who worked with co-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico’s on Bicycle Thieves, 1949). As the film ambles its way back into typical western territory, Bazzoni’s unleashes some surprising gothic and expressionistic motifs (complete with fog, pin lights, Dutch angles, and long shadows). His action direction skills aren’t up to Leone or Corbucci’s level, but he does maintain a dramatic sense of scale by repeatedly cutting to super-wide shots that pan out until the characters are practically specks on the horizon.


Bazzoni’s film career was short and sweet. His first feature-length release, The Possessed (Italian: La Donna del Lago, 1965), is a breath-takingly shot, proto-giallo murder mystery that recalls the obsessive melancholy of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Man, Pride and Vengeance was his second film, followed by one more western, Brothers Blue (Italian: Blu Gang e Vissero per Sempre Felici e Ammazzati, 1973), and two evocative, psychologically challenging gialli: The Fifth Cord (also starring Nero, Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete, 1971) and Footprints (also featuring Kinski, Italian: La Ormel aka: Footprints on the Moon, 1975). He finished out his career in ’94 and ’95 with a five-part documentary series entitled Roma Imago Ubris (Images of Rome). The Fifth Cord is probably his most well-known work, thanks in part to its availability on DVD from Blue Underground, but Footprints is the better culmination of his specific talents.



Video

Man, Pride and Vengeance has never been officially distributed on North American digital home video, but was released on anamorphic DVD in Italy, Spain, and Germany. English-speaking fans could only acquire a ‘bootleg’ DVDR from Franco Cleef Restoration (a fan that would apply English language dubs from VHS copies to foreign-release spaghetti western DVDs). More recently, German distributor Koch Media released a RB Blu-ray version under the title With Django Comes Death (it was part of a Franco Nero box set and a stand-alone version is scheduled for release this July, according to Amazon’s German site).


The good news is that this 1080p, 2.35:1 release looks better than any DVD version and it can be played on an RA Blu-ray player. The bad news requires context. Some readers may recall that many of Blue Underground’s early Italian language Blu-ray releases were problematic (regretfully, I gave them both great reviews, because I was an uneducated whelp). The key issue in most cases was telecine scan noise and other related digital artifacts. Fans and videophiles have traced some of these scans to a single lab, while the lab in question has blamed the material (inconsistencies in negative format, film speeds, et cetera). Whatever the cause, the results vary from the extremely problematic Django to the generally acceptable City of the Living Dead. More recently, Blue Underground appeared to have overcome the problem and Italian-borne releases, like StageFright, more or less matched the quality of their US-borne Blu-rays.


Man, Pride and Vengeance is a step back. The image fluctuates between relatively normal and clean sequences, scenes (like the opening credits and a handful of wide-angle images) that are thick with natural film grain, and especially frustrating shots flecked with machine noise. These digital artifacts cause cross-coloration and, despite a generally sharp and complex appearance, dull the fine details. Perhaps even more problematic is the liberal application of digital noise reduction. This sometimes floats by unnoticed, but more commonly flattens the fine texture beneath a weirdly stationary sheen of mosquito noise. At worst, one or two scenes (Jose’s fistfight with his commanding officer towards the end of the first act, in particular) appear waxy. The color quality is also hit-and-miss. The well-lit outdoor shots and some of the more lavish daylight interiors are vibrant, sharply cut, and relatively eclectic. Then, during dimmer sequences, the palette appears over-cooled and a bit too dark. One sequence, a battle between Nero and Kinski, is so dim that I could hardly tell what was happening. Specs state that Man, Pride and Vengeance was produced using Technicolor processes, so it could conceivably have been made to look this way. Unfortunately, I have nothing to compare it to.



Audio

Blue Underground has included the Italian and English dubs (both of which were dubbed in post-production) and presents them in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The effects and music are similar enough in terms of fidelity and volume on each track to make the choice between them a matter of taste. The Italian dialogue has a bit more fuzz and high-end hiss, but blends into the other noise more effectively, while the English dialogue is more obviously dubbed, despite a slightly warmer overall sound. Nero appears to be dubbing himself in both languages (most of his lines are spoken in English), ensuring that his performance is consistent between the two versions, but Tina Aumont only dubs herself in Italian. Despite giving a fine performance, the actress that voices her on the English track (I thought it might be Carolyn De Fonseca, but can’t find a listing in her credits) doesn’t quite match her energy, which gives the Italian track a slight edge. Carlo Rustichelli’s score is delightfully eclectic, mixing crashing, operatic themes with traditional Spanish and Gypsy guitar tunes, and some calliope-like waltzes.


Extras

  • Commentary with author/critics/western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke – Joyner and Parke, who also appeared on commentary tracks for Blu-ray Underground’s Grand Duel and Compañeros releases, as well as Grindhouse’s The Big Gundown Blu-ray, discuss the making of Man, Pride and Vengeance and frame it in the greater context of the spaghetti genre. Very informative and valuable, considering the film’s rarity.

  • Luigi, Vittorio & Franco (28:50, HD) – Interviews with star Franco Nero and camera operator Vittorio Storaro. Both men discuss their memories of the film as well as their friendship with each other, Bazzoni, and some of the other crew members, which extended beyond this particular production (Nero doesn’t have the nicest things to say about Kinski).

  • International and Italian trailers

  • Poster and still gallery



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