Monday, June 18, 2012

THE GRAND DUEL / KEOMA (Blu-ray)

Budget video label Mill Creek Entertainment has recently released its latest low-priced SPAGHETTI WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE on Blu-ray disc. This new volume includes high definition, widescreen transfers of the 1972 Lee Van Cleef vehicle THE GRAND DUEL (IL GRANDE DUELLO) and 1976's KEOMA, with Franco Nero.

THE GRAND DUEL is a fairly straight-forward revenge tale, with Spaghetti Western staple Van Cleef (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, SABATA) portraying a former lawman helping an unjustly accused fugitive (Alberto Dentice) exact justice from the wealthy family that framed him for the murder of their Patriarch.

Competently directed by Giancarlo Santi, who had worked as a second unit director for Sergio Leone on THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, from a screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, DUEL is a briskly-paced, traditional Euro-Western with a fair amount of well-executed gunplay and some nicely scenic vistas, dramatically anchored by a typically professional performance by the always reliable Van Cleef.

KEOMA is a weird one. The titular half-breed gunfighter Keoma (DJANGO himself, Franco Nero with beard and long wig) returns to his hometown to find it oppressed by the Caldwell family; a ruthless clan that has deliberately allowed a plague to spread so as to tighten their grip on the community. When Keoma intercedes, he finds that his own half-brothers - who had tormented him and resented their father's love for him all their lives - have joined the wealthy Caldwell family's forces.

Directed by Enzo G Castellari (THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, ANY GUN CAN PLAY), this late entry in the Euro-Western cycle is remarkably bleak, grim, and occasionally surreal. The cast, which includes William Berger and the great Woody Strode, is solid, and the plot is fairly familiar. But Castellari makes a number of odd and bold directorial choices that lift the movie well above many of its contemporaries. One choice that doesn't work, though, is the decision to have male and female singers (if they can indeed be considered such) provide a narrative voiceover in song, often conveying the characters' innermost thoughts musically. It is so grating (especially the male "singer") that it can actually get distracting, but if you can tune it out, you'll find that KEOMA is a pretty remarkable genre film.

The Mill Creek Blu-ray disc presents both films in surprisingly clean, 2.35:1 widescreen at 1080p high definition. Both transfers are very nice, especially for 40+ year-old non-domestic productions, with bright, mostly-stable colors, sharp details, and good contrast. Both prints are also notably devoid of dirt or damage. Audio is English DTS-HD Master Audio. The only extras are vintage theatrical trailers.

This Blu-ray is highly recommended for Spaghetti Western aficionados. The prints are widescreen, hi-def and nearly pristine - which is unusual for most U.S. home video versions of Spaghetti Westerns - and it's hard to argue with the price, which is well under $10.

BUYSpaghetti Western Double Feature - Grand Duel & Keoma - Blu-ray