Most film enthusiasts begin and end their cinematic self-education of the spaghetti western with the Sergio Leone trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood’s eponymous Man with No Name; A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly respectively. Some go onto Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West starring Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda, others go onto the Sergio Corbucci feature Django. The select few who venture further into Django star Franco Nero’s film catalog may find more than mere fool’s gold in the form of Enzo G. Castellari’s oft forgotten cinematic gem Keoma.
From his visually captivating introduction, riding into town framed in the breach of a rattling abandon doorway, Keoma’s mere existence is rife with struggle. When the half white, half Native American drifter intervenes on behalf of the newly widowed and pregnant Lisa (Olga Karlatos, Purple Rain, Zombi 2), it’s merely the beginning of a heap of hassle that our stalwart protagonist must contend with. Returning to his plague ridden hometown, Keoma finds himself at odds with a gang of unruly marauders seeking to quarantine anyone with the slightest indication of potential infection. Their lawless leader ex-Confederate Caldwell and Keoma’s three Caucasian half brothers who never saw Keoma as one of their own terrorize the town. With the aid of his elderly gunslinging father (Sabata’s William Berger), former slave, current town drunk and skilled bow expert George (Woody Strode of Spartacus fame), the apparition of a mystical witch appearing periodically in times of need and a wondrously atonal score, courtesy of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (Death Proof, Yor, the Hunter from the Future), Keoma plans to paint the town red in a hurricane of knife throwing, rifle racking action. But can Keoma save the unborn “bastard” child of the widow he rescued from the cruel world around him? Can Keoma save himself from the past that persistently haunts him and seek the freedom he so desperately craves?
In the arena of Italian westerns, Nero remains the only name in town to rival that of Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (bolstered further by the fact that he actually hails from Italy). His cutthroat cowboy classics inspiring the likes of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (to which he also appears in), Nero’s unique brand of deep seeded rage thinly veiled by unflappable stoicism goes largely unmatched to this day. The film Keoma arrived in the twilight years of the spaghetti western era and, as such, appears influenced not only by the spaghetti westerns that preceded it but also by the contemporary American westerns of the day, namely Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. It’s beautiful and brutal use of slow motion to punctuate acts of violence being largely unconventional in the Italian western. Also wondrously unconventional is the film’s use of the flashback motif, wherein adult cast members literally step into their past as captive observers of their younger selves.
The cinematography throughout, aided by film DP Aiace Parolin, is phenomenal. Filming the rear of a target as Nero and Berger are revealed in the ensuing bullet holes. Keoma’s four fingers, curling down one by one, to reveal four bandits he intends to takeout with four bullets. Tied to a wagon wheel in true Christlike repose as lightning flashes on Keoma rain soaked face. Keoma’s climactic showdown with his antagonist siblings amidst the sounds of Lisa giving birth. This is just some of the cinematic flare offered up to complement the film’s ever quotable dialogue, dialogue such as Strode’s lament regarding his broken down banjo; “I ain’t got but three strings. I’m waiting for them to bust. And me with them.”
Keomais newly available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video featuring a 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative, English and original Italian soundtracks, audio commentary courtesy of screenwriter/film author C. Courtney Joyner and True West Magazine scribe Henry C. Parke as well as brand new interviews with Franco Nero, director Enzo G. Castellari, writer Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman), editor Gianfranco Amicucci and actors Massimo Vanni and Volfango Soldati. The disc also features an archival featurette with director Castellari, an introduction to the film by Repo Man/Sid and Nancyfilmmaker Alex Cox, Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western, a video appreciation by the film historian Austin Fisher not to mention my personal favorite feature, Arrow’s requisite reversible cover showcasing both new and original poster art for Keoma. Keoma remains required viewing for both fans of the spaghetti western as well as fans of cinema at large.