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The Civil War has ended, but not for Jonas, a ruthless Confederate officer who wants to continue the fight by reorganizing Confederate troops in the Southwest with the support of a large sum of stolen money. He devises an elaborate ruse to allow his small party to travel with minimal scrutiny through hostile territory, for the money is hidden in a coffin said to contain the body of his dead son. Jonas' other sons travel with him along with a hired "widow", as they proceed to what they hope to be a new start to the War between the States. However, while en route, they face severe, ongoing strife among themselves and successive threats from Union soldiers, a posse of cowboys, and an Indian war party. Written by
Joseph Cotton stars as Jonah, an ex-confederate trying to keep the dreams of the south alive following General Lee's surrender. He and his sons, known as the Hellbenders, massacre a troop to steal the money that they are transporting, with the aim of using this prize to restart the confederate cause. The stolen loot is stored in a coffin, disguised as the dead Captain Ambrose, and transported across the desert to Jonah's home town. They are accompanied by a drunken whore, under the guise of Ambrose's mourning widow, supposedly transporting the dead man to his place of rest. The search for the troop's murderers is in full flow, but Jonah is a man obsessed with the cause, and nothing or no-one is going to stop him achieving his objective.....
Hellbenders is an absolute classic of the Spaghetti Western genre, standing proudly side by side fellow Corbucci classics Django and the Great Silence. It continues in Corbucci's usual vein, firing bullets of unjust and unexpected twists at the screen, as the plot spirals towards its grim finale. All the while, the engaging trumpet of Morricone's score becomes more and more pleasing to the ear.
The slow but gripping pace of the movie reminds me of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in the way that its story is joined together by a number of sub plots. But here there is little humour. Aside from Ben (Mateos) and Claire (Bengell), the Hellbenders are an ugly and evil lot. Cotton is compelling as Jonah, his deadpan expression superbly capturing the characters single-minded vision. Pernice (perhaps most famous for having his ear cut off in Django) is truly deranged as the equally perverted and dim-witted Jeff. There are also great cameo appearances from euro-western favourites Al Mulock, Aldo Sambrell and Benito Stefanelli.
The film does tend to plod rather than gallop in a number of places (and this is in no way a bad thing!), and its story is quite different from the majority of the films in the Spaghetti Western genre. But it is a compelling view, with the scene at the Fort and the excellent finale worth the price of admission in itself.
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