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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.
This film (which I saw as "The Hellbenders") is not much like the average western. As you watch, it is not easy to decide if we are supposed to be rooting for or against the main characters. Even when it becomes apparent which side of the good/evil line most of them stand on, Jonas (the real focus of the story) remains in a grey area. In the end, wether he is a hero or villain depends on the ideals of the audience. That is what I found most refreshing about this film. It lets you make up your own mind, rather than forcing one opinion of what is virtuous on you.
After the Civil War a dedicated ex-Confederate officer leads a hearse
with a coffin full of money to New Mexico where he wants to revive the
Confederation. His company is formed by his three very different sons
and an alcoholic women. After the woman gets killed she is replaced by
a seasoned female gambler who is well played by Norma Bengell. The
whole story unfolds in the way of a road movie where the characters are
passing through the typical obstacles of a Western environment. Due to
a massacre the bunch committed in the beginning they are hunted by
unionists and government officials. Corbucci manages to make the
characters who are basically all criminals very likable and I was more
often than not at the edge of my seat when the bunch run into trouble.
Probably THE WILD BUNCH from Peckinpah got some inspirations from here
and Corbucci's COMPAÑEROS can be considered a later variant with a
The mood of the film is excellently supported by Morricone's score which belongs to his best. Cinematography is above average. The Spaghetti Western Web Board rated this film at #24 of all SW in 2005.
7 / 10
Sergio Corbucci's Western is packed with noisy action and lots of
violence . Italian-Spanish co-production financed by Jose G Maesso and
Albert Band full of action , exaggerated characters, shootouts and
drama . This is a surprisingly low-key Spaghetti Western set in the
post-Civil War era in which a washed-out confederate Colonel (Joseph
Cotten) and his band of three sons (Julian Mateos,Guido Pernice,Angel
Aranda) led a hearse and taking on a variety of problems and risks with
the aim to go on the rebel cause . As three diverse characters and his
father who call themselves ¨The Hellbenders¨ joining forces to carry a
stolen currency . The crazed ex-Confederate Cotten plans to utilize it
to reorganize Confederacy and rekindle the war but find numerous
This entertaining picture contains a twisted plot , action Western , shootouts and bits of campy and refreshing events with turns and twists . It's an improbable blending of standard Western with pursuits, high body-count and it's fast moving and quite entertaining. An interesting casting full of usual Spaghetti make this oater well worth the watching . Delightful Western in which the violent family using his wits , breaking all the rules and kicking virtually every cliché in the pants , as the familiar group relentlessly deceives, plunders and robs . Amiable but sometimes lumbering Western goes on and on about the same premise , as minutes are superfluous , it has quarter hour of excess , as it packs some moments turn out to be dull and tiring . Furthermore, appears ordinary secondaries of Spaghetti/Paella Western as Aldo Sambrell , Ennio Girolami, Jose Canalejas , Alvaro De Luna and Benito Stefanelli who is also master of arms and stunt . There is plenty of action in the movie , guaranteeing shootouts, fights or stunts every few minutes . The musician Ennio Morricone or Leo Nichols composes a nice soundtrack with catching leitmotif and well conducted ; it's full of guttural sounds with use of harmonica , trumpets and guitar. Striking cinematography by Enzo Barboni or E.B.Clucher (author of Trinity series with Terence Hill, Bud Spencer) who does an excellent cinematography with barren outdoors, dirty landscapes under a glimmer sun and photographed in Eastmancolor with negative regularly processed for that reason is necessary an urgent remastering . Interiors filmed at Italia , Cinecitta studios , and outdoor sequences shot on outskirts of Madrid La Pedriza , Colmenar Viejo , and of course , at Almeria, Spain. In addition , there are many fine technicians and nice helpers as appears as assistant direction Ruggiero Deodato future author of Cannibal Holocaust and fine Art Direction by Perez Cubero.
Sergio Corbucci's direction is well crafted, here he's more cynical and violent and less inclined toward humor and packs too much action , but especially this moving Western contains broad violence .The movie contains gun-play, action Western, bloody spectacle and fist-fights . The other Sergio made several Spaghetti classics as ¨ Django¨, ¨The great silence¨, ¨The specialist¨ , and Zapata Western as ¨The Mercenary¨, ¨The Compañeros¨ and ¨What am I doing in middle of the revolution¨ . In addition Sergio directed other inferior S.W. as ¨Far West story¨ ,¨Johnny Oro¨, ¨The white the yellow an the black¨ and ¨Minnesota Clay¨. It's an offbeat , surprising and uneven Western but will appeal to Corbucci aficionados . Rating : 7 , riotous Western in which there's too much action and violence and enough excitement
This largely overlooked Spaghetti Western is one of the most unique and
unusual entries in the work of prolific director Sergio Corbucci.
Coming after the simplistic, over-the-top action of Django and the
inferior Navajo Joe, it marks a beginning of a gradual increase in the
quality of his films during the late 1960s.
Corbucci had clearly been attracting attention Django was a massive hit and was now commanding bigger budgets, as well as bigger names in the credits. The Hellbenders boasts talented Mercury Theatre veteran Joseph Cotton in the lead role. However, like his friend Orson Welles, Cotton's career was in the doldrums and it's fairly clear he appears here for the money, not the fun of it.
In style and story The Hellbenders is clearly a very different plate of spaghetti. The plot is based on a simple yet original premise. It's a great idea to have the defeated Confederate soldiers who hope to restart the Civil War carry their loot around in a coffin a perfect symbol for the hopelessness of their cause. This device also allows for several extremely satisfying twists. As far as look goes, there is none of the grit and seediness of other Italian westerns and, with its compliment of cavalry and wagons The Hellbenders has more of the trappings of a John Ford film. It also has a somewhat more positive (albeit rather patronising) portrayal of women than most of its contemporaries, as it is the female lead who outwits all the men. While the basic plot elements are great, The Hellbenders is let down by the minutiae. The characters are fairly one-dimensional. Corners are cut and motivations are unrealistic. The ending is a total mess while the final moments are nicely done, the screenwriters needlessly squeeze in a beggar and a tribe of vengeful Indians into the last ten minutes.
Corbucci's direction was never great, but he was a cut above the average in the genre, and there are some occasional moments of genius. The first action scene, the massacre of a few dozen Union troops, is brilliantly constructed, and Corbucci gives a level of realism to the violence that even Sergio Leone didn't have at this point. As usual though he is still let down by his overuse of the zoom lens and his having absolutely no feel for landscape shots. The editing on this picture is very good, and no wonder, since it's done by Leone's frequent collaborator Nino Baragli. Ennio Morricone provides the music, although it's a rather mediocre score by his standards.
While some top class actors tend to get a bit half-hearted when they're in less glamorous company, Joseph Cotton does a good job here, lending credibility to this somewhat creaky production. The same can't be said for the rest of the cast who are by and large abysmal. Despite some attention-grabbing cameos from Aldo Sanbrell and Al Mulock, The Hellbenders has a real lack of familiar spaghetti western faces. Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega, Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Millian, Klaus Kinski any of those would have been more than welcome.
Despite those flaws I've listed I do enjoy The Hellbenders fairly well, and I do think it's often underrated. If you could just polish up the script, and add a few more decent acting performances, this under-appreciated spaghetti would have been one of the genre's classics.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- Joseph Cotten is an ex-Confederate soldier who would like to see the
South rise again. To finance such a venture, he and his three sons rob
a Union convoy carrying $1 million. The money is placed in a coffin and
disguised as the dead husband of Cotten's "daughter" - really just a
woman he has hired to play the part of a widow in case they get
stopped. The group will have to evade not only the Union Army, but also
Mexican bandits, revenge minded Indians, a posse, and each other if
they are to get home with the money.
- After having seen Hellbenders, I'm convinced now more than ever that if it weren't for Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci would be the recognized master of the Spaghetti Western. Hellbenders fits nicely beside Corbucci's other genre masterpieces. It may not be as over-the-top as Django or as beautiful as The Great Silence, but in it's own unique way, it's almost as good. Hellbenders takes it's own sweet time telling its story, and that's a good thing. You really get to know the characters and develop feelings for them. The acting, whether it's the crazed brother Jeff (Gino Pernice), the sympathetic Claire (Norma Bengell), or the always entertaining Cotten, is as good as you'll see in this kind of movie. The ending is marvelous. It's got to be one of the most satisfying twist endings I've seen in a SW.
- For those familiar with SWs, all I really need to say about the score is that it was composed by Ennio Morricone. That should be enough. The main theme is a trumpet-dominated mournful piece that grows in meaning throughout the film.
"The Hellbenders" is Corbucci's predecessor to his genre defining "Django" of the same year. Initially, the film can be dismissed as a low-budget mess because of poor audio and cinematography, but there are redeeming qualities which make this film a landmark in the overall Western genre. It was one of the first to use Almeira, Spain as a backdrop. It follows the adventure of a gang of ruthless Conferates (three brothers and their father, Joseph Cotten) fleeing the Union cavalry, Mexican outlaws, a local sherrif, and a vengeful Indian tribe. They carry a coffin filled with booty, and a permit stating that the coffin contains the body of a dead lieutenant. Corbucci pulls in a femme fatale (Norma Bengall) to foil the gang's money heist. Along the way a Mexican bandit is backstabbed, so to speak, by Cotten, and the bandit proclaims that they will meet again in hell. I'll leave the plot twists for you to discover, but note that "The Wild Bunch," released two years later, has a similar plot and twists. Also note Corbucci's more refined and improved spaghetti western, "Django," employs the use a mysterious coffin, which houses a Gatling machine gun, just so conveniently used again in "The Wild Bunch." Ol' Peckinpah sure did his homework.
a special western. because the classic ingredients of genre are only details. because the theme of illusory dream becomes, scene by scene, more dramatic and complex. at the first sigh - the film of Joseph Cotten proposing an ambiguous hero. in fact, few interesting performances - Norma Bengell and Julian Mateos are the most easy to name - , a story who is far to be predictable, a powerful end who has the mark of period but who transforms entire story in a kind of parable. a film who is different by basic expectations. and that fact does it special. because it has not exactly genre apart, the theme is more profound by fights, love stories and line between good and bad guy, the meetings with different people, from the original sin to the desire of justice of the Indians , the memorable performance of All Mulock as the beggar, are steps to the verdict of viewer. a waste trip, madness of lost cause, justice or simply destiny. a film with many touching scenes. and with an useful message.
Sergio Corbucci's "I Crudeli" aka. "The Hellbenders", is not one of his
best Films, but nevertheless a great Spaghetti Western.
A few months after the end of the Civil War, a former Confederate colonel, still a fanatic devotee to the old South, and his three sons rob a money transport of the US Army, and kill every witness in a bloody massacre. With the money they hope to realize the colonel's plan to reorganize the Confederate Army and to restore the old South.
Although "The Hellbenders" doesn't come up to Corbucci's masterpieces "Django" and "The Great Silence", it is still a great, and in some parts unusual Spaghetti Western. Joseph Cotten is great as Jonas the colonel, a religious Southerner, a fanatic who, in a cold blooded manner, puts 'the cause' over everything else. Norma Bengell's performance is very good, and Julian Mateos, who plays another main character, the Colonel's son Ben, also does a good job. Some of the movie's best performances, however, are those of the supporting cast. Aldo Sambrell is great as a Mexican outlaw and Al Mulloch has one of the film's best roles as a tricky beggar. Benito Stefanelli has very short role as a card player, and Gino Pernice plays the Colonel's son Jeff. The music by Ennio Morricone is very good, of course, although it's not one of his best scores.
Though it has some lengths "The Hellbenders" is a pretty brutal and very good Spaghetti Western, and should not be missed by my fellow Corbucci fans.
Under the pretense of escorting a body back east for burial,
ex-Confederate Joseph Cotten and his sons transport a coffin full of
stolen cash meant to be used to re-start the Confederacy and begin the
second Civil War. However, robbing and killing a military transport was
the easy part for Cotten and sons.
There's lots of great moments of suspense and double-crossing treachery in this slightly offbeat, above average spaghetti western, featuring director Sergio Corbucci's usual flair for excessive violence (for the 60's) and a good, more subtle than usual music score by the great Ennio Morricone.
Cotten, (who's great) in an appropriately cruel and domineering performance, heads a cast of familiar European faces, including a great cameo appearance by Spanish actor Aldo Sambrell as a sweaty Mexican bandit.
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