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A wagon load of convicts on their way to prison is being escorted through the mountains by a cavalry troop. They are attacked by a bandit gang, and only a sergeant, his beautiful young daughter and an assortment of seven sadistic, murderous prisoners survive, and they are left without horses or a wagon. The sergeant must find a way to get his prisoners to their destination while protecting his daughter, watching out for the still pursuing bandits and trying to determine which one of the prisoners was the man who raped and murdered his wife. Written by
Conedandos a vivir (1972) was and is marketed purely as a violent exploitation film. Viewers approach it that way and either find it terribly vacant and crude or enjoy those aspects of the movie that are hyped up by hucksters. As the euro-western was widely marketed as violent and cynical, this advertising tactic that often blinds viewers to what is actually occurring on-screen. This is unfortunate as this movie is actually a well thought out and decently executed western that provides the nihilistic capstone to an interesting series of Spanish westerns made in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s. Viewed in that tradition, as the terminal point in a genre narrative that began much earlier in films like Joaquin Marchent's own El Sabor de la venganza (1963), it is a moving and fascinating movie.
Contrary to the reputation of the "Mediterranean westerns" made in Italy and Spain in the 1960s and 70s, these movies are not simply absurd and extreme distortions of the original American genre somewhat like Red River (1948) or Rio Bravo (1959) projected into a hall of mirrors. Instead of warped conventions without significance, these movies contained their own views of society and morality. Many of the westerns written or directed by Spaniards have a very interesting perspective of the nature of violence that is central to plot and character. Violence is a contagion that consumes everything and everyone in it's vicinity. In movies like El Hombre que mató a Billy el Niño (1967), El Sabor de la venganza (1963), or Garringo (1969) victims are transformed into victimizers through the alchemy of good intentions in a corrupt society. There is always a character who has a close personal relationship with the victim-turned-victimizer who both opposes the political corruption and also it's products, including their friend or brother/son. Outlaws are portrayed in bestial terms, a pack dominated by the most brutal one. These movies always end with an ambiguous sacrifice to necessity.
With Condenados a vivir, this formula reaches it's fullest development. Isolated in the wilderness, there is nothing to stall the corrosive assault of brutality. Every member of the group is degraded and virtually every on-screen character is dead by the final credits. Sarah Brown (Emma Cohen) is the only character who opposes this effect in any way, though her response is ambiguous as it involves a hopeless and absolute nihilism. In this series of movies, the typical genre ending of a shoot-out in the street or synonymous act becomes endlessly complicated. The exorcism of violence by violence must, according to the logic of these narratives, only perpetuate the contagion an inescapable circularity.
This movie has a sort of resurrection of the dead hero in the manner of the Italian brand of western, but here it occurs in the delusions of an insane fugitive. However, whereas in the Italian movies this return-from-the-grave is followed by a sort of liberation of a community, in this movie this is only a guilt-ridden and confused hallucination.
As in most of these Spanish movies, the technical execution lags far behind the narrative sophistication. The "gore-effects" will strike you as laughable if you are in the right mood. However, all-in-all, this movie is a successful and sincere b-movie, and as such I recommend it. With El Sabor de la venganza, this is Joaquin Marchent's best western.
Top spaghetti western list http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849907
Average SWs http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849889
For fanatics only (bottom of the barrel) http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849890
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