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Man, Pride, and Vengeance

Review by: 
Big McLargehuge
Release Date: 
Blue Underground
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Luigi Bazzoni
Franco Nero
Tina Aumont
Klaus Kinski
Bottom Line: 

I came to Man, Pride, and Vengeance (AKA: With Django Comes Death) expecting another 100 or so minutes in the mythic west where bounty killers chased scumbags through towns made mostly of dust. What I got was one of the best adult melodramas I've ever watched. Before you read one sentence further, be aware that while Man, Pride, and Vengeance is marketed as a spaghetti western, and was sold at the time as a Django movie, it's not in any way shape or form a western.

Based on the novella Carmen by Prosper Méremée follows stalwart soldier Don Jose (Franco Nero) as he completely destroys his life in pursuit of Gypsy/prostitute Carmen (Tina Aumont). The famous story is known more for the the opera penned by Bizet in 1875, but the mechanics of the story play out beautifully against the backdrop of the Spanish desert and through the camera of the spaghetti western auteur Luigi Bazzoni, himself creating the script from the source novella.

Before we talk about the plot, I want to say that this is easily one of the best looking movies I have ever  blundered into. The cinematography by Camillo Bazzoni is really, really good. His use of the cluttered, clogged, narrow streets and alleys of Seville in the first act contrast so well with the wide vistas and barren dusty wastelands of the Spanish desert that they could be in two different movies. He is a big fan of audacious widescreen panoramas that reduce the cast to almost sand-specs among the windswept plateaus and canyons as if to amplify their insignificance. But his interior work is what shines. The bordello where Carmen conducts her business is cramped and run down, the shed where Don Jose recovers from a stab wound is stone-aged. But they all look and more importantly feel really really real. Like you aren't watching characters on a set but are one of the people witnessing the story play out in real time.

The plot is as well known now as it was in 1804. Wide-eyed "good man" Don Jose is a sergeant in the Spanish Army stationed in Seville falls immediately in love with Gypsy, Carmen and destroys his life. There are some differences between this story and the source, the introduction of western imagery is one thing, and the addition of Carmen's husband, Garcia (Klaus Kinski),  and the power struggle between he and Don Jose, the theft of a strongbox of gold and the subsequent double crossing that happens once the gold is secured all add to the story. Each of these story beats leads Don Jose further and further from his humanity.

As an adaptation, these elements work really well and provide ample material for the second and third acts that allows the audience to believe a man like Don Jose could still follow Carmen against his better judgment, even against the advice of his costars. Part of Don Jose's problem is that, as a doomed romantic hero, he leaves all of the really important decision making to his lower, smaller, brain and Carmen is a master at manipulating lust.

Even though she turns on him, literally, one minute into their relationship, he follows the path of all doomed romantic heroes by believing that if he and she can just run away from where they are and start over everything will be wine and roses. Carmen knows that Don Jose thinks this and uses it as bait to drag him from one bad decision to another until there's no hope for escape. The script, co written by Luigi Bazzoni plays these elements a little broad, but I think that is because like all of these pan-European co-productions it had to appeal to the largest possible audience with the largest span of post-production audio so, at least in the English dub, some of the character motives are super-blatant. But you know,  I can still see how Don Jose could be led on by Carmen even when it's clear that he's making a stupid mistake. He is the classic protagonist that believes he can save the heroine even when she's the one driving him to his doom. This narrative bubbles up from the 1940s and the film noir tradition where sultry women like Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) and Lana Turner (the Postman Always Rings Twice) are twist and turn the lust of their suitors into weapons. Tina Aumont's Carmen is the only thing in the film that is sort of one-dimensional, and while it's easy to see how an "innocent" like Don Jose can fall stupid over stupid in love with her, it's hard to imagine her maintaining the hold she does when her mood and character swings are so obviously broad.

The acting in this film is excellent, though the broadness of spectrum between seductive waif and conniving evil bitch in Carmen is almost a grotesque, and Don Jose's wide-eyed naivete is almost tragicomic, the film still holds together. You get the feeling as you watch that you're seeing something much greater than the sum of its parts, that it's a story as old as time itself, to Eve and the apple and the myth of man's fall from grace; so epic in scope and so honest in emotion. This is the first film where I've had to see Franco Nero "act" outside the regular limited emotional range required of a typical spaghetti western and it's clear that he was leagues better than the material in which he typically acted. In fact, I'd go on to say that the cast in general manages to ascend to the emotional heights required of the script. The supporting cast too is fantastic, and so well written as to have compelling reasons to pay attention to who they are and what they do. From alcoholic henchmen to a boy who believes his stolen horse is the reincarnation of his long dead younger brother. Bazzoni manages to wring every possible iota of personality and watch-ability out of his supporting cast.

Man Pride and Vengeance was so engrossing I often found myself yelling at the TV for Don Jose to not do the stupid thing that Carmen was leading him off to do. And if that isn't engrossing, I don't know what is.

I can't tell if the score if a stock score, but with only music directors listed at the IMDB I am going to guess that it's the case. None of the music in the film stands out, there are no character or event refrains so typical of Italian cinema scores.

The Blue Underground Blu-Ray comes with interviews with Franco Nero, and Vittorio Storaro (a camera operator who went on to fame as a cinematographer later). There's also an informative commentary track with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Park.

Throw in a couple of different audio options and subtitle choices and you're good for an evening of much more complex and interesting cinema than you thought possible for a film marketed as a standard spaghetti western.

It's gems like Man, Pride and Vengeance that keep me going back to the well of 1960s Italian genre stuff for treasures. This film in particular will definitely make me seek out the greater variety of Franco Nero films too.

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