Cemetery without Crosses: Limited Edition (DE - DVD R2)
Gabe sings "I swore a vow on my dyin' breath to ride a trail that ends in death"...
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After being forced to witness her husband’s execution at the hands of the evil, land owning Rogers family, Maria (Michèle Mercier) seeks vengeance. Unable to rely on her husband’s witless brothers, she enlists the help of Manuel (Robert Hossein), a brooding, highly skilled gunfighter who lives alone in a nearby ghost town.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a Spaghetti Western and it’s been a while since I reviewed a Dario Argento movie. Two birds, meet one stone. Cemetery without Crosses isn’t one of Argento’s directorial endeavours, rather it’s one of several movies he wrote in the wake of his successful scripting début with Bernardo Bertolucci for Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The film was directed Robert Hossein, best known for his acting roles in movies like Angélique, Le Casse, and Vice and Virtue. The film was entirely made in homage to Sergio Leone (most likely the reason for hiring Argento), partially due to the fact that Hossein originally turned down the Man with No Name role in Fistful of Dollars.
Though the film slides neatly into the Spaghetti Western pantheon (it’s a French and Italian co-production), Cemetery without Crosses (aka: Une corde, un Colt, or The Rope and the Colt, which is the theme of the title song) has a solid slice more of American influence then most Italian flavoured cowboy movies. Medium shots are common, rather then monumental close ups of gnarled faces, and the violence is decidedly less gruesome. There is a healthy sense of the surreal, as in a long dining sequence which ends with a suspense driven practical joke (apparently directed by Sergio Leone himself). The pacing is at times extremely slow, which is common for the type, but the actual screen time is quite brief, under ninety minutes.
The film begins in black and white and then fades into sun baked colour after the opening credits have rolled. The interesting thing about this is that the scene isn’t a flashback; it’s a real time event. The black and white reappears at the end of the film as a bookend, as if this story has been merely a chapter in a larger tale. Sound effects are minimal and repetitive, and often entirely buried beneath the classical guitar heavy soundtrack, reinforcing the dreamy nature, but also grouping long sequences into pseudo-tone poems. The film’s dialogue would seem minimal even in a Leone or Carbucci picture, as entire conversations are held without words time and time again.
The story fulfils most of the subgenre’s cliché’s early on—an industrious villain with a tight knit gang of hooligans, an outrageous cause for vengeance, a strong and silent hero who infiltrates the enemy ranks and so on. It comes as a bit of a shock then when at around the half way point we seem to have reached our conclusion, only to realize there’s an additional forty minutes of movie left. Moral ambiguity was a popular western staple even before the Italians got their hands on the material, but Cemetery with out Crosses is particularly wrought with blurred lines of good an evil, especially after our usual expectations have been fulfilled. This is an intensely melancholy effort, and often smacks of pretension, but the final product is both moving and beautiful.
German studio Anolis, also known as Buio Omega, has done their best with what appears to be extremely damaged source material. Based on what I learned from the extra features on the disc I’m going to guess that this print was put together from several different sources. This isn’t a Blue Underground style massive overhaul, but the producers manage to make the feature palatable.
The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is dirty and displays plenty of print damage, including various film artefacts and tracking lines. Colours are pretty strong, but there is a lack of definition in hue, insuring that most skin tones are identical shades (kind of like a colourized version of a black and white film). The entire image is a bit washed out, and contrast levels may be upped a bit too high, but blacks are rich, and details relatively sharp without too much edge enhancement. Grain is prevalent, but compression noise is surprisingly minimal.
It seems finding a complete version of Cemetery without Crosses’ soundtrack was no small task for Anolis. As seen in the disc’s special features comparison, there are several small differences in musical placement throughout various versions of the film, not to mention a whole lot of alternate dubs. The ideal dub track would likely be the original French one, but because this disc is lacking English subtitles I was forced to watch the film with the English dub. The musical cues during the English dub seem to match those of the original (and one assumes intended) French dub. German speaking viewers have a choice of two dubbed tracks with different soundtracks.
The Mono English soundtrack isn’t particularly bombastic, but the often loud music doesn’t distort at higher volume levels, and isn’t as flat as some other mono releases. Every dubbed track has its share of cracks and pops, but the audio isn’t muddied, and the dialogue is always clear. The English dialogue does not match the French lip movement, but it’s not too far off, closer in fact then the German dub, which is also too loudly mixed.
But wait, what’s this, Dario Argento didn’t have anything to do with the script? Hmm. During the rather lengthy interview featurette director/writer/star Robert Hossein is asked point blank about Argento’s involvement, and in shock he swears the then blossoming director had nothing to do with his film. The interviewer even inquires about the specific use of black gloves (an Argento standby), but Hossein is unshakable in his insistence. The interview (in French with German and English subtitles) is well produced, utilizing behind the scenes pictures and scenes from the film for to good effect, and is infinitely informative considering the elusive nature of the flick itself. It runs about twenty-six minutes.
There is an interesting selection of comparisons between two different cuts of the film, showing us everything we would’ve missed had we not watched this uncut version. The credits are paced differently, and the black and white to colour transition is removed. The Leone directed dinner scene is halved, as is the film’s most impressive sequence, an intense stare off between our hero and heroine. The end credits are also shortened, and again do not feature the colour to black and white transition.
Then the difference between the music used in the Italian/French and German releases is explored. The German release originally features a largely inappropriate jazz infused score during some dramatic moments, apparently added to soften the film’s darker aspects. The featurette also explores other musical differences between cuts, such as the German release’s use of the music box theme during different sections of the film (likely meant to evoke memories of For a Few Dollars More). This featurette is only available with German text, but you’ll get the gist.
This collector’s edition set, straight from Germany and housed in an honest to God wooden box, also contains a German trailer, an Italian trailer, the German credits, the video release credits, the Italian credits (which are sepia tone rather then B&W), a German magazine article (read aloud in German), fimographies of Robert Hossein and Michele Mercier (in German), the German press book, and some German only extras that I couldn’t quite decipher.
It’s a little pricey, but this is one of only two versions of Cemetery without Crosses available, and it is the cheaper. The disc’s audio presentation is exhaustive, though unfortunately English-speaking viewers will be stuck with the English dub due to a lack of subtitles, and the video quality is passable. Extras are impressive, though aimed more strictly at a German speaking audience, and the wooden box (about the size of a normal DVD case) is pretty cool. This isn’t an essential Euro-Western release, but it is one of the better films in the pantheon.
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Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 26th July 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono German, Dolby Digital Mono German (Alternate Music), Dolby Digital Mono French, Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: German, English (During Extras Only)
Extras: Director Interview, Version Comparison, Trailers, Poster Gallery, Alternate Credits, Magazine Article, German Press Book
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Hossein
Cast: Robert Hossein, Michèle Mercier, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Benito Stefanelli, Anne-Marie Balin
Length: 87 minutes
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