Cemetery Without Crosses (1969) Review (Arrow Video DVD)

CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES (Une corde, un Colt…)

1969, dir: Robert Hossein

After watching her husband Ben (Benito Stefanelli, A Fistful of Dollars) executed by the rival Rogers family, Maria Caine (Michèle Mercier, Black Sabbath) wants nothing but revenge. After her brothers-in-law refuse to get too involved, she turns to Manuel (Robert Hossein, The Secret Killer), a family friend and former gunslinger who lives a life of solitude in a nearby ghost town. Initially, Manuel refuses to help as he doesn’t want to get in to anybody else’s business and has left that world behind him. Eventually, his love for Maria comes in to play and he agrees. The pair decide that blood for blood just isn’t enough and want to send a real message to Will Rogers (Daniele Vargas, The Arena) and his family by kidnapping his daughter Johanna (Anne-Marie Balin, Judge Roy Bean). After finding himself spending the night in jail due to intervening with some local thugs in a shoot out, he is introduced to the Rogers family and becomes a heavy. Once undercover and gaining respect, Manuel releases the families horses and in the ruckus, abducts Johanna. After acquiring the young girl, Maria orders her to be raped and confronts Will with his daughters necklace, the war truly beginning. Eventually, the Rogers family figure out the whereabouts of young Johanna and find themselves in Manuel’s ghost town where they can settle the score once and for all, by way of a good old fashioned shoot out.

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All in all, Cemetery Without Crosses is a good old fashioned spaghetti western. You will find no real political or social content with this one. Penned by Robert Hossein along with cult legend Dario Argento (Suspiria) and Claude Desailly (I Killed Rasputin), the plot is simple and effective. Those looking for a cynical and somewhat bleak experience will find a lot in this film, it’s not on the same level as Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence, but it’s up there. The film is brutal without being too comically bloody and there is a nice bodycount for those who like their spaghetti with a little heat. One thing that stood out to me was how morally conflicted and corrupt some of the characters were. This is of course nothing really new with the genre, but it’s handled well. We have Manuel, a man who has left a life of violence behind him, yet will go through with acts of vengeance for his love for Maria. Maria is hurting after losing her husband and will go to lengths of having a young girl raped. Yet, we the audience want revenge to be served. If you are a fan of Sergio Leone, there are some nods (some more obvious than others, such as the dedication at the end of the film) to the great director and his influential western offerings. Some even speculate that one or two scenes were actually directed by him. That being said, it would be unfair to say that this is merely a homage to Leone or another cheap cash in. Hossein has created his own original film here. Writing, directing and starring his own film which stands above many offerings from some of the veterans of the genre. To say I was pleasantly surprised by this film would be an understatement.

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You can’t talk about this film without commenting on the aesthetics. As much as I love the spaghetti western, I’ve been burned too many times by cheap, contrived and ultimately dull offerings. Thankfully, this film is as stylish as it is solidly written. There is some wonderful cinematography throughout by Henri Persin (Angélique) complimented perfectly by André Hossein (Double Agents), father of Robert Hossein. The film’s theme tune, sung by Scott Walker, is catchy without being too kitsch. What really stood out out to me stylistically was the colour palette. It starts of with bright orange hues and seemingly becomes darker and ultimately bleaker as the film progresses, really setting the tone as well as setting up the film’s finale. All in all, this a wonderfully crafted film in every way, even down to the film’s gimmick; Manuel’s character dons a black leather glove before each gunfight.

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Arrow have done a stellar job with this one. The film has been restored in 2k from original negatives and although not restoration of the year, the film looks and sounds wonderful and is much better than previous offerings. Not only that, but you have the choice of English and Italian audio with Italian subtitles. In terms of special features, there’s a nice selection of on disc extras; an archive interview with Hossein, vintage French documentary on set of the film, an all-new interview with Hossein remembering his friend Sergio Leone as well as theatrical trailer. Not only that, but there is reversible artwork featuring original and newly commissioned work, both are lovely and a booklet with writing from Ginette Vincendeau and Rob Young. This is a must for both fans of the film and newcomers looking to expand their spaghetti western collection.

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Cemetery Without Crosses is available as a DVD / Blu-ray combo pack from Arrow Video.

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