I’m not the biggest western movie fan, but I do like spaghetti. Although there had been European westerns since Gabriel Veyre directed Repas d’Indien for French filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1896, the first spaghetti western was the 1910 opera “La Fanciulla del West” by Giacomo Puccini. Classic American Western director Raoul Walsh found a new frontier when he shot The Sherriff of Fractured Jaw in Spain in 1958. In 1964, Sergio Leone left behind the historical epics he had been making to go west. Made on a very low budget, A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood, became an unexpected hit and spawned hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns. European cowboys explored America’s Wild West without the puritanical constraints of tight-ass Hollywood filmmakers who wanted them to play in Middle America.
Ferdinando Baldi is best known in the genre for his classic Viva Django from 1969 and the 1967 Spaghetti Western musical Little Rita Nel West. Baldi didn’t make traditional films in the genre. One of his most bizarre reworkings of the American westerns was 1971’s Blindman with Tony Anthony reprising his Stranger character, an underplayed street fighter with a sardonic wit. Anthony’s films were produced by Allen Klein’s ABKCO films, who I think I spotted in a window in the opening scene. Allen Klein had been managing the Beatles and he brought Ringo Starr onboard as Candy, a brutish bandito brother. Ringo gives a good gun slinging performance. He shoots off the head of a snake, rides comfortably and good-naturedly knifes an old man with just a split second of hatred. Just like The Magnificent Seven took its inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, Blindman was inspired by the Japanese Zatôichi film and TV series about a blind swordfighter who stumbles in and out of trouble. Stelvio Cipriani provides the Spaghetti Western soundscape with a minimum of cheese.
After his partner swindles him, the Blindman sets off to Mexico to rescue fifty women who were promised to some miners in Lost Creek, Texas, who are looking for wives. They were stolen from him by an outlaw gang. The Blindman is a western anti-hero. He’s not saving the women for their sake. He has a contract and won’t get paid until he delivers. “To have no eyes is to be half a man. To have no eyes and no money, that’s a bitch.” Blindman follows the gang’s hijinks and learns that they are going to sell the women to the Mexican army. All but the young Pilar, who was picked out for his own by the pig, Candy. The sightless cowpoke announces his arrival in town by ringing the church bells with gunshots. He shotguns Candy’s crew and heads to the town that the outlaws have taken over. While the gang is entertaining the Mexican army with his wares, the Blindman gets the gang’s attention with well-timed rifle blast. “Damn, that’s a delicate thing. All you have to do is breathe on it.”
The gang is led by Candy’s brother Domingo, played by Lloyd Battista, who played Don Francisco in Woody Allen’s Love and Death. Even though Domingo doesn’t speak with an accent, he has clipped English. His sister is mistress of the house. She “keeps the accounts, she’s an expert, she’s learning from the priest.” She is also in charge of cleaning up the women, stripping them in their cells and dumping buckets of water on them. Magda Konopka, who plays Sweet Mama, came from Polish nobility. Her father had many horses. She had done the youth serum horror flick Satanik in 1968. Agneta Eckemyr plays Pilar, the bride that Candy snags as “his woman.” Eckemyr would make the cover of Playboy in October 1975 and go on to play Ming Chow in the Fistful of Yen segment of the classic cult comedy The Kentucky Fried Movie.
The duplicitous desperadoes drag out threats with posturing menace, they light matches from cigarettes to happy Mexican revelry and gusty dubbed laughter. The film has revolving dub artists, sometimes the actors are speaking, sometimes odd voices come out of their mouths. Baldi gives the film some low-budget epic moments, the crowd scenes are magnificently down-to-earth and dynamite explodes often. When the outlaws shoot up the Mexican soldiers with hand-cranked machine guns, they waste a lot of bullets on candles. They don’t kill the General, though, because a general is worth 2 million pesos. A sum they could have spent filling some holes in the action. We don’t see how the Blindman hustles a train to ship the women back to Texas, but we don’t worry because he was hustled himself.
Blindman has more nudity than most westerns of the time and liberally doles out violence. Candy devises a pretty cool torture. He has his men pull the Blindman up by ropes tied on his arms and legs and repeatedly drop him on his back. “If you don’t tell me where she is I’ll break every bone in your body.” Blindman takes the town and lets the mail-order brides go a little postal on Sweet Mama before he cops a feel and leaves her tied to a post for her brother to find. The women are scattered, shattered, shot and raped by Domingo’s returning posse. The ending borders on surrealism as the now-dead Candy lies in a coffin dressed in his finest to be wed to Pilar. Domingo insists his brother is alive. That he is a healthy man, who loves to dance, loves his women and loves his drink. Ultimately, the Mexican Federales take it all, as was a subgenre cliché.
Blindman is a departure in the Spaghetti Western genre. It’s plotting and pacing is relaxed and improvisational. European filmmakers are more comfortable in the surrealistic revising of the western film canon than directors from the states. This isn’t the west of John Ford. These aren’t the heroes played by John Wayne or Gary Cooper. Blindman shares more with Sam Peckinpaw’s wildly ragged bunch of dusty celluloid than it does any Duel in the Sun, but it comes at it from an even more skewered perception. It is raw as a saddle sore and loose as a holster.
Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars