Keoma (1976)

Franco Nero stars in this well directed but unoriginal last stand of the Spaghetti Western from Enzo G. Castellari. Anchor Bay R0 USA disc.

The Film

Italian exploitation cinema was fast changing and evolving. In the early 1960s, Hercules and his sons were big; by the end of the decade it was all Westerns; come the 1970s organised crime and giallo thrillers were top. But there were always some directors who wanted to stick to the films they loved - just as Dario Argento kept the giallo films alive into the 1980s and 1990s, Enzo Castellari wanted to keep the genre alive that he cut his teeth on.

Keoma (Franco Nero) is an Indian half-breed, as a child he was the only survivor of a massacre and was adopted by William Shannon (William Berger) who treated him like a son. Returning to his home town after fighting in the civil war, he discovers that things have changed - a former army captain Caldwell (Donald O'Brien) has brought out the whole town and is repressing the people, even keeping them from leaving town to get medicines for the plauge that is sweeping through it. Keoma encounters a road-block where a cartload of infected people are being taken to a 'concentration-camp' quarry, he rescues a heavily pregnant woman (Olga Karlatos) and takes her back to town. In town he becomes unpopular for bringing her back and eventually falls foul of his three half-brothers who try to fight, but find him to be very strong. After speaking with his father, Keoma decides to try and help the townspeople with some help from his old friend George (Woody Strode) but eventually falls fowl of Caldwell and his brothers...

With over 200 Spaghetti Westerns already made, it would be hard to make a unique film and Keoma is ultimately a rather clichéd production. Keoma himself is a very typical sharp-shooting anti-hero with a dark past, not far removed from Django, Sabata, Sartana et. al. while his opponents (Caldwell's cronies) are very poor shots, which makes the gunfights (including a full five minute shootout towards the end) very dull and lacking in tension. The storyline of a ruthless town owner mistreating his population is hardly original either, although the addition of a third party in the brothers does help the script a little but the film's climax is very predictable and the ending is just cheesy. While many of the Euro-Westerns included some strong politics, Keoma only dabbles with some themes - there is an interesting comment by George, a negro freed after the civil war, about how his freedom had left him without a job, and the brothers discuss how Keoma is acting outside of justice compared to them, but it is fleeting. While the late 1960s saw some fascinating Western storylines that blurred the line between good and bad guys, Keoma is more of a return to the American-style plots of the 1965/6 films.

Castellari's direction is the most distinctive aspect of the film and the only thing to make it stand-out from the pack. Strong camera-work and editing help to create a distinctive atmosphere and in some very distinctive sequences, Keoma has flashbacks to his youth play-out in front of him in the same shots; the fight scenes look very impressive are filmed in long shots rather than the rapid cuts often used in fight scenes - only the over-use of slow motion hurts the film visually. The scope widescreen frame is used to the full often with a mix of close-ups and distance shots in the same frame. The set-design is much grimmer than in many of the other genre films, the town looks to be falling apart and is very dusty. The music is one of the most hotly debated aspects of Keoma, the songs have a high female voice singing about Keoma's troubles with a male voice representing Keoma himself singing in some scenes - these songs are really a matter of taste and although I thought they worked well, some people rather dislike them, even director Castellari admits that they are rather overused.

Franco Nero was at the forefront of the genre during its heyday, from Django (1966) to Companeros (1970), but by the early 1970s had moved into other films, including two Castellari action/crime films High Crime (1973) and Street Law (1974) - both being fans of Westerns they worked together to bring Keoma to screen, and Nero was the obvious choice for the lead. Hiding behind a rather large beard, he plays the role with his usual intensity and lack of emotion for the most part, hardly going to win an award, but suits his character well - although his almost German accent in the English soundtrack (Nero dubbed himself) is quite strange. Euro-Western veterans Donald O'Brien (Run, Man, Run (1968)) and a heavily aged William Berger (Sabata (1969)) fit their roles perfectly and American Western veteran Woody Strode (The Professionals (1966)) looks in great shape.

Keoma is very impressively directed, and well acted, but the storyline is rather unoriginal and misses a lot of opportunities to come up with something new - what if Keoma wasn't a good shot, what if the people liked Caldwell's rule and Keoma became the bad guy, what if the brothers were more torn over the appropriate course of action? Apart from Mannaja (1977) that heavily copied Keoma's visual style and even music, the genre had nowhere left to go and by 1978 the Spaghetti Western was dead. Keoma is an interesting watch, but not one of the best European Westerns, had it come six years earlier it might have proved more influencial. Partly recommended to Spaghetti Western, Castellari or Franco Nero fans but not a great one for newcomers.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Franco Nero appeared in many of the big Spaghetti Westerns including Django (1966)
Directed by anyone interesting? Enzo G. Castellari - Italian director who cut his teeth on Westerns including Johnny Hamlet (1968) before moving on action and crime films including Street Law (1974) and La Via Della Droga (1976)
Any violence? Quite a lot of gunfights and knifings, some blood.
Any sex? None
Good soundtrack?A controversial sung soundtrack from the De Angelis brothers, some like it, some hate it.
Who is it for?
A decent film, well directed but unoriginal - genre fans should enjoy.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Colour.
The image is good - some grain and some scratches and speckles but generally good.
Audio  English language - mono. Sound fine.
Subtitles None
RuntimeMain feature runtime:  1hr 40m 49s
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio Commentary from Enzo G. Castellari, very interesting and a good lively flow.
  • Keoma: Legends Never Die - interesting interview with Franco Nero. (9m 49s)
  • Original Trailer, good condition. (3m 45s)
  • Talent Bios, onscreen detailed biographies of: Nero and Castellari
Packing Available in a Standard Amaray case or in the Once Upon a Time in Italy boxset.
Region Region 0 (worldwide) - NTSC
Other regions? UK Region 0 and German Region 2.
UK DVD is cut by 4 seconds and has a new interview with Castellari,  but no audio commentary or Nero interview.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. Titles and credits are in English.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 5th July. 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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