Mannaja (1977)

a.k.a - A Man Called Blade
One of the last Spaghetti Westerns, it steers clear of self-parody to offer a tough, gritty, stylised adventure. Blue Underground R0 USA disc.

The Film

Running through a fogbound forest flees an outlaw. In hot pursuit comes our horsebound hero, but is it Django, Sabata, the Man with No Name? No, this is a new hero, Blade (Maurizio Merli), so named because he lets his trusty hatchet do the talking. Taking his $5000 prize to the nearest town in search of a Marshall he winds up in Suttonville - a desolate berg under the strong, puritanical grip of the old wheelchair bound Mr McGowan (Philippe Leroy), a local land owner and proprietor of a silver mine. However, the real power is in the hands of the younger Voller (John Steiner) who is slowly seizing the old man's silver, daughter and empire. Blade being the hero that he is, looks to put things straight.

There is nothing particularly original about this late Spaghetti Western, it is unashamedly exploitative and commercial. After the box office success of the highly stylised Keoma (1976) in Italy the year before, there was a feeling that the Euro-Westerns might be in for a comeback
after the relatively poor early 1970s - filled for the most part with genre-parodies and dull clones. The lead character of Blade is only a name away from being any other 'strong silent type riding out of nowhere with an enigmatic past' central hero, and was most likely an attempt to create a new character along the lines of Django or Keoma, who could reappear in plenty of sequels. The other characters - an evil land owner, a scheming younger man in league with bandits and a kind-hearted troupe of showgirls are also quite typical of the genre.

Mannaja features heavy use of stylisation, typically slow motion shots, inspired by its use in Keoma (1976), itself based on Sam Peckinpah's American Westerns. Although this makes for an effectively eerie opening sequence as Blade rides out of the fog in slow motion, its use in other parts of the film is quite baffling. There is a brief sequence where an injured coachman is riding his stage back to town, with slow motion and a surreal score, this scene looks like a left-over from a fantasy film (see Conquest (1983)), and although nicely done, serves no purpose whatsoever. Extensive use of fog is also made, again giving the whole film a fantasy edge, although the director admits that this was partly to hide the fact that their set was falling apart. Martino also has a habit, similar to Lucio Fulci a few years later, of cutting away from a scene in the middle of a musical track giving the impression that a scene may have been cut out by censors.

This is not to say, however, that Sergio Martino is a hack director; in the on disc interview he boasts of his party-piece, intercutting two very contrasting scenes. This he does well, a massacre of stagecoach passengers occurs at the same time as a showgirls dance in town, with the music from the dancing continuing throughout. The scope frame is used well throughout, and this film would certainly suffer if pan and scanned. The gun fights and fist fighting sequences are well staged and look very brutal and bloody. The music in this film is provided by the De Angelis brothers who provided similar music to Keoma (1976). The main theme is a ballad to a wolf, and reappears a lot during the film - whether or not you like this is really a matter of taste - there is another ballad that appears later on, and some decent background music through most of the run time, including some surreal fantasy-like score during the more stylised sequences. The most distinctive part of the music is the incredibly deep male voice that sings in the main theme, very atypical and thus adds quite a distinctive edge to the tracks.

In all, Mannaja does stand out as a solid mid-card effort - compare this film to the lofty hights of the best Euro-Westerns; from Leone's epics, to Corbucci's smaller scale masterpieces, and it does not hold up well - however, against the myriad of lesser films from this period, it does stand out as a film into which some care and attention went, and should provide some suitable entertainment for a good hour and a half.


In brief:

It it a sequel? No, this film is stand alone.
Anyone famous in it? Maurizio Merli, star of many Italian genre films including Violent Naples (1976)
Directed by anyone interesting? Sergio Martino - Popular euro-cult director, responsible for Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971).
Any violence? Quite a lot of it, some very bloody gunshots and several axe attacks.
Any sex? No.
Who is it for?
Of interest to Spaghetti Western fans, one of the last of its kind.
Good soundtrack? Typical ballad-like Spaghetti Western title music and themes from the De Angelis brothers. Some fantasy film-like music accompanies the more surreal sequences.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Colour.
The image is very good with little analogue damage - some flickering present in many scenes and occasional tramlines.
Audio English and Italian language - Dolby digital mono. Sound fine, both sync up decently well.
Subtitles English (these appear to be based on the English track rather than translating the Italian)
RuntimeMain Feature: 1hr 36m 27s
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original Trailer. Same quality as film. 4m 06s
  • On screen text biographies of Martino and Merli - decent length.
  • Posters/Still Gallery - an unexciting manually scrolling gallery. 17 images.
  • Interview with director Sergio Martino - very interesting, liberally illustrated with sequences from the film. 12m 23s
  • Easter Egg - Trailers for Blue Underground's other Spaghetti Western releases.
Packing Standard Amaray case.
Region Region 0 (worldwide) - NTSC
Other regions? Region 2 - British and German Discs, both with slight cuts, neither with any extra bonus features.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. The film is from the Italian print, so titles and credits are in Italian.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 29th November 2005.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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