Hellbenders (1966)

I Crudelli

Directed by Sergio Corbucci / Starring: Joseph Cotton, Norma Bengell, Julian Mateos, Angel Aranda, Gino Pernice, Aldo Sambrell

Sergio Corbucci 's third spaghetti western of 1966 brings veteran U.S. actor Joseph Cotton and some regulars of the Corbucci stable into his version of Post-Civil War America. Will Corbucci strike gold a third time or will he need to regroup and start over fresh after this effort? Read on to find out.

The American Civil War is over but ex-Confederate Colonel Jonas (Cotton) and leader of the Hellbender Regiment has other plans to continue the war. He along with his sons Ben (Mateos), Jeff (Pernice), and Nat (Aranda) they ambush a Federal gold shipment and slaughter the entire regiment. Jonas knows that a shipment such as this will not go unnoticed for very long so he coerces Kitty (Maria Martin) a common whore to play the role of a widow while they transport the gold in a coffin draped in the Hellbender's regimental flag. They attempt to make their way back to the Jonas home on the border while attempting to out maneuver Federal troops, local lawmen, and even Mexican bandits led by Pedro (the great Aldo Sambrell in a small role). Not everything goes according to plan when Kitty is murdered by Jeff. Now having no widow to accompany the coffin they set off to find a new "widow". Enter the lovely Norma Bengell as Claire who has more brains and courage than the entire Jonas clan. Jonas hopes to make it back to his home soon but when they stop for supplies, they meet the blind Sgt. Tolt who served with the slaughtered captain and has photos of them which he plans to share with everyone. Before you can say uh-oh he is quickly eliminated so the plan is not foiled. Claire knows that Jonas can only bring death with his plan she has the coffin buried at the fort where the real Captain served. Fortunately for her Jonas does not kill her but they do retrieve the coffin and continue on their way. By now the tension between everyone in the party is thick and Jeff in his stupidity steals horses from an Indian tribe only after killing the Chief's daughter. It gets worse when a psychotic beggar (Al Muloch) arrives and does even more damage to their trip. Jonas and his group finally arrive at the banks of the River Hondo and their end is in sight. Will he make it? Did they get the correct coffin? All these are answered in the climax of the Hellbenders.

Corbucci's Hellbenders does not fit the mold of a typical spaghetti western but that does not mean it is not enjoyable. On the contrary this is an interesting piece about the tension of Post-Civil War America and how some people felt it was their right to carry on the fight. Joseph Cotton is perfect as the goal driven Colonel Jonas while his sons are adequately played as well. Most of the gunplay takes place in the first 5 minutes but there's enough going on to keep your attention. Morricone produces some solid compositions for this one and the scenery is some of the best in any western. Thankfully for us there is a region 1 DVD release by Anchor Bay which is a plus for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Recommended.

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