Jonathan degli orsi
Directed by Enzo Castellari. Starring Franco Nero, John Saxon, David Hess, Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman, Knifewing Segura, Melody Robertson, Bobby Rhodes
By the early 90’s the spaghetti western genre was breathing its last breath. Hollywood was still churning out westerns on occasion. We got the dreadfully preachy Dances With Wolves starring everyone’s favorite preacher, Kevin Costner, but Clint Eastwood made up for it with the welcome Unforgiven with its dark imagery. Genre veteran director Enzo Castellari reunited with his Keoma star Nero to have their take on the Native Americans versus the greedy white man, with Jonathan of the Bears. Could this salvage any hopes for the genre? You know the drill… read on
Jonathan Kowalski, traveling with his parents, is attacked by four bandits who are after gold that senior Kowalski discovered. After killing the parents little Jonathan flees to a cave where he meets and befriends a bear cub. Over the next couple years Jonathan and the bear become close friends and allies. But all good things must come to an end and Jonathan sees his chance to meet a local Indian tribe. He is greeted by Chief Tawanka (Floyd Westerman) with open arms and adopts the boy; but his son Chatow resents him. Flashing forward to the present Jonathan (Nero) comes to his adopted father’s side as he is dying of old age. They discuss the downfall of their people and how they deal with the white man’s invasion and Jonathan’s reason for being. He had vowed to avenge the deaths of his parents.
But revenge is not the end of his sorrow and Jonathan must be prepared to fight for his people. The trouble comes in the shape of Maddock (Hess) a crazed lunatic who has a firm racist grip on a dump water town. Jonathan’s reputation precedes him when some of his goons report that a man firing two arrows disarmed them while hunting a bear (Maddock was disarmed in a similar fashion during an attack on an Indian girl in a saloon by Jonathan). He wastes no time and sends out his men to find Jonathan (who makes short work of those who desecrate the burial ground). While Maddock was obsessed with Jonathan a new and more dangerous threat arrives on the scene. Fred Goodwin (veteran John Saxon) has located oil in the area and has brought in men and equipment to make himself rich while claiming his work will benefit the town as well (yeah how many times does that happen in a movie and the plan is really underhanded and evil? Every single time I know). When more oil is located on the Indian burial ground Goodwin attempts to push the Indians out. Jonathan tries to appeal to Goodwin’s good nature but he finds out he has none. It is also realized that Goodwin and Jonathan have crossed paths before and Jonathan is out for revenge. Chatow and Jonathan prepare the village for the coming attack and send the women and children into the caves. What happens next is a full on White man versus Indian battle. During which Goodwin’s men realize they were tricked and try to escape but not before a whole lot of crazy stunts are preformed mostly by horses (I winced a couple times when some went crashing only to get back up a second or two later). But with all great victories comes some shock and despair. Shaya (the terribly underrated beauty Melody Robertson) was captured and taken to Goodwin as a prize. Unfortunately for them Jonathan does not take kindly to this and rides to her rescue. The rescue is short lived and he is captured and condemned to death by the only law in town – Goodwin. Sentenced to death by crucifixion there seems to be no hope for him. Thankfully for him one of the henchmen played by horror actor Bobby Rhodes takes pity on him and the plight of his people. With his release Jonathan makes short work of the remaining cronies and gets his final showdown with Goodwin.
Wow! - a well produced mid-90’s western that is not all preachy and annoying like some of the mainstream movies. Yes, there are similarities between Jonathan of the Bears and Dances With Wolves but why waste ink on that movie when this one is more enjoyable and fun (which the other is not). I will say this about Nero’s physique – he definitely puts most 50 year-olds to shame, actors or otherwise (Costner was never known for his physical ability). He definitely puts his body through the mill for his work. Enzo Castellari’s direction is very similar to his work on Keoma. Even the main character is similar as well but this time Jonathan is fighting wholly on the side of the Indians. The other homage is the character’s last name which is lifted from Sergio Corbucci’s The Professional Gun aka Il Mercenario (1968) also starring Franco Nero. What I also enjoyed was part of the soundtrack was song in story fashion like the previous movie. The movie is not groundbreaking or going to win any awards but in the end I was entertained with the visuals and the colorful characters. That is the bottom line to any movie – did I enjoy it? You bet I did. Unfortunately this movie has not gotten an English language friendly DVD release but thanks for Franco-Cleef there is a DVD-r out which is first rate.