Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977)

This time it’s Sergio Martino’s ‘Mannaja: A Man Called Blade’ (1977). As of 1977, due to decreasing popularity and quality, the Italian western genre was breathing its last gasps. This is one of the last ones, and it's actually pretty good.

Maurizio Merli in Mannaja

The whitest teeth in the west...

Italian cop-movie star Maurizio Merli (star of the action-cop flick Violent Naples) stars as the fur coat -wearing stranger named Blade, who has an affinity for throwing axes at people. Merli almost looks a bit like a young, blonde Tom Selleck, and has the whitest teeth of anyone I’ve ever seen outside of those tooth whitening ads, almost to the point where it’s distracting. Blade comes to some town run by the typical western mob boss, some wheelchair-bound dude named McGowan, who runs the silver mines. Blade gets things off on the wrong foot in a card game with McGowan’s henchman, Voller, played by John Steiner. He also slaps his Great Danes silly, which was kinda funny.

Steiner kind of has that creepy Steve Buscemi thing going on, although taller and with slightly better teeth. So, eventually, a big plot evolves with Voller kidnapping McGowan’s daughter as a way to scam the old guy out of his silver fortune, and there’s a subplot abut this traveling can-can all-girl revue that comes to town.

Eventually, the shit hits the fan, and Voller buries Blade in the sand and pins his eyes open so the sun will burn out his eyes. It’s a good example of that aspect of the genre; all of a sudden, amidst all the camp, some senseless act of brutality appears. A blinded Blade is rescued by the criminal he apprehended in the beginning of the film, learns to shoot and use his trusty axes while blind, a big shootout occurs, end of movie

.John Steiner

‘Ve vill work hahrder or ve vill shoot you…’

So, with the synopsis outa the way, what did I think? It was another ok-B-movie spag western. As usual, lots of derivative stuff. The harmonica theme we hear every now and then and the evil wheelchair-bound baron are right out of Leone’s ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’. Another word about the music.. the recurring theme is this strange mellow song that sounds like it’s sung by the Frankenstein monster…’You’re…..alone…a sol-itar-y man..’, in a strong monotonous slightly-out-of-tune baritone with a thick accent, noteworthy just for its strangeness, but also somewhat annoying. There’s also the strange song that tells what’s going on on the screen (like the one in Four of the Apocalypse)… ‘you deserve a nasty ending….something’s gonna happen really soon.. just wait and see…’ Weird.

The sets look like a movie set, almost like a western theme park. And there’s lots of the dry-ice fog everywhere, when you can clearly see blue skies in the background. An interview with the director on the extras says that this was because that particular studio was on its last legs, so they used the fog to cover up the fact that the sets were falling apart. This is another release from Blue Underground, and they did a great job restoring the sound and video. It looks and sounds great.

The director, Sergio Martino, is kind of a hack, noted for directing other cinematic masterpieces such as ‘Mountain of the Cannibal God’, one he says that he is really proud of. I’m starting to wonder if, in order to direct an Italian western, a certain percentage must be directed by men named Sergio…Leone, Sollima, Garrone, Corbucci, now this guy. I watched the English version, and really dug the bartender with the modern-day Brooklyn accent. Even stranger, the German Steiner doing a cowboy accent…‘Ve vill work hahrder or ve vill shoot you…’ It just adds to the camp factor, which, as I explore this genre further, is something that one must have a tolerance for to fully appreciate the genre. So overall, like the last few I’ve written about here, typical B-movie, watchable, but not much in the way of artistry. But in light of the fact that it's one of the last of the genre, definitely worth a watch.

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