The Mercenary (1968)

A Professional Gun / Il Mercenario

Director Sergio Corbucci, one of the two “Other Sergios Not Named Leone” directors of the genre has given us some of the best spaghetti westerns of the genre, notably “The Great Silence” and the original “Django“. Unfortunately, 1968's The Mercenary is not one of those films. Franco Nero stars as Sergei Kowalski, or “Sergei Pollack” as he sometimes calls himself. he's a mercenary who is hired to transport a bunch of silver from a mine in Mexico. When he gets there, he finds that some bandits (who also were mine workers) have taken control of the mine, led by Paco Roman (Tony Musante). Meanwhile Jack Palance (also the baddie in Corbucci's much better film, Compañeros) plays a guy named Curly, who is determined to get his hands on the silver, as well. Sergei hires himself out to Paco for protection and advice, making lots of money on him, as Paco slowly becomes transformed into a revolutionary. There's a big showdown at the end with Curly, and Nero once again single handedly runs around with a full-sized Gatling gun, mowing down the baddies, exactly like he did in “Django“.

Franco Nero in the Mercenary

Franco Nero has a bad haircut and creative facial hair as “The Mercenary”

So what's the problem with this film? It's flawed on several accounts. It really felt like Corbucci was slumming on this one. Considering his previous film was one of the greatest of the genre, “The Great Silence”, it is a stark contrast to that film in every way.. tone, acting, and meaning. This one was released by United Artists with a bigger budget than Corbucci's other films, so at times it has that American feel to it. It doesn't seem to take itself very seriously, and feels contrived at times. Part of that is due to Franco Nero. As I see it, Nero's best roles in the genre have been his more serious ones, such as Django, or Keoma. Nero's other side is the sort of cutsie-poo, happy-go-lucky smartass, as he was in this, Compañeros, and what is considered one of the worst spags of all time, Cippola Colt. I find it annoying, like I do with many of Terence Hill's characters. I don't like overt humor in my spaghettis. So I found Nero really annoying in this film.

Tony Musante, on the other hand, was quite good. One could easily see his character being played by Tomas Milian, except if Milian had played it, it would have been much more over-the-top and overacted, as Milian tends to do. Musante played his revolutionary bandito character quite well, without the Milianesque theatrics. Jack Palance was his usual creepy weirdo self. And with a really bad wig:

Jack Palance expresses disbelief upon hearing that the David Hasselhoff look is no longer happenin' nor hip. Not that it ever was, of course.

The score by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai is typical and derivative, as though the two had just cannibalized bits and pieces of their previous, better scores.

Now, I may sound harsher than usual, considering that I tend not to be as critical towards other far-inferior, lesser known films. And yes, I may be rocking the boat a bit on this one, because it does consistently wind up on many fans' top 20 lists.It's just that those lesser-known films don't have Sergio Corbucci as director. Considering his past work, the bar is set a lot higher for his films, and through that lens, The Mercenary just doesn't do it for me like some of his other films do..


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