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I Crudeli

Hellbenders
Die Grausamen

Italy/Spain 1967
produced by
Albert Band for Alba Cinematografica, Tecisa, Productores Exhibidores Films Sociedad Anómina (PEFSA)
directed by Sergio Corbucci
starring Joseph Cotten, Norma Bengell, Julián Mateos, Ángel Aranda, Gino Pernice, Aldo Sambrell, Julio Pena, Claudio Gora, Ennio Girolami, José Nieto, María Martín, Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia, Rafael Vaquero, Benito Stefanelli, Claudio Scarchilli, Simón Arriaga, José Canalejas, Álvaro de Luna
story by Albert Band, Virgil C. Gerlach, screenplay by Ugo Liberatore, José Guttiérez Maesso, additional dialogue by Louis Garfinkle, music by Ennio Morricone, cinematography by Enzo Barboni (= E.B. Clutcher)

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The American Civil War is over, and the Union has won, but the patriarchal Confederate general Jonas (Joseph Cotten) just can't admit defeat, so he and his sons - Nat (Ángel Aranda), soft hearted Ben (Julián Mateos) and psychopath Jeff (Gino Pernice) - plus Kitty (María Martín) hold up a money transport and kill all the guards and even their horses, then they hide the loot in a coffin they are carrying with them, with Kitty playing the mourning widow - whom they need because they have a certificate in the widow's name. However, at one point Kitty gets too cloever for her own good and tries to take off with the loot, which causes Jeff to crack up and kill her.

To fill in the gap, Jonas sends Ben to the next city to find a new widow, and he soon causes professional gambler Claire (Norma Bengell) to be accused of cheating but helps her make a getaway ... but in return he expects her to play the widow ... Claire is clever enough to immediately realize she has been set up, but she has little choice but to accept her fate, and she proves to be a natural at playing the widow, and along the way has even friends of the (alleged) dead man and the army fooled. Plus, by and by she starts to fall in love with Ben (and he, who never believed in his father's cause, with her). But she still wants to get even with despotic Jonas, so at an army post where her alleged dead husband once served, she demands him to be buried - which means the whole loot ends up on a Yankee graveyard.

Jonas is not one to give up though, so in the night, he has his sons unearth the coffin again, while he forces Claire to sit out in the pouring rain for hours on end to give her a terrible cold so she won't have any more wise ideas.

Eventually, the boys return with the coffin, and everything seems to be A-ok again, but the next night, a beggar (Al Mulock) demands to sleep at their fireplace, but inthe moring Jonas and his boys notice their horses have been killed and the beggar tries to rob them of everything - but when he also wants the coffin (though he's ignornt of its content) - Jonas and the boys strike back. After having taken care of the beggar though, Jeff and Nat get into a fight over the loot, and drawing their guns, they not only kill each other but Ben too, who just happens to be in the way. Wounded from the shootout with the beggar, Jonas still tries to drag the coffin through the countryside, even if it means crawling all the way - but going over some cliffs, he loses hold of the coffin, which crashes down and reveals the corpse of a Mexican outlaw ... seems the boys have retrieved the wrong coffin at their graveyard excursion.

 

Not in the same league as Sergio Corbucci's Django and Il Grande Silenzio, and a rather a-typical spaghetti Western as such, Hellbenders is not without interest nevertheless, inasnch as it doesn't so much follow the usual spaghetti Western formula but is closer to epic American Westerns by John Ford or Raoul Walsh - with the distinct difference that in Hellbenders, the protagonists are also the baddies, ruthless killers who would do anything to get their hands on some money (even if anything includes a massacre), and the fact that they (or at least one of them) are driven by idealism doesn't make their actions any better. Director Sergio Corbucci might not have invested an awful lot of imagination into this film (as opposed to his masterpieces), but the film is beautifully carried by the always dependable Joseph Cotten, with Brazilian actress Norma Bengell proving to be a more than worthy opponent.

No masterpiece maybe, still a totally enjoyable and entertaining Western.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
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