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Jonathan degli Orsi

Jonathan of the Bears
Dzhonatan - Drug Medvedy

Italy/Russia 1993
produced by
Franco Nero, Vittorio Noia, Alekandr Shkodo, Cesare Noia (executive), Gabriel Safarian (exexutive) for Project Campo, Silvio Berlusconi Communications, Viva Cinematografica
directed by Enzo G. Castellari
starring Franco Nero, John Saxon, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, David Hess, Rodrigo Obregón, Clive Riche, Ennio Girolami, Bobby Rhodes, Marie Louise Sinclair, Boris Khmelnitsky, Knifewing Segura, Melody Robertson, Igor Alimov, Viktor Gajnov
story by Franco Nero, Lorenzo De Luca, screenplay by Enzo G. Castellari, Lorenzo De Luca, music by Aleksandr Belyayev, Fabio Costatino, Clive Riche, Knifewing Segura

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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As a kid, little Jonathan (Igor Alimov) saw his parents being killed by outlaws before his very eyes, and he only managed to escape because he hid in a bears' cave - where he soon enough made friends with a young bear. Later, Jonathan hooked up with a tribe of Indians who brought him up like one of their own.

When Jonathan has grown up to manhood (and is now played by Franco Nero), he set out to avenge his parents, and soon he had shot most of the outlaws who killed them and quite a few others as well ... When Goodwin (John Saxon), the leader of the outlaws, brutally gunned him down and left him to die ... which is when Jonathan, who mysteriously survived the shooting, realized that by trying to have his revenge, he has become no better to the outlaws himself, and he turns his back on his path of vengeance to live with his Indian tribe and be one with nature ...

In the meantime though, Goodwin and his army of henchmen moved to the vicinity of Jonathan's Indian village to dig for oil, and wouldn't you know it, they find lots of it right at the Indian burial ground ... and to get to that oil, Goodwin just orders the Indian village to be attacked and erradicated - something though Jonathan has expected, and thus he has told his brothers to build all kinds of traps ... and so the supposed massacre on the Indians turns out to be Goodwin's Waterloo, but he goes on undeterred: Soon enough, his men have captured Shaya (Melody Robertson), the chieftain's daughter and the fiancée of Jonathan, and this way Goodwin lures Jonathan to him, into the white man's city, where even his master marksmanship can't save him from being captured, being dragged behind a horse as a sign of humiliation and then being tied to a cross and hung up, as an example as to what happens to those who cross Goodwin's path ...

However, Goodwin's black henchman Williams (Bobby Rhodes) starts seeing parallels in what happens to Jonathan and what happens to the blacks all over the country, so he smuggles a knife to Jonathan so he can free himself ...

The finale has Jonathan and his Indians attack the white man's city and have their revenge on Goodwin's men, Goodwin though is killed in a man to man duel with Jonathan in a dark warehouse, when exactly the compass he once stole from Jonathan's dieing mother and has since worn as a talisman betrays him ...

 

Basically, Jonathan of the Bears was intended to be Enzo G.Castellari's long-awaited companion piece/semi-sequel to his masterpiece Keoma from 1976 - and comparing the two films directly, Keoma is without a doubt the better film, an immensely tight and atmospheric and very unusual Western. 

However, taken by its own merits, Jonathan of the Bears isn't bad at all, an epic Western that for a change takes the side of the Native American and trades in (and deconstructs) Western myths, a bit like other then recent Westerns like Dances with Wolves (1990) and Unforgiven (1992) - plus the film does not try to look like a spaghetti Western (a style that went out of style years ago) but tries (and succeeds) to create an atmosphere all of its own that is as far removed from the Italian Western from a quarter of a century earlier as it is from, let's say, John Ford ... and the whole concept actually works, too ! Sure, the film might not be a masterpiece like Keoma, and it definitely has its lengths (especially at the beginning) and cheesy bits (the whole boy/bear subplot), but it also features a well-told story, extremely well-staged action (one of director Castellari's specialities), and a bunch of memorable actors, especially Franco Nero and John Saxon as the hero and villain ...

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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