by Peter Nielsen
This week it’s time to return to a genre I unfortunately don’t get to visit as often as I would have wanted to, these days. It’s basically a case of not having enough time on my hands, what with a large family, a day job, books to read and me wanting to watch movies in every damn genre, and decade, available. I have touched upon this genre before though, with my review of Django a while back, but it has definitely been a while.
In that review I also briefly go into the spaghetti western genre a little bit, so I’m not going to delve on that here… you’ll have to go back to Django for that. I will say, however, that I love westerns and have done so since I was a kid, which I suppose I can thank my dad for; he was a big fan of this genre, so we watched a lot of the classics back then. And then, in my teens, I discovered the Italian produced westerns, and a whole new world presented itself.
Sergio Martino is an Italian director, producer and writer who did a bunch of giallo movies like Torso and The Scorpion With Two Tails, as well as sci-fi/post-apocalyptic movies like 2019-After The Fall of New York and Hands of Steel. He’s also responsible for The Mountain Of The Cannibal God, with Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach, but as far as I know, he only directed two spaghetti westerns… and one of them is the one I’ve chosen to look at this week. That movie is Mannaja or as I knew it back then, A Man Called Blade.
The movie starts with a terrified and mud-covered man running through a foggy swamp. He’s chased by a threatening figure on horseback, whom we never see clearly… at least not at first. The man on foot stops… turns around and raises his gun… and the figure on the horse throws a hatchet and chops the man’s hand off against a tree. The camera then zooms in on the eyes of the hatchet-wielding rider and the title-screen appears! It doesn’t get better than that! Very atmospheric! That opening scene actually reminded me a little of the horror movies coming out of the Hammer studios in the 70’s.
Blade, played by Maurizio Merli (White Fang to the Rescue), is a bounty hunter, and drags his prey to the nearest town to collect the bounty from the sheriff’s office. Unfortunately it’s a small shitty town that has no sheriff. The office is actually used as a chicken coop! This amuses the hell out of Blade’s prisoner, Craven (played by Donald O’Brien from Keoma), whom Blade eventually lets go. No sense of dragging him around, if there’s no law around for miles to pay for him, I guess. Too much trouble!
The town is run by a man called McGowan (Philippe Leroy from The Night Porter), and his henchmen. Most of the townspeople work in the nearby silver-mine, which is also owned by McGowan, and are not treated very well. He’s a ruthless man and his henchmen are worse, especially the foreman Voller, and not much is allowed in town as far as entertainment goes, which a travelling group of can-can girls finds out the hard way!
Mannaja is a classic revenge story where Blade is looking for the man who killed his father, but he’s also out to make a buck or two along the way. McGowan is having trouble with bandits robbing his silver transports, so Blade offers to help; and when McGowan’s daughter, Deborah, is kidnapped, it’s up to Blade to get her back. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that, because the foreman, Voller, is a double-crossing weasel who works with the bandits, and Deborah is a double-crossing bitch who’s secretly dating Voller.
We also have the beautiful can-can girl, Angela, who takes a liking to Blade, and as we all know… that’s not always a good thing in this type of movie.Especially not with a man as ruthless as Voller, so I suppose you can all figure out what happens. This, of course, infuriates Blade further, and him being buried up to his neck in the sand with his eyelids stitched open, to burn his eyes, doesn’t really improve on his mood, either!
It’s a very dark and very moody flick, and certainly very atmospheric, for lack of a better word. It’s also a violent flick… I’ve already mentioned the opening scene with Craven’s hand being chopped off, but whenever Blade uses his hatchet it’s fairly graphic. I suppose by today’s standards people might call it tame, but it’s not just the violence… it’s the over-all tone of the movie, you know? It feels mean and sadistic, and a lot of that comes from our main antagonist, Voller! He’s not a very nice man, and John Steiner (The Last Hunter, Tenebre) does a great job with this role. He looks great too, with his black cape and two menacing dogs, and all… He has that great bad guy arrogance and thinks no one can touch him… that is, until he meets Blade, of course.
Blade is a hatchet-wielding, gun-toting badass, who also looks cool as hell… and I love this character. That’s all there is to it! He’s a man of few words, but when he speaks you listen!
Mannaja is a cool little flick; nothing spectacular, of course, but certainly way, way better than people give it credit for. If there’s anything negative to say about it, I guess it would have to be the annoying title song… The singer sounds like a slightly drunk and bored Leonard Cohen, but unfortunately you hear the song so often during the course of the film that you’ll eventually start humming along with it. I sure as hell did! Dammit!
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all of Mannaja before; I don’t think so, but I have seen bits and pieces of it, that’s for sure! It was actually banned here in Sweden back then, so if we at one point DID watch it, we must have procured a copy elsewhere!
I’ll leave you with a fun little piece of trivia in regards to the spaghetti western genre… Back in the 70’s, there were also a couple of western comedies made in Denmark, with the popular actors at the time. They were actually pretty funny and only made for laughs… but instead of using the Italian related epithet, they were called “kartoffel-westerns” (potato westerns).
And THAT… is what I’ll leave you with this week, my friends! Until next time… please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!