El Condor Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Cast: Jim Brown, Lee Van Cleef, Patrick O'Neal, Marianne Hill, Iron Eyes Cody, Imogen Hassel, Elisha Cook Jr., Dan Van Husen, James O'Rourke, John Landis - Director: John Guillermin
In the late sixties, early seventies Lee Van Cleef would accept any offer for a western, provided it was shot in his natural habitat, the Almeria desert. Surprisingly, he wasn’t top-billed for El Condor. The film was intended as a vehicle for Jim Brown, the former football player who had given up his sports career because Hollywood paid better than the NFL. In a prison camp, shackled to Elisha Cook Jr., Brown is told about a fortune in gold, once stolen by the Spaniards from the Aztecs, now stored in a federal Mexican stronghold, a fortress called El Condor. Brown escapes and teams up with Van Cleef, an alcoholic fortune seeker who once lived with the Apaches. Brown reckons the Apaches are the army he needs to attack El Condor, in order to lay his hands on the gold … and some other treasure kept within the walls of the fortress …
Brown is surprisingly good as the unflinching bruiser (with a brain), and the combination with Van Cleef works remarkably well. They quickly became good friends and would be reunited twice, for Take a Hard Ride and Kid Vengeance. In a contemporary interview Van Cleef told that his part was re-written on the set (1). Brown had a very laid-back acting style, and if Van Cleef would have kept his usual cool, there would not have been enough contrast between the two leads. Instead of the grim and taciturn types Van Cleef is usually identified with, his fortune seeker is noisy and hyper-active …
Van Cleef’s part wasn’t the only thing that was re-written. The fortress was built especially for the movie (it was subsequently featured in several other movies, including A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die and Conan the Barbarian), and Larry Cohen was asked to rewrite the script so the focus would be more on the fortress. This wasn't a lucky decision: the two men arrive too soon at the fortress and after a boisterous, enjoyable start the film falls flat, offering too many scenes involving Brown and Van Cleef going into the fortress and working their way out of it again. El Condor is one of those movies which eventually put all of their premises inside out and upside down: nothing is what it seems (not even the gold) and most characters have a hidden agenda. And only in the dying moments we learn why Brown was so keen on taking the fortress, and why the cruel but honourable general Chavez was so keen on defending it.
El Condor, produced by the great Andre De Toth, was filmed in Spain, and is often called a "pseudo spaghetti". For a while Hollywood had been looking down on the Italian western, but now they were trying to ape them. 1970 was a pivotal year in the history of the western and all possible influences seemed to flow together in the films that were made in it. Some of Brown’s other movies, like Rio Conchos and 100 Rifles served as much as a model as Lee’s spaghetti westerns and both The Wild Bunch and The Professionals might have been sources of inspiration too. For most part El Condor is a rather indifferent movie, with a combination of broad humour and wholesale carnage which never really pays off. It also lacks good taste in some scenes (for instance Brown shooting a naked man in his behind). But, as one critic put it, “there’s enough gun play, explosions, bloodletting and body count for an East Asian campaign” (2). It also scores high on the nudity barometer. The film is famous for a key scene with Marianne Hill performing a striptease, but it also stars British actress Imogen Hassel, who was often referred to by the knickname of the Countess of Cleavage. Both actresses are in top form.
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del Western all’Italiano
- (2) Variety Movie Guide, eighth edition, New York, 2000
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