Los buitres cavarán tu fosa Review
Aka I corvi ti scaveranno la fossa aka And the Crows Will Dig Your Grave
Juan Bosch 1971
This film by Barcelona director Joan Bosch Palau is somewhat overlooked by spaghetti western fans, probably because it is low on violence, at least until the body count picks up towards the end. Symptomatic, when a reputed gun slinger is recklessly challenged by a younger man wanting another notch to his Colt, the older man unbuckles his gun belt. But even if it is low on violence, it runs high on atmosphere, and it profits immensely from a fine score by Bruno Nicolai.
In the wake of the civil war, many desperate men took up banditry. The attacks on stage couches became frequent. Those heaviest hit were Wells Fargo which transported gold for many principle banks. Therefore the government authorized them to organize their own private police force. Bounty hunters and others were given a carte blanche to hunt down bandits plaguing Wells Fargo, and a star to show for it. Such is the backdrop of this low tuned spaghetti western, as set out in the opening scene. The men wearing the Wells Fargo stars were disrespectfully called “crows”, hence the film’s title.
Jeff Sullivan (Craig Hill) is one of several men assigned to go after Glenn Kovacs (Frank Braña) and his gang. The one who gets him will be “literally covered in gold” by Wells Fargo. Sullivan buys a convict, Dan Baker (Ángel Aranda), free from a labour camp mine for 1.000 dollars. Sullivan tells Baker he plans to make a profit on him, collecting a 3.000 dollars bounty put on Baker’s head in Lost Valley. But we soon learn that Sullivan is stringing Baker along to get at Kovacs. Baker is in fact Kovac’s half-brother and used to be a member of Kovac’s gang. Another rivalling “crow” going after Kovacs is Pancho Corrales (Fernando Sanches), who has a gang of his own.
Los Buitres is telling a not so straightforward story in a straightforward way. Or maybe it is the other way around. Sullivan, Baker, Corrales and Kovacs are linked by events in the past, not fully known to any of them, and revealed to them - and to us - only throughout the long ride towards Lost Valley. The story is driven along by Bruno Nicolai’s both harsh and melancholic score.
Juan Bosch was hired by Devon Films, which had co-produced his two first westerns, to make a film “more Italian than Spanish”. If we are to believe Marco Giusti, this was not achieved. According to Giusti Los buitres was entirely made in Spain, filmed in the Balcázar studios with an almost entirely Spanish cast. It seems that Giusti is partly mistaken on the first point though, as it is partly shot in Elios Studios. This is confirmed by Bosch, who recalled that they went to Rome and filmed there for two weeks. It was the first time he filmed abroad, and he was quite impressed with the facilities of Elios. He also recalled that Hill, Aranda and himself one night threw some coins into the Trevi Fountain, for luck and for the return to Rome. And in fact, Bosch did go back to Elios for his next film.
The exteriors were filmed in Castelldefels and Garfaf in Catalonia. Bosch was surprised when Luciano Martino showed him the locations planned for the film, practically in Bosch’s back yard, in the Garraf Massif, only 15 km from Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The Spanish pulp writer Antonio Vera was contracted to give the film an “authentic western style”. Vera had at the time more than four hundred titles to his name (or to his numerous pseudonyms), books of all genres; mystery, western, detective, espionage, horror and romance. So Vera came up with a novel, Bosch wrote the story, and they collaborated on the screenplay (Vera is credited as Lou Carrigan). It seems the cooperation was fruitful, as the film has a consistent story, without loose ends or plot-holes (well, almost none) and with touches of both mystery and romance.
Craig Hill is well cast as Sullivan, a downbeat former lawman, who even if he achieves what he sets out to do, ends up empty-handed. Frank Braña is the bad guy and a real mean one. He enters the proceedings only after a full hour of the film, but from the moment he shows himself in the doorway of his hide-out, Braña commands every scene he is in.
The film’s title refers, as already mentioned, to the Wells Fargo’s man hunters being called crows. Italian corvi might mean both crows and ravens. By Corrales’ imitation of the bird at one point of the film, it seems crows rather than ravens is intended. But buitres used in the Spanish title are another kind of bird altogether, they are vultures. Nicolai’s main theme is accompanied by birds’ shrieks; obviously they refer to the film’s title. And they are certainly not the calls of crows. More likely they are the high-pitched screeches of los buitres negros, the black vultures, fighting among themselves at the verge of carrion, or gloating over a shred of flesh.
Baker: You must be here for a reason. Corrales: Because I’m a bird that flies, señor, like for example a crow you know, kakakaka, and I never know where my wings will want me to go. Baker: Pigs don’t have wings, Corrales.
Ángel Comas: Joan Bosch El cine i la vida
Marco Giusti: Dizionario Del Western All'Italiana