The Mercenary DVD Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
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This DVD is published in Germany by Koch Media. (Region 2) The DVD offers English soundtrack.
Unhappy, mine working, Mexican peon Paco Roman (Tony Musante) shrugs off the yoke of his oppressive masters and embarks on a career as a revolutionary. But Paco's willingness to act is not matched by his ability to plan or strategise so when he meets up with Polish, gun dealing mercenary Sergei Kowalski (Franco Nero) he recognises the value the european can bring him and agrees to hire the pole and follow his advice. The pair go on a spree of raids and robberies which net large amounts of loot for the revolutionaries but Kowalski's self seeking lust for cash causes friction and suspicion and the relationship between the two men is constantly beset with conflict and fluctuating levels of commitment.
As the two progress across the countryside and increase their activities their separate enemies join forces against them. Mine owning Colonel Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo) aims to gain revenge on Roman who was once his underling while Curly (Jack Palance) a homosexual gambling dandy and sadist is driven by a search for money as well as a hatred of the mercenary Pole. Together the two villains become a formidable force, relentlessly pursuing their prey with an artillery armed force of Federal troops in tow and even an airplane at their disposal.
A showdown is inevitable but who will it involve? With Roman and Kowalski as often in conflict with each other as not and with everyone driven by their own desires the only thing for certain is that the end will be bloody.
Sergio Corbucci made two Zapata westerns; this one and Companeros. The Mercenary was the first and it's year of production is significant as 1968 was a year of political turmoil and revolutionary zeal across europe. It is a very political film which reflects the social sentiments of its director but, more than that, it is an unashamed action fest and this, after all, is where Corbucci really shines. Alex Cox has pointed out that, as a co production with a major U.S. studio, the film shows signs of executive interference. It is certainly restrained in its depiction of violence. Although the body count is enormous there is none of Corbucci's trademark graphic cruelty here. Rather, when moments of bloody meanness arise they are all covered off camera, often with a compositional slight of hand whereby the camera shows the act being set up then drifts off and then back to show the aftermath moments later. I tend to believe Cox is correct in his suspicions here. In a lower budgeted project with less people to answer to I suspect the Corbucci of 1968 would have gladly dwelt on these scenes more graphically but, in truth, the way they are treated is still very effective and might just be more so for their creative restraint.
Both of Corbucci's Zapatas are well thought of by fans on the whole and the the thing which divides them is usually agreeing as to which is the better of the two. Up until now, that decision for many of us has been made harder because of the disparity in the quality of the films' DVD releases. Thankfully, that inequality has now been eliminated.
Koch Media's reputation as the premier company for Spaghetti Western DVDs has been earned over the past few years with a long series of quality releases of excellent films. The standards they have set in terms of picture and sound quality are unequaled and their commitment to the genre has been exemplary. Their release of The Mercenary, one of the big films of the genre still lacking a suitable release, shows that commitment is still, thankfully, strong and they have, as always, done a fine job on the film. I have heard one or two comments saying that the picture is not quite as crystal clear on this DVD as on some of their previous releases but I can honestly say that I could see no discernable drop in quality. In part this could be due to my more modest TV set up than some also to the abominable quality of the previous version of this film which I had to endure up to now. Either way, it looks pretty darn good to me and I would suggest that any criticism in this regard is akin to knit-picking.
Moreover, with this release Koch have finally overcome one of the genuine gripes English speaking fans have had with the company in the past. As most will be aware, despite Koch's welcome inclusion of hidden English subtitles on films on their previous releases, they have always excluded these subs for any extras on the discs. This has been particularly frustrating when they have included some interviews with stars and directors which are of genuine interest to any fan. But with The Mercenary Koch have done us all a big favour and included the English subs on extras we have all craved and, as a result, the informative interviews on the discs featurette were available for all anglos to enjoy. With the featurette including interviews with stars Franco Nero and Tony Musante, writer Luciano Vincenzoni and editor Eugenio Alabiso this is a real bonus indeed. They have also, thankfully, included the English audio track (important as the film was shot in English) as well as the Italian and German as well as German subs for their home based fans. This is pretty much perfect and I can only hope that it will be the blueprint for all their ensuing releases. The only thing they could add would be to maintain the english subs for the film as an option even when an English audio track (as here) is included. For this film the English audio is the one of choice but in other cases it would be nice to be able to select the Italian dub with English subtitles if prefered. But this is for future releases. In terms of The Mercenary, Koch have got it spot on and I, for one, am a very grateful fan as a result.
This is a first class release from a first class DVD company. The Mercenary is a film that has been long overdue a suitable release and it is great to see it finally getting its moment. The quality of the disc is very solid throughout, with good picture and sound as well as some very nice extras to boot. (the picture gallery is one of the largest I can remember on any release) With the imminent demise of the very popular rainbow collection from Koch this release is an encouraging sign that we can still expect some great stuff from them in the months to come.
--Phil H 18:27, 7 February 2010
For a more in depth review of the film itself, see my previous review of The Mercenary here.
Screenshots taken by Alexander Fischer