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Navajo Joe
IMDB Rating: 6.4/10 from 2,264 votes
Release: 25 November 1966 (Italy) /

Navajo Joe

Genre: Western
Director: Sergio Corbucci,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: An Indian warrior called Navajo Joe seeks revenge on a gang of sadistic outlaws who has massacred the people of his tribe.

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Critic Reviews

Is NAVAJO JOE a stupid movie? Oh yeah, you better believe it. Is it a bad movie? Surprisingly, no. To a significant degree, NAVAJO JOE makes up for its farcical plot with its great style.

First, Sergio Corbucci knew how to make good-looking movies. Or at least, he knew how to make this one look good. He laps up the shots of the sere Western landscape (Spain, as usual in spaghetti westerns, stands in for the American frontier). He knows whose faces the camera loves and gives them lots of affectionate close-ups. He knows how to put a rose against a background that makes it look even redder, like a spot of blood on the screen. Kudos to cinematographer Silvano Ippoliti, but the cinematographer can only photograph what the director tells him to, and Corbucci knew what to shoot.

Second, Corbucci manages to keep his leading man off of the screen most of the time. Burt Reynolds is atrocious. His stuntman, on the other hand, is superb. They combine to give us Navajo Joe, one of the most athletic western heroes you'll ever see. Unlike the typical western lead who gets most of his exercise transferring his Colt .45 to and from its holster, Joe believes in getting close and personal whenever he can, usually by flying through the air, climbing onto rocks and roofs, and otherwise dealing with the situation acrobatically. The movie poster ridiculously shows Reynolds aiming a bow, which he never once uses in the movie; as any smart Indian would, Joe uses a Winchester rifle for long-range combat. But he uses even the Winchester athletically, holding down the trigger and pumping the lever action frenetically to shoot down his foes.

Third, that `Leo Nichols' you saw credited with the music is really Ennio Morricone, who, with all due apologies to Nino Rota, is the undisputed king of Italian film music. Like many of his themes it is a choral piece, apparently inspired by Indian tribal songs but reworked to fit Morricone's own standards, and it is superb. NAVAJO JOE is the only movie I have ever watched solely for the music. It is amazing to consider that Morricone did four better themes for Leone alone, while for most film composers this theme would be a career best.

Fourth, the movie exposes some of the injustices that European settlers did to American Indians without ever giving in to the modern assumption that the Indian victims of these evils must themselves have been saints.

As you can see, the elements of a classic western were there. But alas, Corbucci dropped the ball short of the goal line. For one thing, he hasn't got a clue what to do with Nicoletta Machiavelli. She's the top-billed lady, and she's gorgeous, but she doesn't get to take any part in the action. She doesn't even get to kiss the hero. It goes without saying that the characters are paper-thin, and the one who is most humanized is not Joe but Aldo Sambrell's villainous Mervyn (who has a funny scene where he tears down the `Wanted' sign for his brother and crumples it up, but carefully removes his own and puts it away for safekeeping).

Furthermore, NAVAJO JOE is a textbook example of what Ebert called the Idiot Plot; that is, a movie whose plot can only proceed if everyone involved is an idiot. The initial massacre which motivates the hero for the rest of the film depends on his wife being idiot enough to show not the slightest suspicion when an armed horseman rides up to her when she is alone and defenseless. Joe's survival is due largely to Mervyn's inexplicable decision never to send more than two or three of his thirty-or-so outlaws after him at one time. The secondary villain fails to see that, once he has guided Mervyn to the gold, Mervyn will have no more use for him. Mervyn's hard-bitten brother Jeffrey is given an invitation that has `TRAP' written all over it, and proceeds directly into the trap without the slightest suspicion. The most absurd part of all, though, is when Mervyn drags the servant girl Estella into the street, right under the muzzle of Joe's rifle, and threatens to shoot her unless Joe surrenders. Does Joe (a) shoot him through the head, or (b) surrender? You guessed it, he surrenders. Now does Mervyn, having seen that Joe will cave in to any threat to Estella, threaten again to shoot Estella unless Joe tells him where the money is? Nope, he spends fruitless hours beating the living dung out of our hero, and when that doesn't work, strings him up by his heels. He doesn't even muss Estella's hair.

NAVAJO JOE was Dino De Laurentiis' answer to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Obviously, it doesn't even come close; FISTFUL was every bit as stylish as JOE and had a good story too. But if you measure JOE by what it achieved, not by what it tried to achieve, you'll find it's pretty decent.

Rating: ** out of ****

Recommendation: Western fans should catch it on TV.

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