Review for The Specialists
A few months ago, I was snowed under with review discs, despairing that I’d ever have the time to watch them all. I have a fondness for spaghetti westerns, so when Eureka Entertainment were soliciting The Specialists for review, I was seriously tempted to request a check disc, but that pile of review discs persuaded me to show some restraint. What did I know? Less than two months later, we’re all locked down, businesses are curtailed, and things like review discs and release schedules don’t have the same urgency that they once had, and that pile, finally is starting to diminish. I’m actually starting to wonder if the home media PR machine will start rolling again before I run out of check discs to review. And then there is a light thump on my doormat. Eureka Entertainment sent me an unsolicited check disc for The Specialists. Pure serendipity, but I received just what I needed, exactly when I needed it.
Hud Dixon is a gunfighter who’s heading back to Blackstone, and the citizens aren’t looking forward to that. Hud’s brother Charlie was falsely accused of robbing the bank and wound up lynched, and the townsfolk know that Hud will be looking for vengeance, and won’t be too picky about where he finds it. They’ve got themselves a sheriff to keep the peace, and he’s got the right idea, banning guns in the town. But as Hud looks for his brother’s killers, he learns that there is more than meets the eye to this robbery.
The Specialists gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. Watching this film, I just felt sad thinking about the Dollars trilogy Blu-rays, wishing that those films had got transfers half as good as the one that The Specialists gets. The 4k restoration certainly helps, but when it comes to detail, to colour and clarity, Eureka Entertainment’s treatment of this film on Blu-ray is impeccable. There’s no sign of compression or banding, the wonderful cinematography (the film was shot at Cortina in the Dolomites) just pops off the screen. This film could have been shot yesterday, not 51 years ago.
The Specialists comes with the choice of PCM 2.0 Italian, French, and a Partial English dub (patched with the French audio). You also get three subtitle tracks, the Italian translation, the French translation, and the French bits in the English dub translated. Given that Alex Cox was commentating against the Italian audio, and also given the Spaghetti Western genre, I went with, and was happy with the Italian version, although there are one or two typos in the subtitles. Then I gave the French audio a try, and as the majority of the main cast are French, the lip sync is actually tighter in this version, while what I sampled of the subtitle translation actually seemed a bit more elegant. I definitely want to watch this version the next time; although Johnny Hallyday’s French voice doesn’t live up to the performance of the Italian actor that dubbed him. What I experienced of the English dub sounded okay, but technically the audio wasn’t as crisp and clear as the French and Italian versions. They all sound typically mono and front-focussed though.
For the purposes of this review, I only received the check disc, but the first run release of the film will have special o-card packaging and a booklet in the case with writing on the film.
The disc boots quickly to a static menu, and there is the aforementioned audio commentary from Alex Cox. It’s typically gappy, yet it’s typically informative and interesting as well.
There is a featurette, Austin Fisher on the Specialists which lasts 18:49.
You get the Original English Script to click through on screen, and if that is too much of a pain, the PDF file of the same is on the disc if you have a BD-ROM. Failing that, you should be able to access it from the Eureka website.
Finally there are the French and Italian trailers for the film.
In the featurette, there’s some talk about the reception that this film had back when it was first released, and what influences it might have had down the line. While it is a spaghetti western to be sure, it’s certainly different enough from the Sergio Leone films (practically my sole exposure to the genre) to warrant attention. There’s more of a political and satirical edge to the story that makes it feel allegorical. Certainly the addition of the side characters, introduced in the opening shot, the young anarchists (described as hippies in the commentary), half Greek chorus, and half random element driving the plot, give the film a hallucinatory edge that you can directly cite as an influence on the similarly themed and otherworldly High Plains Drifter, the Clint Eastwood revenge western. But I also see echoes of 5 Card Stud, released a year earlier, and starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum in another psychological revenge western.
There is that anonymous anti-hero feel to Hud Dixon, who comes to Blackstone looking to avenge his brother, but finding that he has to solve the mystery of his lynching and the bank robbery that precipitated it. The sheriff that is supposed to curtail this man is an interesting figure, a pacifist that has declared guns verboten in his town; he comes across as somewhat the comic relief, particularly in his awkward encounters with the film’s antagonist, the widowed banker Virginia Pollicut. Yet he has enough presence and authority to convince as a genuine lawman.
The rest of the townsfolk vary from the sympathetic (the prostitutes) to the downright antagonistic towards Hud, with most of the well-off residents demanding that Hud be dealt with. But it’s clear that it’s widow Pollicut who is directing the antipathy. The film starts off in a pretty straightforward manner, but it gets more and more bizarre as the story unfolds, shedding the bonds of realism when the one armed bandit leader appears along with his gang. He’s an interesting, jovial figure, a childhood friend of Hud, who keeps a scribe at his side to whom he narrates his embellished life story as it happens. Once again I was put in mind of a later Clint Eastwood movie, and the journalist that Saul Rubinek played in Unforgiven, hanging on every word spoken by Little Bill Daggett.
The end of the film is practically a political polemic. The commentary mentions the antipathy that the director Sergio Corbucci felt for the hippy movement back in the sixties, and the four such characters here, with their anti-establishment attitudes and twisted version of free love are shown to be infirm of purpose and given to vacillation. Yet the end of the film is as anti-capitalist as you can imagine, where the greedy and power-hungry get their ultimate, degrading, and humiliating comeuppances.
What starts off as a fairly standard revenge story is made fresh by the alpine locations, impactful by the cinematography and the lashings of sex and violence and amorality that you might justifiably expect in a spaghetti western, yet has a lot more going on beneath the surface as well. Despite the gimmicky casting of its rock and roll lead actor, there’s a lot to appreciate about The Specialists, and it’s well worth seeking out, especially given the wonderful presentation on this Blu-ray.