DirectorEnzo G. Castellari
Release Date(s)1976 (April 16, 2019)
Studio(s)Uranos Cinematografica/Vadib International Films (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Late in the spaghetti western cycle, 1976’s Keoma (later released in the U.S. in 1978) took a much different approach than many of its contemporaries at the time, borrowing much more from what was going on in American westerns, such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, more so than sticking with traditional Italian western tropes that Sergio Leone had perfected nearly a decade earlier.
Even the story of Keoma is far from a normal Italian western tale, which often involves mysterious strangers up against unruly outlaws, all of whom are in search of power or gold, or both. In this film, a Native American boy is raised by a kind white man (William Berger) after his tribe is slaughtered. Growing up to fight in the war, Keoma (Franco Nero) returns home to find that his stepbrothers and a local gang have a stranglehold over it. He attempts to reconcile with them (all of whom disown him as family) and stop their takeover, which includes helping his childhood mentor George (Woody Strode) and a pregnant woman named Liza (Olga Karlatos).
Keoma is certainly more experimental in its approach to the genre, relying more on visual flare than simple story mechanics. It’s a beautifully-composed film, often using the form to its advantage. Panning shots, odd angles, slow zooms, and careful composition make it a far more interesting film to look at than what’s written on the page. It also employs flashbacks, which don’t just simply happen – we slip in and out of them, sometimes without realizing it, which gives the story more momentum as they are often happening concurrently with the main story’s events.
On the other hand, Keoma is a film that’s better to watch on silent with subtitles as it is packed to the nines with some of the most unnecessary and intrusive music and vocals that you’re ever likely to hear in a movie. Nearly every scene features it to some degree, often repeating or telegraphing what’s happening in the story from Keoma’s point of view, meaning that this Joan Baez type caterwauling has the ability to absolutely destroy any interest one might have in a scene at any given time. So for all of its strengths as a visually-compelling film, Keoma is absolutely doused in highly ineffective music, taking it down several pegs in my estimation.
For Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release, the film has undergone a new 2K restoration from the original 2-perf 35mm camera negative and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Even better, two versions of the film are included: an English version and an Italian version, both of which feature different sets of opening and closing credits (the latter appears to be print-sourced, even though the accompanying booklet doesn’t mention it). Outside of the credits and different languages, the content of each version is identical otherwise.
Regardless of which language you choose, it’s a lovely and organic presentation with nicely-rendered grain and high levels of fine detail, none of it containing leftover artifacts or any unnecessary digital augmentation. The color palette, which is made up primarily of dusty and dirty environments, can be rich when given the chance, such as scenes that take place in saloons or wooded areas where hues are slightly more plentiful. The transfer also boasts deep blacks with good contrast and shadow detail. The image is stable and mostly clean aside from some leftover source damage that couldn’t be repaired, such as occasional lines running through the frame, staining, and mild flicker from time to time. It’s also worth noting that the backgrounds in the Italian credits sequences are much softer than those in the English credits sequences.
The audio is presented in either English or Italian mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s also worth noting that these options cannot be toggled back and forth between each version. Both tracks are slightly narrow but well-rounded when it comes to the film’s score, which has more life to it than any of the soundtrack’s other aspects. Dubbing is slightly loose on both tracks, more so on the Italian track, which is to be expected. Sound effects, particularly gunfire, have plenty of impact, despite their often dated qualities. Some mild hiss is also present, which is more prevalent on the English track, but otherwise, both are free of defects or dropouts.
The extras for this release, which are fairly extensive, include an audio commentary by authors C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke (for the English version only); The Ballad of Keoma, a new 22-minute interview with Franco Nero; Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, a new 29-minute interview with director Enzo G. Castellari; Writing Keoma, a new 16-minute interview with actor and writer Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman; Parallel Actions, a new 23-minute interview with editor Gianfranco Amiccuci; The Flying Thug, a new 24-minute interview with actor Massimo Vanni; Play as an Actor, a new 30-minute interview with actor Wolfango Soldati; Keoma and the Twilight of the Spaghetti Western, a new 19-minute video essay by film academic Austin Fisher; an archival introduction to the film by filmmaker Alex Cox; the international and Italian trailers, both presented in HD; a Production Stills gallery with 19 images; a Posters and Press stills gallery with 21 images; a Lobby Cards still gallery with 64 images; a Home Video and Soundtrack Sleeves still gallery with 29 images; and a 36-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, “He Can’t Die”: Keoma and the Widely Reported Demise of the Spaghetti Western by Simon Abrams, Shooting from the Hip: The Westerns of Franco Nero by Howard Hughes, a set of Contemporary Reviews compiled by Roberto Curti and James Blackford, and presentation details.
The previous Blu-ray of Keoma, which was released as a co-feature with The Grand Duel by Mill Creek Entertainment, left plenty to be desired, despite the $5 price tag. Unfortunately, Keoma gets by on visuals alone as its experimental nature is sullied by its musical trappings. Arrow Video’s treatment of it is commendable like always and it’s a terrific package for spaghetti western fans the world over.
– Tim Salmons