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Moderator: EvilFutsin

Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) (1977)

Postby EvilFutsin » Sat Sep 13, 2008 12:40 pm

Wow, it sure has been a while! In my defense, I've seen a few westerns - one of which I do intend to review - but the catch is either they've been extremely hard to find (Corbucci's The Specialist) or just not even worth reviewing (Seraphim Falls - serious disappointment for me). Or just too weird. Plus, well, I'd really rather not get into another debate about "is it a western?" by reviewing There Will Be Blood or something. =P

Although I do hope to review Django The Bastard (aka Stranger's Gundown) when I get the chance, that was pretty good. But that's for another time.

I know I promised "Kill Them All and Come Back Alone" by Enzo Castellari, but it's a tad on the hard to find side. So, instead, we get something that's got tomahawks being thrown, silver being mined, innocent people getting harassed, and a LOT of cinematic fog.

Dudes and (possibly?) dudettes, I present to you...

Mannaja (1977)
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Trailer:
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT


The Stats:
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Maurizio Merli, John Steiner, Philippe Leroy, Donald O'Brien, Sonja Jeannine, and Salvatore Puntillo
Type: Late-Era Spaghetti Western (dreamier mood, stronger violence)
Supercool Trivia: Because the studio where the film was being shot was being renovated, the decision was made to add lots of extra fog to hide the repair work being done.
Availability: Amazon US - Amazon.de - Amazon.de (SEPARATE RELEASE) - Amazon.fr _-_ You can also find this as part of a Spaghetti Westerns pack with Django, Djangokill (If You Live...Shoot!), and Run, Man, Run! which seems to be pretty widespread


The Content:

Checklist:

Spaghetti Western Gunshot - CHECK!
Town Run By Corrupt Owner - CHECK!
Bounty Hunter Hero With Revenge Driven Backstory - CHECK!
Twisty-Turny Plot With Lots Of Betrayal - TOTALLY CHECK!
Strange Music Score by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis - CHECK!
Sexy Females With WAY Too Much Eye Make-up - CHECK!
Goofball Chubby Guy - CHECK!
Betraying Second-Hand to Bad Guy - CHECK!
Rainy/Muddy Town ala Django - CHECK!
Stagecoach Robbery - CHECK!
Slowmotion Intercutting - CHECK!
Hand-to-Hand Brawling With Specific Quality - CHECK! (lots of mud and wooden objects)
Guy Chased By Dude On Horseback - CHECK!
Bad Guys Torture Hero/Leave For Dead - CHECK! (buried up to neck with knife at his throat)
Hero Recuperates In Cave (possibly with help from low-life sidekick type character)- CHECK! (and sort of check)
Member of Town Working With Outlaws - CHECK!
Woman With Dreams of Traveling Elsewhere - CHECK! (also tells the hero about those dreams!)
Group of Traveling Musicians/Dancers/Etc. - CHECK! (dancers)
Evil Bad Guy With Gimmick - CHECK! (attack dogs)
Hero With Gimmick - CHECK! (throwing axes)
Silver/Gold/Coal Miners - CHECK! (Silver)
Vague Use of Government/Military - CHECK! (Government Contracts, Military Escorts)
Music Montage Sequence With Lyrics While Hero Gets Ready - CHECK! (Like A Snake!)
Good Guy Screws Bad Guy On Ransom/Make-A-Deal/Sharing Loot - CHECK! (if you don't see this coming, I'll be amazed)
Saloon Getting Busted Up - CHECK!
Atmospheric/Foggy/Dramatic Final Shodown - CHECK! (Foggy)

(there's probably more, but hell, I'm tired)

The Review:

One of the interesting things about the italian western genre, especially in its waning years around 1975-1979, is that there would still be occasions where the story was as cliche as you could get, yet the execution of the film would make it worth watching. Although Mannaja has its problems, I found it to be one that was indeed worth watching.

Yes, as I hint at, this film is covered, soaking, perhaps even designed piece-by-piece with cliche in mind. Although Sergio Martino was known to be great at doing Giallo films (the only one of his I've seen, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardth, is amazing and highly recommended for fans of dark thrillers), it kinda shows he wasn't really all that enthusiastic for the genre of the western. Mario Bava, the godfather of the Giallo genre, was the same way. But the cool aspect in what Martino does is he brings to the film a sense of tone, visceral strength, and a mood for the entire film that delivers on the violence you want in the movie and the twisty-turny plot (despite being quite predictable). In a way, he uses this cinematic quality to fake you out a little bit when you're expecting the next turn to happen, giving you enough doubt that it may not happen the way you expect. And once or twice, it does happen differently than you expect, but generally it goes the same way. You know the hero will get captured and tortured at some point - you know the supposed main villain of the town is nothing compared to his second in command who obviously is a jerk - you know that the good people will get screwed over - so on and so on.

The story begins with Mannaja (Blade) hunting down Bert Craven, a man wanted for $5,000. After cutting off his prey's hand, Mannaja captures him and takes the man along. In the middle of a storm, the two come across the town of Suttonville, which is obviously run by some pretty oppressive types. After a nasty run-in with the town owner's (McGowan's) second-hand Voller, Mannaja earns $5,000 in a card game and lets Craven go, saying he was in it for the money, not for Craven's head. The prey leaves and the hunter stays, setting the plot into motion with twists and turns. Mannaja is after the town owner for what he did to his father years ago, but will current events change his plans for revenge? And what of the mysterious ability the local bandits have of stealing the silver mined by the town owner's workers before it can reach the U.S. Government? So it begins and the plot/story/scenario goes into its usual motions.

So how does the cinematic style and visual look help make the movie watchable then? Well, for one the action scenes are pretty fast-paced. The editing is very tight, inspired more by the flavor of the Italian Polizio genre (which Martino did a couple of movies in), and the rhythm and pacing of both the action and the drama/intrigue sequences move at a pretty good clip. Action-wise, it's also where staging and choreography is key to making the scene work. Even the big brawl where Mannaja has his fist-fight with four of the corrupt townsfolk, there's a sense that things are in good hands and you won't see sloppy stuntwork or choreography they just came up with a couple of hours earlier. And the big riot set-piece with the miners revolting against their new masters is a pretty epic sequence, despite having very little story consequences. If you want an action-packed spaghetti western, this one has got lots of shooting in it and some just frankly well-staged sequences. It gives you the excitement and the thrills you desire.

The film's also pretty to look at. The director of photography, who doesn't appear to have done much else that's really popped up on the radar (except for Stelvio Massi's Mark Il Poliziotto Spara Per Primo), really knows how to take the locations they're using and make them look gorgeous. The panorama views, especially during the stagecoach robbery, are awesome and you can see that James Mangold probably studied the way that scene was shot quite closely for his 3:10 to Yuma remake. (I recognized at least 4 exact camera angles) On top of that, the foggy sequences are some of the coolest mood scenes I've seen done in that kind of thick fog, even just a simple camera angle of the town setting a mood and giving you something gorgeous to look at artistically and dramatically. The opening chase (which can be found on YouTube) is fantastic and leads up perfectly to the visceral and disturbing dismemberment of Craven's hand (shown in the video - fair warning!). Even the best spaghetti westerns (except the Leone stuff) can sometimes get a little dull here and there in some of their scenes, but Mannaja is visually interesting constantly. Even the few interior sequences have a couple of good movements, good tricks, or just fine composition. In terms of crewmen and the craft of making movies, Mannaja is definitely more than competent.

And despite the characters being pretty stereotypical, the actors bring some depth here and there. Donald O'Brien as Craven, who returns later in the movie (at the moment you want him to most - won't spoil!), is a shifty type who is always a bit untrustworthy but yet he has a knack for looking like someone so pathetic you can't help but feel sorry for him living on his own on the run in such rough conditions. Maurizio Merli is also great as the leading man, although I suspect he's better suited for the Polizio genre (something about him doesn't say "grizzled outdoorsy type), and there's a sense of believability you don't usually get with a Giuliano Gemma or Fabio Testi. This guy's a facebreaker, you can see it in his eyes, and it's a pity the material doesn't allow him better opportunities. The two lady characters, Debra the town owner's daughter and Angela one of the dancers, aren't given much to work with but Debra has a couple of good bitchy moments and Angela's suitably adorable so that the audience wants her to get with the hero and things to be happy. (of course, it's a 70s spaghetti western; don't expect that to happen) Overall, the cast isn't the problem either. They do good.

I guess it's time to get to the problems, then. Unfortunately, the plot ambles...a LOT. The second act has little-to-no meat in it, there's a tiny hint of a character arc which is unfortunately not lived up to in the ending, and a lot of stuff seems to go in a loop. Political statements about oppression and exploitation of laborers is thrown in, but mostly for visuals and one kick-ass action scene. The back and forth battle between Mannaja and Voller has a couple of good moments, but not enough to keep their conflict interesting throughout the film. And despite a great plot-twist later on of making Mannaja blinded by sunlight while buried up to his neck in the sand, at the end of the movie you're left feeling a bit empty inside. Not much gets fleshed out and it's just a lot of cliches and a couple of unique executions to old ideas. There's no catharsis and there's no statement to the movie. A lot of it stems from the shifting morality of the main character, who seems first driven by money, then revenge, then justice, then revenge again. There's lines he won't cross in his line of deathdealing, but because of it his character becomes a bit stale.

As a sidenote about that, there's been a lot of talk recently amongst screenwriters about how "the character arc" has become a tad overrated in today's Hollywood filmmaking system, and most moviemaking businesses around the world, where you have to make the hero or heroine or villains transform in some way to make the development of the storyline interesting. The backlash is, for the most part, welcome and it's true, today we get a bit of an overdone feeling of "it must transform." (i saw a great blogpost about classic films with no character arc) Having said that, Mannaja is the kind of case where the movie could use a little bit of the 90s/00s type of "and the person learns/transforms/makes a decision/etc. because of *blank*" to help spice up the plot and make the story more interesting. As I said, it's really a lot of cliches and although the cliches can sometimes be entertaining as hell and if they're done well there's no problem, but in this case I felt there being a lack of substance. Say what you will about how slow The Great Silence is or how silly Indio Black is, but you feel a sense of a journey into something, that there's an eventual point to the movie that the director or screenwriters are working towards. Some spaghetti westerns don't need that point, but Mannaja could've used it in my opinion.

In any case, do I recommend the movie? Yes. It's still well-made, the cliches are lovable because they're kind of cute and charming to see after so many films of this genre, the action scenes are worth it because of how good some of the stuntwork is, and it's in spirit a different kind of spaghetti western because it intends to do something a little darker and more visceral. Perhaps a bit more brutal, too. Martino, as said, was known for the giallo genre, which for those who don't know is a very gritty sub-genre of horror and thrillers. He brings that quality here with the few violent kills he throws in here and there, along with the general sense of "everything burns and is destroyed" that haunts the third act of the film.

Well, granted, it's not as warped or subversive as Djangokill or Four of the Apocalypse. But those are in a different league, which makes Mannaja enjoyable because it's the inbetween half-way point of just a typical violent western and the more strange/brutal stuff that Fulci or Giulio Questi would go into.

I guess that's it for now. Tune in next time, chaps! :)

The Images:

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Sidenote:

If you dug this movie...try Keoma! (which I'm really tempted to watch after this flick - given they both have Guido & Maurizio De Angelis scores)

Also, if you want to see more of my (Futsin's) opinions, you can check out my blog. Do keep in mind I cover a strange variety of topics. o_o
Last edited by EvilFutsin on Fri Jan 02, 2009 11:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby ReD NeCKersoN » Sun Sep 14, 2008 1:25 am

The sets, camera angles & overall atmosphere in those photos look outstanding! And guess what? I actually have this movie! 8O Now I just need to watch it for the 1st time! :lol: I'll add my thoughts after I've viewed it.
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Postby Pardner » Sun Sep 14, 2008 3:36 am

great review Futsin, I added this to the top of my Netflix list. I should be watching it by mid week!

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Postby Breli » Sun Sep 14, 2008 11:02 am

futsin, you should be charging money for these reviews, seriously, man, where else on the net do you get such high quality reviews of this very very specialized genre?

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Postby EvilFutsin » Sat Oct 11, 2008 1:39 am

So, anyone given the flick a shot yet? :) Re-review of Assassination of Jesse James coming soon, by the way. 8)
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Re: Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) (1977)

Postby ReD NeCKersoN » Thu Oct 16, 2008 3:12 am

EvilFutsin wrote:Although Mannaja has its problems, I found it to be one that was indeed worth watching.

If you want an action-packed spaghetti western, this one has got lots of shooting in it and some just frankly well-staged sequences. It gives you the excitement and the thrills you desire.

The film's also pretty to look at.

As you stated, there were a few moments when I said out loud "OMG, I know they didn't just stick that corny line right there!" Many cliches for sure. BUT, I enjoyed the film & would watch it again. Your review is spot on. The bad stuff is immaterial to the film as a whole & barely detracts from it. Good acting, pretty girls, lots of action, nice photography, endearing soundtrack (if not a little repetitive), good acting & enjoyable overall. If we had a bullet rating, I'd give it 4 out of 6 bullets. :D
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Postby ReD NeCKersoN » Fri Oct 17, 2008 12:52 am

I'd like for this film to be reviewed next please! 8O

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Postby Pardner » Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:56 am

EvilFutsin wrote:So, anyone given the flick a shot yet? :)

I watched it. It was very good. It seemed to capture that good spaghetti western atmosphere. There was good shootouts, classic revenge plot, and (as a mapper) a very inspiring rundown town. My only grip is that it seemed to be very similar to Fistful/Last Man/Yojimbo only minus two gangs. Gunslinger comes into town, makes trouble, gets hired, gets shot, comes back and cleans house. Don't get me wrong its a good plot, but its hard watching yet another western with a similar plot. Although..... there wasnt to gangs, and he came into town looking to cash in a bounty, and then he found revenge. Good film allround.

@Red, why request a movie that you've seen at least a dozen times?

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