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Sergio Corbucci's "The Mercenary" aka "A Professional Gun" DVD review/questions

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#1 of 13 Drew Reiber

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Posted May 17 2004 - 05:59 PM

Hey, everybody. I'm going to make a desperate plea here regarding what appears to be a forgotten classic. But before that, a warning/review of the current disc and a little backstory.

Thanks to the great Spaghetti Western box sets offered by Anchor Bay and Blue Underground, I've had the opportunity to see and enjoy so many great films from that era. During that time, I picked up Christopher Frayling's "Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone".

The book gave me a lot of background on Sergio Corbucci's work, who to the best of my knowledge, seems to be the number two guy when it came to setting the standard during the Spaghetti boom of the 60's and 70's. Blue Underground released "Django" and Anchor Bay released "Companeros", two of the three famous collaborations he did with Franco Nero.

A quest to see the third, "The Mecenary", seemed pointless as the only existing DVD was a crappy bootleg that Direct Source offered and was now out of print. After examining the other two films and comparing them to Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino's work (specifically "Kill Bill vol. 2"), it was apparent that Corbucci left a pretty good mark on a few undeniably talented filmmakers today. After listening to "L'Arena" (from this movie) a few thousand times on the Kill Bill vol. 2 soundtrack, I finally gave in and tracked down a copy of the OOP bootleg.

First off, BEFORE I get into the movie, let me say that this is the most offensively awful DVD product I have ever purchased. If you can get past the needless narration on the menu without throwing up, you'll find what is essentially looks to be a decades old VHS copy of the film that was taped off TELEVISION and POORLY at that with mistimed commericial edits that go directly into the next scenes. Not to mention the misframing and transfer, SO BAD, that frames in later scenes occasionally overlap into earlier ones. Need I mention the sound...?

Second, it was painfully obvious that this film was never meant to be seen in standard/full frame format. Action is constantly off screen and much of the fight sequences are completely unintelligable in the 4:3 ratio. Yet, somehow, my friend and I were able to brave through these obstacles.

"The Mecenary", from what I could make out, is one of the very best Spaghetti westerns I've seen. It easily holds up to the better films of the genre (surpassing some) and is a noticable improvement over "Django". The direction, characters and acting is terrific! It starts off at a slow pace, building a strong setup, and turns into an epic revolutionary war between Mexican rebels and the nation's army. Definitely another standout performance for Franco Nero, who takes his machine gun shenanigans to new heights.

The film was clearly responsible for some of the visual stylings of "Kill Bill vol. 2" (which Tarantino even nods to during the credits), many of the character traits, plots and humor found in some of the "Mariachi" films.... and not too surprisingly, the final duel with Jack Palance was completely lifted for the duel between Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman in Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead." For something so influential and well done as this film, it's staggering that it's not available in region 1.

Now, I can't imagine that Bill Lustig (Blue Underground/Anchor Bay) or fellow DVD producer/enthusiasts such as himself haven't tried to get ahold of this film. However, the print on this disc starts up with "United Artists Presents". At first I was scared to death that this film was owned by MGM, straining the possibility of a decent release... until a friend of mine went on the hunch that Warner might have scooped up the rights. Sure enough, Turner Classic Movies has been running a restored print of the film on cable.

Getting to my plea... is there any way in heck that we can spread the word on this terrific film, especially considering the fever pitch right now in releasing the films that the Kill Bill franchise is based off of (Lady Snowblood, Thriller, Fukasaku/Yakuza films, etc)? Also, is there any direct way we can influence Warner Brothers to release it on DVD? Thanks for any help on this, I really can't emphasize enough how I feel this is a kind of Spaghetti Rosetta Stone...

As for the DVD I mentioned above, if any of you are desperate enough to seek out a copy, I warn you that I don't exaggerate that it's painful to watch a film treated so badly. It's even worse when you keep running through your head that Direct Source has managed to get their catalogue into regular retail stores... If you can wait, do yourself a favor and wait. I hope this helped.

#2 of 13 Gordon McMurphy

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Posted May 18 2004 - 12:26 AM

Hi, Drew. You'll want to check out Corbucci's, The Great Silence on DVD. Good 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer, albeit a bit scratchy, but still good. Alex "Repo Man" Cox gives a video introduction to the film. The alternate ending is also included, but the original ending is truly, truly unforgettable.

Il Mercenario was shot in Techniscope @ 2.35:1.

There's an Italian edition which, apparently, has a superb high bitrate anamorphic 2.35:1 trasnfer, 5.1 and 1.0 Italian soundtracks, but it has no English subtitles.

There's a Japanese edition which is 2.35:1 (not sure if it's anamorphic, though) and has English subtitles.

Does anyone know if the Japanese edition has a good, anamorphic transfer?

#3 of 13 Peter M Fitzgerald

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Posted May 19 2004 - 06:36 AM


While TCM has indeed run a nice, letterboxed print of THE MERCENARY within the last few years, that doesn't always mean WB owns the film. And in this case, they don't. The current MGM company controls the proper (widescreen) print of THE MERCENARY/A PROFESSIONAL GUN in the USA, as it is part of their United Artists library of titles. The same holds true for some of the other, major non-Leone spaghetti westerns, such as: DEATH RIDES A HORSE (though pan-scanned versions of this are a Public Domain staple), SABATA, RETURN OF SABATA, ADIOS SABATA, NAVAJO JOE and THE HILLS RUN RED. Perhaps, if we're lucky, MGM might do right by them on R1 DVD someday.

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#4 of 13 Darren Gross

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Posted May 19 2004 - 02:37 PM

According to CD Japan, the Japanese disc is 2.35 Letterboxed, not 16x9, and has English and Japanese Mono soundtracks and Japanese subtitles. No word on English subs.


#5 of 13 Jason Hennigan

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Posted May 20 2004 - 10:26 AM

Ever since I picked up Companeros, I've been wanting to see The Mercenary.

MGM is sitting on a collection of Spaghetti Westerns that are begging for nice DVD releases; hopefully The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly will motivate them to dig into their catalog a little bit and pull these movies out.

#6 of 13 Drew Reiber

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Posted May 20 2004 - 04:52 PM

I'm going to contact all my friends, and hopefully they'll contact their's, to write to MGM and let them know there is a demand for these films. I hope you guys here on the board will at least email them, though I'm willing to bet letters will make a bigger difference. A bunch of us are going to do both.

Please make sure that you include both titles for the Mercenary (otherwise known as A Professional Gun) so they know what we're talking about. Also, it probably wouldn't hurt to mention that Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 mentioned Death Rides a Horse, Navajo Joe AND of course the star of this thread. Thanks!!!

Here's the contact info:

MGM Home Entertainment
2500 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061
You can e-mail MGM at: 4you@MGM.com

#7 of 13 Chris N

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Posted May 28 2004 - 02:39 AM

Just had to chime in here. Posted Image

“Il Mercenario” is one of the best underseen Spaghetti Westerns of its time. If anybody here has seen “Vamos A Matar Companeros”, it’s very similar to that film in structure and effect, but rather than the psuedo-cartoon of the Mexican Revolution presented in “Companeros”, “Mercenario” is deadly serious. It’s also a fascinating power game between Franco Nero’s Kowalski and Tony Musante’s Paco.

And Jack Palance gleefully rolls around grenades. How can you improve on that?

It’s not difficult to imagine a young Robert Rodriguez seeing this thing on TV over and over again. Thematically, Rodriguez’s “Mariachi” films revise Corbucci’s Franco Nero pairings, especially “Django” and this film. There’s even an entire running joke he lifted for “El Mariachi”.

There are other perks, too, Morricone’s soundtrack is one of his most magisterial, and Corbucci manages to use it in a way that puts Tarantino’s lifting of “L’Arena” for “Kill Bill Vol. II” to shame.

I’m drafting my letter to MGM. Posted Image

- Chris

#8 of 13 ChrisJefferys


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Posted May 28 2004 - 02:31 PM

According to CD Japan, the Japanese disc is 2.35 Letterboxed, not 16x9, and has English and Japanese Mono soundtracks and Japanese subtitles. No word on English subs

I don't think any of the Japanese "Macaroni Western Bible" titles have English subs. Too bad, because some of the titles in the series don't include an English soundtrack.

#9 of 13 charlie m

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Posted May 19 2007 - 11:55 AM

I think alot of us outta give that a shot .

#10 of 13 Ali B

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Posted May 20 2007 - 10:35 AM

Well, MGM have released the Sabata films and now Hills Run Red so fingers crossed they'll get around to Navajo Joe and The Mercenary some day. The Japanese discs of those 2 are pretty good, although SPO are in the process of reissuing their Spaghetti Westerns series (see here) which includes Great Silence (hopefully with a better transfer than the Anchor Bay release), Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die (which is also available from Dutch Film Works in a better version than the god-awful VCI disc), Day of Anger (hopefully better than the Wild East disc) and Return of Ringo (which was OK in the original Japanese release but anything better would be great). They may get around to doing Navajo Joe and The Mercenary some time.

#11 of 13 Drew Reiber

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Posted May 20 2007 - 11:07 AM

Three years later and hope still isn't that high. Sure, MGM/Sony released the "Sabata" trilogy, but when Fox helped them to put out the much delayed Leone set... no other potential spaghetti tie-in releases were announced. If MGM/Fox doesn't put out the remaining Corbucci titles now, I don't know if there even will be another time when the market was ripe for promoting the genre.

Anyway, I've since also seen "The Big Gundown" by Sergio Sollima and most of "Death Rides a Horse". They were both pretty good, but I'm not holding out hope for either to see their day on DVD. "Death" is yet another MGM title, along with the unreleased Corbucci ones, and "Gundown" is owned by Sony so we just forget that. "Gundown" is especially frustrating considering Blue Underground released the sequel, "Run Man Run", many years ago. I've read that Sollima's "Face to Face" is also very good, but I have no idea which studio owns it.

Image put out a decent copy of "My Name is Nobody", which is now easily one of my favorite westerns. I really recommend anyone who is a fan of the western to search it out immediately. It's probably the closest thing to a closing book on the spaghetti genre at the time, and even the classic western. Anchor Bay finally released Corbucci's "The Hellbenders", but I haven't had a chance to watch my copy. I'm not aware of Anchor Bay holding anymore unreleased Spaghetti titles, and now Blue Underground is no longer acquisitioning new titles.

It's now up to the big studios to let the few remaining classics hit the standard DVD format, or we can pretty much forget ever seeing them. These lesser known gems of a forgotten subgenre are the last thing on the minds of the executives looking to resell "Doom" and "Van Helsing" on their precious new HD formats.

#12 of 13 Ali B

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Posted May 22 2007 - 12:17 AM


If you want to see the titles you've mentioned, get yourself a multiregion, PAL playing DVD player. Death Rides a Horse is out in Europe (from MGM no less), Big Gundown is out in Germany (as part of the Sollima boxset with Face to Face) and Japan.

A couple of sites that might be of interest:

Fistful of DVDs
Spaghetti Western Database

#13 of 13 Anthony Thorne

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Posted May 24 2007 - 08:48 AM

I'll just add that Sollima's FACE TO FACE is absolutely fantastic and one of the true classics of the genre. I'd easily place it among the top non-Leone Spaghetti Westerns.