The revival strand of the LA Film Fest was pretty random this year, and the most tempting older movie was part of the guest artist series. Composer Daniel Luppi picked Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Navajo Joe, primarily for the pseudonymous Morricone score but also a little bit, one hopes, because it improbably stars Burt Reynolds in his second-ever lead role.
When even Reynolds frequently disowns a movie, you know it’s not got a lot going for it, but the reasons above are quite enough to make it watchable. Corbucci’s films are frequently less excellent than they sound, and this is from 1966, the year when Sergio Leone would unleash the baroque excess under which the genre would flourish. It’s a serviceable enough tale: large bunch of bad guys, stalked by renegade Joe, trying to rob a train at the behest of a corrupt town doctor and generally causing havoc.
It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, with Reynolds in brown buckskins to match his tanned face, a warm brown plank of wood; he leaps and rolls all over the place, always appears on the skyline, and just occasionally threatens to break out the smirk. His discursion on what it is to be American is sharp and pointed (he’s of part Cherokee descent). Basic motivations are all clear-cut, but moment-to-moment decisions are haywire as the townsfolk dither, the villains act even more stupidly than one would expect, and Joe inexplicably blows hot and cold over the foxy Mexican servant girl.
Set pieces are serviceable, and too little is made of Joe’s yen for carving the gang’s symbol (yes, in one instance into a forehead). Nice to see Fernando Rey in support, but he doesn’t get to do a lot as the padre, and the gang and its leaders are fatally goonish. Morricone saves the day, with a score full of familiar tropes like the wailing voices and the offset ostinato that’d be recycled into the climactic theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (the same year). There’s also a great deal of killing. One wonders why, if Joe is so sure he can do away with the tens-strong gang all on his own, he had not done so already, but it’s best not to ask questions of this sort of film. Amusing theme song too (“Navajo Joe” over and over again).
Watch the trailer below.