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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Navajo Joe (Blu-ray)
Navajo Joe (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // August 18, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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An above-average spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Corbucci and featuring one of composer Ennio Morricone's most audacious scores, Navajo Joe (1966) nonetheless has been trashed through the years by its star, Burt Reynolds, who was quite unhappy with the experience and summed it up this way: "Wrong Sergio." Navajo Joe was Reynolds's only Euro-Western.

His contempt for the movie is perhaps understandable. It was made at a pivotal point in Reynolds's career, the actor having only just left the popular Western television drama Gunsmoke for his first leading film role, in the cheap, forgotten spy thriller Operation C.I.A. (1965). He was still doing TV to pay the bills, including a guest shot on Flipper (!), when Navajo Joe came along. It led to another Indian/half-Indian role, his third following Gunsmoke and Navajo Joe, as a shamus in the short-lived series Hawk (1966). After 17 episodes and its cancellation, Reynolds did some more TV before easing back into movies beginning with 100 Rifles (1969), playing yet another Indian.

Reynolds reportedly is part Cherokee, but these Native-American roles were more likely the result of narrow-minded typecasting. Indeed, Reynolds's early career was mainly plagued by the most unusual of conundrums: his then-striking resemblance to a young Marlon Brando. Critics couldn't help but compare the two actors, and Reynolds himself parodied Brando at least once (on an episode of Twilight Zone).

Regardless, his role in Navajo Joe, as a vengeful but stubbornly circumspect Indian who probably says less than 100 words in the entire picture, couldn't have appealed to him all that much. He's neither charismatic nor does he deliver a good performance. Watching the movie again for this review, I kept thinking had Charles Bronson played the title character instead a good spaghetti might have been one of the handful of truly classic ones.


The simple plot of Navajo Joe begins with the massacre of a Navajo village, including a young woman (Maria Cristina Sani) by Mervyn "Vee" Duncan (Aldo Sambrell, the only actor to appear in all of Sergio Leone's Westerns, always as a secondary henchman). Duncan is the self-loathing half-breed leader of a ruthless gang of outlaws collecting bounties on Indian scalps.

Later, Duncan plots a train robbery with all-white half-brother Jeffrey (Lucio Rosato) and respected country doctor Chester Lynne (Pierre Cressoy), who lives in the town of Esperanza, where the cash is earmarked for the local bank. A trio of saloon girls (Tanya Lopert, Franca Polesello, and Lucia Modugno)* overhears the plot and Joe saves their stagecoach from Duncan's men, not out of sympathy, but vengeance.

Later, Duncan's gang mass murders everyone aboard the train, but Joe steals it back while Duncan awaits the arrival of a safecracker. In Esperanza Joe proposes single-handedly killing Duncan's large gang (about 25 men) for a dollar a head, which the mostly racist and greedy but terrified townsfolk reluctantly accept.

Producer Dino de Laurentiis was, clearly, trying to cash in on the spaghetti Western craze that began with Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars (1964) and its follow-ups, movies which had been a sensation in most of the world but not yet released in America. (However, Navajo Joe didn't turn up on American screens until late in 1967, after Leone's Dollars trilogy had appeared.)

Nevertheless, by American Western standards and even most spaghettis up to this point, Navajo Joe is extremely violent, if relatively bloodless, with a body count of at least 40 people and a good 80% of its characters. Both men and women are gunned down at point-blank range in practically every scene in which Duncan appears. Further, there's a scene aboard the train in which Duncan's brother shoots a defenseless mother in front of her crying toddler. Duncan orders him to do something about the kid, an ambiguous remark leaving the child's fate uncertain, though he's never seen or heard from again. For American audiences of the time, Navajo Joe must have seemed extraordinarily brutal.

Though good overall, Navajo Joe's best feature by far is Ennio Morricone's score. Amusingly billed as "Leo Nichols" in the credits, Morricone composed an unforgettable war cry-Indian chant motif (led by vocalist Edda DelOrso, as Richard Robert Sindic helpfully points out below) that in cacophonous movie palaces back in 1966 must have made ears bleed. Like dozens of other Morricone pieces, once heard it sticks in the brain forever, and turned up later in several Quentin Tarantino movies (of course) as well as Alexander Payne's Election (1999).

Video & Audio

Filmed in 2-perf, 2.35:1 Techniscope, Navajo Joe looks quite good throughout, bright with good blacks, exhibiting the natural graininess of the process and without image-smearing DNR. The DTS-HD Master Audio, in 2.0 mono, is also fine, if presented in English only with no Italian track and no subtitle options. The disc is region A encoded. The movie, incidentally, appears complete and uncut, running 93 minutes.

Extra Features

Supplements include a pretty good audio commentary track by film historian (and Kino executive) Gary Palmucci, which despite lapses of silence and a few mangled names is generally well researched, particularly with regards to Morricone's contributions. Also included is a trailer for this along with other Burt Reynolds movies licensed to Kino from MGM. Kino really needs to Q.C. stuff like this: a trailer for White Lightning is completely messed up, in the wrong ratio and encoded incorrectly to the point of being completely unwatchable.

Parting Thoughts

Better than its reputation and presented in a fine transfer with a couple of good extras, Navajo Joe is Highly Recommended.



* For some reason, saloon girls and some leading ladies in spaghetti Westerns tend to be rather skanky and unappetizing, but the three actresses here are all quite fetching.


Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His new documentary and latest audio commentary, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Rashomon, will be released this September.

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