"I understand your fears very well. Hud is Charlie's brother, who has been lynched in this town to our misfortune. But if Hud comes here to avenge his brother, he would have to kill us all, because we are all responsible for the death of that man. Everyone."
There are two arguments you're more likely to hear than any other in Blackstone. We've already established who's to blame for the lynching of supposed bank robber Charlie Dixon – everyone – but surely someone is more to blame than the rest. Point your fingers accusingly in that direction, and maybe you won't be the one into whom Charlie's brother Hud (Johnny Hallyday) is emptying his revolver. The other inescapable topic of conversation these days is what exactly happened to that fortune that Charlie took off with. Everybody's desperate to get rich. No one wants to bleed out in the street. And yet by the end, damned near everyone in Blackstone is gonna be dead or disappointed.
The Specialists is hardly what what one would likely expect from the concluding chapter of Sergio Corbucci's Mud & Blood trilogy. Set in a town in which firearms have been confiscated by a well-meaning but ineffectual sheriff (Gastone Moschin), it doesn't offer the visceral Grand Guignol hyperviolence of Django. The haunting nihilism that permeates The Great Silence is in short supply. Aside from being the trilogy's least compelling lead, Hud's bullet-deflecting chainmail armor also makes for a far less memorable visual element than the casket Django drags behind him or the scar across Silence's neck.
The driving force of the plot are a bank robbery we never see and the avenging of a brother we never meet. Because there is a whodunnit? element to The Specialists, we're deprived of a central villain in the vein of Mayor Jackson or Klaus Kinski's Loco. The pace meanders, as Corbucci loses interest in Hud in favor of, say, seizing any opportunity to rail against hippies, Old West setting or no. Its third act never seems to end, as more and more antagonists keep coming out of the woodwork to wreak havoc in Blackstone. There are a number of reasons why its final moments are daringly different than a garden variety Spaghetti Western, not the least among them being...well:
The Specialists is by far the least of this unofficial trilogy, but that doesn't mean it's not intriguing. There's a more pronounced sexual element than any of Corbucci's other Westerns that I've seen. It's daring that the primary antagonist isn't a flesh and blood man – it's greed. Though there is still a fair amount of gunplay, Blackstone's ban on pistols, rifles, and shotguns occasionally leads to more imaginative bursts of violence, most memorably Death by Cash Register. And I can't say that I blame Corbucci for occasionally getting distracted by his supporting cast, when you have the likes of Mario Adorf playing a literal one-armed bandit with a penchant for dictating his memoirs to his teenaged secretary. The score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino seems to be divisive in some circles, but I'm deeply impressed by it. More remarkable still is Dario Di Palma's cinematography. The Specialists is such a gorgeously photographed film, making the most of its mountainous locations and benefitting from some truly inspired compositions.
No label on these shores has brought more Eurowesterns to Blu-ray than Kino Lorber Studio Classics, and this latest wave is perhaps their most exciting yet, with The Specialists joining Corbucci's The Hellbenders as well as Enzo G. Castellari's Kill Them All and Come Back Alone. And although The Specialists doesn't strike me as the sort of film that can be fully appreciated with the single viewing I've given it thus far, this flawed but fascinating Spaghetti Western still very much comes Recommended.
This new 4K remaster of The Specialists is – at least for the moment – far and away the best Blu-ray presentation to date of any of the films in Sergio Corbucci's Mud & Blood trilogy*. (Admittedly, the ranking would change if Arrow Video's breathtaking remaster of Django were ever to get a proper release.) The scope image is as pristine as I could possibly hope to see; throughout the film's 104 minute runtime, I don't believe I spotted so much as a stray fleck of dust. Though not the sharpest or most richly detailed Eurowestern I've come across, the definition and clarity delivered by this Techniscope production frequently impress, especially when the camera's closed in tightly:
Note how crisp and distinct every link in Hud's chainmail vest is:
The color grade does at times feel as if it's been approached with somewhat of a modern eye, particularly the way in which blues are accentuated in the more mountainous exteriors:
These cooler exteriors come in deliberately stark contrast to the temperature of interior sequences, most memorably the vibrant reds and pinks throughout the saloon. Shadow detail remains robust, even with as dark as Hud's clothing may appear to be under limited light. I'm not left with any concerns about The Specialists' AVC encode, which spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. Its sheen of grain may not draw a great deal of attention to itself, but it also shows no indication of having been filtered into submission. I'm very pleased with what I'm seeing here, and I'd argue further that The Specialists looks better in motion and from a more traditional viewing distance than the screenshots throughout this review might suggest.
The Specialists arrives on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The source elements are – at least in part – French in origin, given the text throughout its opening and closing titles.
Representing two of the three countries involved in its production, The Specialists features 16-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in Italian and French. There's only a single set of English subtitles on offer here, and it appears to have been translated from Italian. (In his commentary, Alex Cox notes one brief yet significant difference in the French dialogue, and it's not reflected in the subtitles.) It follows that this review is based on the Italian track to which the disc defaults, but I have recorded a quick comparison for anyone who's curious:
The Italian audio is more or less what I expected to hear. Some light hiss is audible but readily shrugged off. You've doubtless heard many of these stock sound effects dozens of times before in other Eurowesterns. Dialogue can sound shrill – most notably during an early argument among Charlie's potential killers in the sheriff's office that devolves into near-static – but doesn't really sound all that much rougher than many of the other Spaghetti Westerns I have on the shelf. There aren't any overt flaws to speak of. Nothing spectacular. Nothing terribly disappointing.
Far and away the highlight to my ears is the score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. The tone of that fuzz guitar is to die for, the pounding percussion still packs quite a wallop all these decades later, and...wait, is that an overdriven harpsichord? I didn't know how desperately I needed that in my life.
I waffled between 3 and 3.5 stars when scoring The Specialists' audio, but regardless of how many stars are lit up in the sidebar, I can't imagine that any Eurowestern fanatic would walk away the least bit disappointed with what Kino Lorber Studio Classics has delivered here.
And that handful of you out there with constant image height projection rigs or 21:9 displays can rest easy; The Specialists' subtitles are contained entirely in the body of the image, never spilling over into the letterboxing bars.
The Final Word
The third and final installment in Sergio Corbucci's Mud & Blood trilogy has at long last arrived on Blu-ray, and Kino Lorber Studio Classics has ensured that it's well worth the wait. I'll confess that The Specialists is my least favorite of the trilogy, but the film is so visually compelling and defiantly unusual that it remains deserving of a place on the shelf of any Eurowestern enthusiast. Its terrific presentation as well as Alex Cox's commentary make this release that much more worth seeking out. Recommended.