As I continue to grapple with the tried and tested tropes of the spaghetti western, I find myself more drawn to certain aspects. Shootouts that have a tinge of tension to them, but at the same time manage to incorporate darker, underlying motifs. For a Few Dollars More fits the bill in that regard. Engaging, memorable characters are also a truly rewarding trope, as witnessed with the Sartana series. These two simple merits are often hard to come by in a typical western, the further you dive into the ever-popular genre, films tend to be less consistent and generally poor quality. The Specialists is a rare breed. A spaghetti western that doesn’t have the benefit of a big-name star but does have the hook of Sergio Corbucci, a staple director who worked at the height of the glory days.
Brushing up as best I could on the work of Sergio Corbucci, I find myself a tad underwhelmed by The Specialists. It feels like a conventional spaghetti western at heart, with a handful of overwhelmingly bizarre moments scattered throughout, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Django and The Great Silence, perhaps the two best-known Corbucci works, have become hard to address with a clean slate when they are so beloved by so many. For me, they deserve merit and are thoroughly enjoyable, but they also felt rather forgettable. The Specialists certainly heads down a similar path to Django with its grimy nature, seedy characters and dirty surroundings making for some exceptional worldbuilding.
With Johnny Hallyday starring as Hud, the legendary gunslinger with a knack for suave sophistication, we follow him as he returns to his hometown, where his brother was killed to a mob. It’s a rather simple revenge plot, one that shouldn’t have been this complex or demanding. Bogged down by a double-crossing, and a flimsy build-up to the legendary lead character, The Specialists never manages to gain enough ground in the character department. We never reach a point where Hud feels fully fleshed out, likewise, neither is there a time where he’s underwhelming enough to make for a boring lead. All credit for that balance must go to Hallyday, a solid enough performance that scrapes off a few of the more traditional tropes of the genre, all the while playing the far-fetched eccentricities without so much as a crack in his ruthless stare.
The composure of Hallyday is rather resounding. In a film filled to the brim with some rather sloppy action and predictable dialogue, he makes up some of the best moments. The opening gunfight and introduction to our character build him up as best it can, the six-shooting hero, a legend of the lands and an all-round solid lead. The supporting cast is misplaced and feels redundant at times, irreplaceable as we follow an arc of redemption. Mario Adorf’s turn as El Diablo feels like it should be an iconic western role, a tremendously grand name and a whole host of films under his belt, Adorf’s role is sidelined spectacularly. What little time he has to shine is nice, but there needs to be far more of it.
Corbucci’s direction, however, is where the highlights come into play. Possibly his most visually rewarding; he has no trouble translating his dirty western antics in with some experimental visuals and set pieces. One aspect Corbucci can always pride himself with is his world-building, an experience like no other as we walk through the muddy towns and murky surroundings that our leading character is all too familiar with.
Those looking for extras and bonus features are in for a real treat with this one. Eureka Entertainment offers up an impressive touch up of the film, alongside Italian, French and partial English dubs all available at the click of a button. A feature-length audio commentary from Alex Cox proves interesting and will surely settle in well for those wanting to know even more about the more unique aspects of The Specialists, whilst Austin Fisher provides new material in an interview about the various impacts and iconographic charms the film has to offer. An abundance of special features and extras is always a treat, and Eureka provides more than their fair share here.
For those looking for a film on par with the delightful grittiness of Django, then look no further than The Specialists. It may be rather rife with issues, but for the more hardened spaghetti western fan, you’ll find more than a handful of engaging moments throughout a fluttering film that struggles to win me over completely. Corbucci brings his greatest hits to the table with this one, a jigsaw puzzle full of interesting tropes that never quite land how I expected. Expect the unexpected, but expect a splash of banality in the more surprising moments.