Mannaja (1977)

Director: Sergio Martino

Actually watched this last night but by then it was so late that I decided I’d better hold off doing the review then. Anyway, this was a markedly bleaker example of the SW than the last couple of films we’ve seen, plus it comes from pretty much the end of the SW trend as well; if not the actual last spaghetti western, then certainly near enough. And the film itself seems to carry a certain sense of decline within it, too; the setting is a kind of crumbling and rotten town built around a silver mine; the spirits of the miners are pretty much kept in severe check by the tyrannical mine owner, McGowan, and their health isn’t helped by the unpleasant conditions of the mine itself. Into this decrepit shithole comes the man called “Blade” because of his weapon of choice (the hatchet; mannaja in Italian, apparently), on a quest for vengeance against McGowan, but when the latter finds himself screwed over by his own henchman (out for the old man’s silver empire and his daughter as well), both Blade and McGowan find their respective plans changing. This is grim stuff pretty much from the get-go; although Sergio Martino (who only had one other SW to his credit, his first feature in fact, before turning to gialli) says in the DVD featurette that the abundance of fog and rain was used mainly to try and hide the decrepitude of the village set (apparently the last one left in Italy by then), it actually adds something to the overall atmosphere of the film; it’s grey, it’s muddy, it’s gritty, it’s dusty, and pretty much the only bright thing in it is star Maurizio Merli’s improbably handsome dental work. Similarly, the characters are all kind of unprepossessing; even Blade seems to be the nominal hero mainly just because he’s not as bad as the rest. It’s actually a better film than I’ve perhaps made it sound, I did quite like it, but it’s not particularly cheerful stuff. And if this was one last look back at a genre that was pretty much done and dusted by the time it was made, Martino’s next film (Mountain of the Cannibal God) looked forward to Italian exploitation to come…

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