on 9 April 2011
Blade (Maurizio Merli) captures the outlaw Burt Craven (Donaled O'Brian) and heads towards Suttonville only to discover when he gets there it's run by an old religious cripple McGowan (Philippe Leroy), who he has a personal vendetta against and his psychotic Henchman Voller (John Stiener). So he decides to stay and put an end to their cruel control of the town.
I am a big Spaghetti Western fan and this is a great film, it may be similar to Keoma which I think is a good film but to this to me is better. They have a similar Gothic atmosphere, a score by the De Angelis Brothers and the Sam Peckinpah slow motion action scenes, which you could argue that Director Sergio Martino has blatantly copied but I don't mind as this is a fast paced film that never gets boring.
The score by the Angelis brothers is very similar to Keoma so if you liked that then you will love this one, I wasn't to impressed by the groaning songs but they didn't annoy me but there was one piece however that is played around the romantic scenes, I though was great.
Maurizio Merli is great in the lead role as Blade who gets his name for carrying around hatchet as his weapon of choice. There's a two great villains in McGowan, who has banned all of the whores and whisky from the town calling them the sins of Babylon and his right hand man Voller who has two massive black Great Danes for protection are some of the best bad guys in Spaghetti Western history.
Overall a fine film that i'd rank in my top Spaghetti Westerns of all time.
DVD: very good quality and English and Italian Audio
on 6 October 2013
Mannaja: A Man Called Blade was one of the last worthwhile Spaghetti Westerns made(Lucio Fulci chimed in a year later with the violent but unoriginal The Silver Saddle) with the Italian filmakers tuning more to horror and post apocalyptic style movies that were obviously more of a draw in changing cinematic times. The 1970s were an odd time for the spaghetti western. There were the occasional flourishes of greatness with the likes of Keoma and Fulci's other 70s western Four Of The Apocalypse but unfortunatly the genre had backed itself into a corner with far to many self parodies and so called comedy westerns. Thankfully Mannaja avoids this cliche and reverts back to what made spaghetti westerns so interesting back in the early years of the genre. Tough, gritty and action packed Mannaja was directed by popular Italian director Sergio Martino who was probably better known for his giallo films and euro crime oaters. Star of the show Blade played perfectly by Maurizio Merli was also a blast back to the heros of the old style spaghetti westerns albeit with a new weapon of choice which in this case turns out to be a hatchet(the source of his name).
Though simple and hardly that original Mannaja has some wonderful touches to hold the interest of avid spaghetti western fans. Made in the wake of many American westerns, Mannaja isnt avert to the use of stylish slow motion phototgraphy in the same vein as Sam Peckinpah. Martino handles these scenes well especially at one point which flashes between a vicious attack on stage coach passengers and a troup of brightly dressed showgirls with the music from the dancing playing throughout. The various gunfights and fistycuffs are also decently staged and occasionally violent and brutal with good use of blood squibs to heighten the realism. The supporting cast are suprisingly strong too with Donald O'Brian as the double crossing one handed outlaw whose affliction was down to Blade's skillful use of his trusty hatchet and Italian exploitation movie legend John Steiner as the evil henchman Voller suitably sinister. The locations are good and are served well by Martinos widescreen compostions although they do look far more European than American and rather cold and dank. The production values do look very convincing too especially compared to other lower tier spaghetti westerns with nice set designs, costumes and cinematography of which the latter showcases some interesting camera angles and set ups. The soundtrack is something that could be described as an aquired taste though. Provided by the De Angelis Brothers this starts out with an odd croner led title song featuring an incredibly deep male vocal which could in some cases make or break the movie for some viewers. The remainer of the score is hardly what you would deem traditional with an often surreal fantasy style edge which while destinctive can at times feel inappropriate for the material.
Mannaja does stand out as a decent and well made spaghetti western entry that is never ever going to rival anything from the main players from the golden age of the genre but stands up well in its own right and comes highly recommened to genre fans.
Blue Undergrounds region free DVD release is presented in Mannaja's correct Techniscope ratio of 2.35:1 and looks good enough when you consider this has been around since 2003. For a standard definition release this has a decent amount of detail and textures in close ups from faces to clothing and the interior sets show lots of nice details in the props and furnishings. Exteriors exhibit a little depth and colours are good enough for the material whilst never popping off the screen. Black levels are suprisingly strong from the stormy nighttime arrival of Blade in the town to the interior of the caves which play a large part towards the end of the movie. Grain is present and correct often swirling around the fog enshrouded scenes and print damage although present is never obtrusive enough to completely destroy the viewing experience. Softness does creep in from shot to shot especially in a handful of the landscape scenes but tightens up again once back in close up. A few compression problems do arrise from time to time and the opening credits sequence looks as murky as hell but over all this is nice looking DVD transfer that would obviously benefit from a Blu ray reissue from Blue Underground.
The standard Dolby Digital mono mix here is obviously no great shakes. Flat and undynamic it gets the job done with clear dialogue and foley effects plus decent reproduction of the often bizzare score. The post production dubbing isnt as bad as other genre entries either but as with the visuals an HD version of this would be most welcome. For completists there is also the option of watching this with its original mono Italian soundtrack with optional English subtitles.
As well as the usual array of text bios and trailers the extra features section of the disc also features a solid and interesting interview with the director Sergio Martino.
Hardly the best spaghetti western out there this is a well made and well acted mid tier entry from a director and crew who knew their trade. Despite crying out for a hi-def re-issue the Blue Underground DVD looks more than acceptable and is far better than the slightly cut UK release that is missing some brief horse falls and the supplimentey material found here. Recommended.