Sunday, August 3, 2014

In short: Cut-Throats Nine (1972)

Original title: Condenados a vivir

US cavalry sergeant Brown (Claudio Undari) and a handful of men are transporting seven highly dangerous chain gang prisoners through a snowy, mountainous landscape. Things go very wrong indeed when the local crazy bandits attack.

Soon, Brown finds himself and his daughter Sarah (Emma Cohen), who was also part of the transport for reasons that will become clear much later, alone with a groups of decidedly dangerous men clearly dreaming dreams of escape. To complicate matters further, the men soon find out their chain is actually made of gold, the consequence of one of the more idiotic secret gold transport plans in the history of idiotic plans. Furthermore, one of the men, though the Browns don’t know which one, is the killer of Brown’s wife.

Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s Cut-Throats Nine is a Spanish Western trying to out-nasty the more brutal arm of the Spaghetti Western, succeeding at its aim quite marvellously. It also happens to be a pretty great nihilist film that openly denies not just all the core values of the US Western but also the more generous ones its genre brethren often follow, with any believe in authority, or morally upright independent actors, or even simple human compassion quickly drowned in the film’s - at the time it was made probably quite shocking - amount of Fulci-style gore. Reading about the film, I expected its comparative goriness to be a cheap gimmick to sell the film. The gore surely is that, too, but it also is an important part of the film’s generally unpleasant mood, emphasising quite loudly the depravity of the characters committing the violence but also carrying with it a tone of what I can only read as a loathing of the human body as such, as if the film were screaming: “Look, this is how disgusting we all are inside”!

Which is of course what everyone’s actions here say already, with even the logical candidate for that other great Western value, redemption, turning out to be quite beyond it in the end, and quite ineffectual at his failed attempts in the direction too. There are some clear parallels in mood, theme, and dirtiness of the snow between this and Sergio Corbucci’s grand The Great Silence, but where Corbucci seems to express sadness about the state of humanity perhaps hiding a smidgen of hope behind the still rather shocking ending of his film, Marchent’s film is all bitterness and loathing, with Sarah, embodied by Cohen with a dignity that really brings home how horrible the things done to her during the course of the film are, as the only character with any kind of moral compass. And what she gets for that, and what she will do because of it, is in the end not very different from what the murderers and rapists around her do.

Marchent films all this very effectively, as well as appropriately unsubtly, in all the colours of mud and dirty snow, showing basically nothing but the mud, unwashed people, uncomfortable close-ups on actors making their most brutish faces, and oozing guts. While it’s not a pleasant experience, there’s actual conviction behind the film, offering up a view of humanity most of us thankfully only share on certain days.

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