Mill Creek Entertainment has released quite a few spaghetti western collections over the years, including a huge 44-film collection released in 2010. The company has slowly been dipping their toes into the waters of Blu-ray recently, including releasing a double feature of spaghetti westerns Four Dollars of Revenge and The Last Gun. Their latest Blu-ray release collects two very different Euro-westerns on one disc: Giancarlo Santi’s Grand Duel (aka The Big Showdown, 1972) and Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma (1976). The two films could not be much less alike and still be in the same genre of film, but they are both well worth a look, especially in their Blu-ray debut.
Grand Duel stars Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff named Clayton on the trail of a fugitive named Phillip Wermeer (Alberto Dentice). Once Clayton catches up with Wermeer, the two return to the town of Saxon, from which the bounty was issued on Wermeer by the corrupt Saxon brothers. Their father, “The Patriarch” (Horst Frank, who also plays one of the Saxon brothers), was murdered, and in the aftermath Wermeer went on the run and Clayton was stripped of his badge, but it doesn’t take long before Clayton’s true intentions for returning are made clear. Grand Duel is punctuated by stylish film noir flashbacks to the night of The Patriarch’s murder, and features a fantastic Luis Bacalov score that Quentin Tarantino borrowed to use in Kill Bill. Lee Van Cleef is great as usual, but the show is nearly stolen by Klaus Grünberg, who plays the vicious but well-dressed Adam Saxon. The transfer on Grand Duel is gorgeous, easily the best this film has looked on home video even though the previous Mill Creek releases of it have not been that bad. The sound is not as strong as the picture, unfortunately, but this is still the best version available of the film.
Keoma is an odd beast, a bleak western fable that follows Keoma (genre legend Franco Nero), the half-Indian son of William Shannon (William Berger) who returns home after fighting in the Civil War. He returns to find his town in the grip of Caldwell (Donald O’Brien), who have cut the town off from any outside contact and have quarantined people sick with a plague, refusing to give them medical treatment. Even worse, Keoma’s three half-brothers have thrown their fortunes in with Caldwell. Keoma saves a pregnant woman, Lisa (Olga Karlatos), from being left in the plague camp and returns her to town to hide out in the office of the town doctor (Leonardo Scavino). Keoma hatches a scheme with the doctor and former slave George (Woody Strode) to leave town and bring back medicine and federal agents to deal with Caldwell. Keoma was directed by Enzo G. Castellari (Inglorious Bastards), and is a beautifully-shot film– in fact, it would unquestionably be a classic spaghetti western if not for its bizarre soundtrack, featuring acoustic guitars, psychedelic keyboards, and singers narrating everything that happens on-screen. It’s still definitely worth a watch, but that soundtrack is a lot to deal with. The transfer on Keoma is not quite as much of an improvement over previous releases as that on Grand Duel, as the film was previously released in a nice special edition DVD by Blue Underground, and the sound is about on par with that of Grand Duel.
Overall, this disc is an excellent deal, and could serve as a very good introduction to the spaghetti western genre. Both films are great, and represent different styles of western– Grand Duel is more traditional, Keoma more allegorical– and while they both look good here, Grand Duel has never looked better. The only extra content on the disc are trailers for each film that look pretty battered, but they’re nice to have. Blu-ray owners curious about either film really can’t go wrong with this release. Here’s hoping Mill Creek has more of these double features up their sleeve in the future!