In the 1970s, a decade after Italian Spaghetti Westerns not only revolutionized the genre, but helped grow its popularity outside US borders, Sergio Corbucci would help develop an even more fascinating sub-genre: the Zapata Western. Known for engaging with anti-imperialist, even communist, politics, these films were often set during the Mexican Revolution, and were frequently interpreted as critiques of how Hollywood typically handled the subject of Mexico. No longer were white Americans the ‘good guys’ fighting nameless brown villains. Instead, these movies really explored the corruption and abuse that continue to shape how the US treats its southern neighbor. Today’s Stream of the Week is perhaps the epitome of this filmmaking style, and one of Corbucci’s best: Compañeros (1970).
Franco Nero, who also starred in Corbucci's 1966 Spaghetti Western classic, Django, gives a fantastic performance in this film (though his role as a Swedish gun dealer is admittedly more buttoned-up than his usual gun-slinging persona); and Tomas Milian’s role as a Mexican peasant is both hilarious and endearing, one of the best combos. As their characters, The Swede and El Vasco, team up to rescue the head of a revolution—more for profit than for justice—viewers are given a wildly funny, adrenaline-punched exploration of corruption, imperialism and revolution.
As always with Corbucci, the formal aspects of this film are eye-popping. Between the flashy camera movements and fast-paced editing style, everything is done in a purposeful way, drawing viewers closer to the story and characters' perspectives. Cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa really outdid himself, even using POV shots at just the right time without it seeming like too much of a gimmick. In some moments, the handheld lens got a little shaky, but I think that actually adds a lot to the scenes in terms of bringing a specific energy to certain shots, and it’s important to keep in mind that Corbucci was working within a specific budget at this time.
Readers of this blog will know I’m a sucker for a great western, and this is no different. As a whole, the genre offers the perfect blend of politics and entertainment. Without ever verging on being too obvious or preachy, this movie makes a powerful statement on geopolitics and economics while still giving us the thrills we expect from Spaghetti/Zapata Westerns. It’s also VERY funny; really couldn’t recommend this more strongly. Stream Compañeros for FREE on Tubi!