Blindman (1971)

Dir: Ferdinando Baldi – Cast: Tony Anthony, Ringo Starr, Lloyd Batista, Magda Konopka, Agneta Eckemy, Raf Baldassare – Music: Stelvio Cipriani

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In the cavalcade of oddities the spaghetti western has offered, Blindman is one of the most bizarre. It easily assimilates familiar genre clichés, such as the Mexican bandit hooked on a woman who despises him and the handicapped hero who must fight against heavy odds, but few films offered a hero who was literally blind as mole, or a long haired lover from Liverpool cast as a Mexican bandit. The premise vaguely resembles William Wellman’s Westward the Women (1951), spiced with the idea of a blind but lethal specialist escorting them, taken from the Japanese Zato Ichi movies about a blind samurai. The samurai has become a sharpshooter and the sexual implications of Wellman’s film have become, understandably, a bit more explicit. Co-Produced by the former impresario of the Beatles, Allan Klein, the film combines elements from pop art and European trash cinema to an excessively violent, perverted concoction that comes very close to a travesty of the genre.

IBlindman (Anthony) has a contract to deliver fifty mail order brides to mine-workers in Texas, but his associate – called Skunk – has sold them to a Mexican gang. So he kills Skunk and the people in his company – he blows them up with dynamite – and heads for Mexico, to get his fifty women back. The Mexicans, meanwhile, are negotiating with the federal army about the women. The deal is closed, but the federales are slaughtered afterwards in order to retrieve the money. Not a very smart thing to do, if you ask me, and it’s not the only improbability of the movie. The genre has never been concerned with probability, but thanks to the visual and narrative bravura of some of its best directors, we were never worried when we saw Clint shooting five opponents from the hip or Franco balancing his pistol on a cross with his crushed hands. Corbucci used a gunslinger who was going blind in Minnesota Clay, and the idea worked quite well. But Baldi makes blindman slowly groping his way and fumble about for things, and for most part of the movie I felt sorry for the guy, who would never have any chance in the dangerous profession he had chosen. Having read that the lenses Anthony had to wear for the occasion were hurting him badly, I thought for a moment that he really had gone blind.

Ferdinando Baldi, a former college professor specialized in classic Greek drama, clearly wasn’t feeling comfortable while making this movie. Usually co-scripting his own movies, he had shown with the overlooked gem The forgotten Pistolero and the more successful Texas Addio that he was and first rate craftsman. Both film were, not surprisingly, rather complicated family dramas dressed up as westerns. In the derivative but enjoyable Get a coffin ready!/Viva Django! he had shown that he could handle more straightforward western action too. The more traditional genre elements like shootouts and torture scenes are handled rather well here, and there’s a very nice scene in which bandit leader Batista asks the priest to marry his dead brother with the girl the boy loved madly when he was alive. Even some ideas, obviously to be taken tongue-in-cheek, are easy to enjoy. Blindman is guided by a intelligent seeing-horse (maybe a reference to Jolly Jumper, the horse of Lucky Luke, who beats his master at chess). The Mexican gang is run by three family members, two brothers (one smart, one stupid) and a sister, who is called Sweet Mama, and who outdoes her brothers in sheer sadism. And the fact that the stupid brother is played by Ringo Starr, surely adds to the fun. But some of action is so far over the top, that even a tongue-in-cheek approach doesn’t really help. The slaughter of the federales is of an outrageous brutality, and the violence directed at women is of a particularly nasty kind, especially during a protracted scene in which the mail order brides are chased through a desert landscape and most of them shot. This kind of misogynic, exploitative violence may be acceptable in trash cinema, but soon becomes offensive when taken out of its own context. It feels a bit like a hardcore scene in the middle of major Hollywood production. In other words: the unusual combination that sets Blindman apart within the spaghetti western genre, doesn’t work for me. But I am defending a minority standpoint: the film is considered a minor classic by many genre fans and several of them even call it a personal favorite. Well, we can’t all like the very same movies.

In defense of the film it must be said that it’s beautifully shot and well-acted. Tony Anthony may be a little piteous, but if you’re playing a blind person who is nearly constantly threatened and tortured, that can be called an achievement too. Ringo starr is credited second - for obvious reasons - although he only has a minor part as the stupid Mexican bandit called Candy (if you have a Skunk you might as well have a Candy too). When Paul McCartney was asked once if Ringo was the best drummer in the world, he answered that that he wasn’t even the best drummer of the Beatles. But he sure was the best actor or the Fab Four. Batista and the luscious Konopka give good performances as, respectively, his wiser brother and perverted sister, and spaghetti western regular Baldassare – nearly unrecognizable for the occasion – is fun to watch as the ever laughing general of the federal army. Stelvio Cipriani’s music is fine too.

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