Cemetery Without Crosses (1968)

Cimitero senza croci / Une corde, un Colt

Cemetery without Crosses poster

Frenchman Robert Hossein wrote, directed, and starred in 1968’s Cemetery Without Crosses, his only contribution to the genre. It’s an original, to say the very least. Hossein stars as Manuel, a guy who lives in some abandoned ghost town. A former love of his (played by Michèle Mercier) rolls into town after a family headed by a nasty land baron kills her husband. She asks him for revenge. He manages to infiltrate the gang, and kidnap the baron’s daughter (who he allows some local ruffians to have their way with). Eventually there’s a big shootout with pretty much nobody left standing.

Now, this is primarily a French production, although Dario Argento gets a screenwriting credit, and Sergio Leone supposedly directed one small scene of the movie. The French influence is subtly given away when we see Hossein’s character drinking his coffee from a bowl instead of the mug that one would normally drink coffee from in the old West.

Beautiful AlmeriaA wagon in the landscape

Now, plotwise, this is yet another twist on the tried-and-true genre theme of “revenge for a slaughtered family/loved one”. But there’s several things that make this picture stand out as a bit unique.

First off, the cinematography in this film is exceptional. It looks like it was filmed in Almeria, Spain, like a majority of the genre. The film makes the most of the landscape; there are a good many shots of striking mountain panoramas and such, literally breathtaking at times. The set, in particular the abandoned town where much of the action takes place, look real, gritty, and in a word, fantastic. And finally, there is very, very little dialog in this film. There are several great moments in the film where characters manage to have entire conversations with each other without ever saying opening their mouths. It does make the pacing a bit slow at times, giving the film an art-film kind of feel, but it’s done rather effectively for the most part. Robert Hossein’s character is a bit odd. He looks perpetually sad and somewhat fearful, as though he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Rover Hossein

Robert Hossein as the saddest looking anti-hero to ever grace the genre. He looks like this through the whole movie.

So all in all, a rather interesting, if slow moving at times, entry to the genre. It’s too bad that Hossein didn’t give us any more westerns, for he surely has a unique artistic approach. The Sergio Leone influence is all over it, but not in a crass derivative kind of way like in so many others in the genre. As of this writing, it’s not available in the US, only as a Japanese or German DVD.

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