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Blue Underground presents
Mannaja: A Man Called Blade (1977)

"Give 20 lashes to each one of these sinners and then shave their heads. May the good Lord on high drive out the image of Satan."
- Edward McGowan (Philippe Leroy)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 05, 2003

Stars: Maurizio Merli, John Steiner, Sonja Jeannie, Donal O'Brien, Philippe Leroy
Other Stars: Martine Brochard
Director: Sergio Martino

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, torture, language)
Run Time: 01h:36m:26s
Release Date: January 07, 2003
UPC: 014381193220
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-AB- C-

DVD Review

Just as suddenly as the Spaghetti Western sprang onto the scene in the mid-1960s, it was suddenly snuffed out in 1977. Westerns abruptly went from being over half of Italy's cinematic output to zero, apparently the victim of changing tastes and the disappearance of the Western from American television. One of the very last Italian Westerns to hit the screen was this brutal picture from prolific director Sergio Martino.

Bounty hunter Blade (Maurizio Merli) comes to Suttonville hauling his latest captive, Burt Craven (Donal O'Brien, featured player in many of the best Italian Westerns) and wagers him against black-clad Theo Voller (John Steiner) in a card game. Upon winning a stake, Blade releases Craven, sans a hand cut off with a hatchet, as a human savings account should he later need ready cash. But attracting Voller's attention was the wrong thing to do, since he is straw boss of the silver mine owned by prominent local Edward McGowan (Philippe Leroy). The silver shipments from the mine are constantly being robbed by a gang of bandits, and when Blade offers his services and is rebuffed, Voller tries to take him out of the picture. But Blade doesn't die all that easily and is soon back for his vengeance against Voller and McGowan, ending in a bloody climax that leaves nearly everyone dead or maimed.

While the hatchet-throwing Blade is a moderately interesting character, his motivations are fairly pedestrian and unoriginal. Merli (who had made a name for himself in a series of hard-boiled detective pictures) does an adequate job with the part, but nothing more. Steiner as the prime bad guy is highly effective, with a leeringly gaunt, sadistic face that is used to good effect; he presents an operatic interpretation to the character, underscored by his flowing cape and wide-brimmed hat. Leroy is also effective as McGowan, and the screenplay gives him a number of different perspectives to work with, making him by far the best-rounded character on display. His religious fervor, deeply rooted in hypocrisy, helps drive the picture along as he drives the dance-hall girls who rescue Blade out of town, but not before having them tied up and sadistically whipped.

The screenplay actually does manage a few surprises, which I won't spoil here. There is quite a bit of the Marxist thought common in these Westerns during the 1970s (possibly another reason for their decline in popularity, since few moviegoers enjoy being preached at). McGowan and particularly Voller go wild with the image of the capitalist grinding the worker into the ground, draining the very life out of the mine workers and then gunning them down in cold blood when they object. The editing is quite effective, with some striking juxtapositions between the passengers on a stagecoach being cut down by bandits and the dancers doing a can-can; the editing makes the deaths all the more striking and gives the whole a heightened impact to the point of being painful to watch. And speaking of painful, this uncut edition includes a notorious torture-to-eye sequence that is a tip of the hat to director Martino's involvement in several gialli; indeed, one suspects that the infamous eye setpiece in Dario Argento's Opera may have had its roots in this sequence.

The stunt work is extremely well executed, with more than a dozen instances of "that's gotta hurt" striking the viewer. Martino indicates that Merli did most of his own stunt work, including a brutal brawl in mud. By the same token, the special effects are exceedingly crude and unconvincing for the most part. While the score has an evocative harmonica wail much of the time, befitting the bleak story, there's also an odd theme song that is repeatedly croaked out by an uncredited vocalist; it really has to be heard to be believed in its utterly bizarre quality.

The story is grim and the characters are all stripped of any sense of humanity by the conclusion. The violence quotient is fairly high, though the gore is somewhat discreet; people who get shot have little trickles of blood rather than great goutin showers. In all, this was one of the least interesting in Blue Underground's Spaghetti Western Collection, but it's still intriguing to see the final evolutions of the genre just as it burned out completely.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks terrific. The textures and detail are startlingly lifelike. Even terribly difficult things to render such as lace curtains and banks of fog look great, without pixelation or aliasing. There's almost no damage present, except during the opticals used for the titles (especially the end titles, which get a bit ragged right at the conclusion). For the most part, it looks as if it were shot yesterday. An outstanding piece of work.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Italianyes


Audio Transfer Review: On the other hand, the news is not so good on the audio side. There is quite substantial noise and hiss on both the English and Italian audio dubs. Most of the actors appear to be speaking English, though it's unclear to me precisely which language Merli is speaking. I found the English track preferable but others may consider it a tossup. Again, Blue Underground is to be commended for providing the viewer with the choice. The noise and hiss notwithstanding, however, the 2.0 mono tracks do sound quite decent, with a richness and fullness to the music and dialogue that is quite satisfying. Thus the grade is not as low as one might expect.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Django. Run, Man, Run, Django, Kill! ...If You Live, Shoot!
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:38s

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and still gallery
Extras Review: The extras on this disc are the lightest in the box set. An interview (12m:22s) with director Sergio Martino is the high point, but it's well-padded with scenes from the film, often in highly pixelated form. Martino speaks in Italian, with subtitles. There are some interesting tidbits, such as his acknowledgement to Peckinpah, and discussion of his editing technique. A gallery of five posters, one lobby card and ten stills is included, as are bios for Martino and Merli. Finally, there is a trailer for the film, and an Easter Egg of trailers for the other three films in the box set. As usual for this set, all of the extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen. The layer change is very badly placed in the middle of a line of dialogue, an odd misstep for what is otherwise a well-presented package.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

One of the last Spaghetti Westerns, in an excellent transfer, although there is a bit of hiss on the audio. Extras are a little on the light side.

 


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