The Hellbenders (1967)

Genres - Western  |   Sub-Genres - Spaghetti Western  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - Spain, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Donald Guarisco

The best spaghetti westerns take the familiar elements of the American western and put a unique spin on them by incorporating modern attitudes and elements from other genres. The Hellbenders is a prime example of these tactics: the settings and the gunplay give it a western veneer but this story is really more like a film noir transplanted to the old West. The script enhances the power of its genre twist by giving the proceedings an air of ambiguous morality: the story's nominal protagonists are actually murderous bandits and the money (hidden oh-so-symbolically in a casket) becomes a symbol for the way greed can ruin the lives of all it touches. Director Sergio Corbucci makes these themes felt but never overplays his hand, keeping those themes aligned with the story events and waiting until the finale to lay them on thickly for a memorably operatic effect. More importantly, he gives the film a handsome, classic Western look and maintains a solid pace throughout. In terms of acting, Aldo Sambrell is the most sympathetic of the bandits but it's Joseph Cotton who steals the show as the family's brutal patriarch, a man who preaches God and country but won't hesitate to murder an innocent if they interfere with his plans. All in all, The Hellbenders is a classic spaghetti western whose dark tone lingers in the memory long after the sounds of gunfire have faded.