Cemetery Without Crosses (1969) – By Roger Carpenter

 

While I very much appreciate Arrow Video’s prestige genre releases such as Mark of the Devil, Eaten Alive, The Hills Have Eyes, and many more, what I think I like best about this company is their choice of less-known, more obscure genre films. Cemetery Without Crosses is just such a release. A quick check of the Internet shows that Cemetery Without Crosses appears on a couple of “top spaghetti western” lists but, by and large, it has been ignored over the years for the more popular titles of Leone, Corbucci, Martino, and so on.

Hopefully, this release will help shed some light on this overlooked gem of a western. Filmed in Almeria, Andalusia, Spain, like most other spaghetti westerns, one difference with this film is the two main stars are French. Co-written and also directed by its star Robert Hossein, most famous for his turn in 1955’s Rififi, the film was a chance for him to go back to his roots as a child who watched many westerns and also a way to honor his good friend Sergio Leone. Also starring Hossein’s friend and colleague Michele Mercier, this was an opportunity for the beautiful international star of the Angelique series of films to break from that mold and play a darker character.

Mercier stars as Maria Caine. In the opening shots she is forced to watch her husband lynched by the Rogers clan, a rival family who covets the Caine ranches and is looking to solidify their chokehold of the entire region. Along with two other family members, Maria’s husband has stolen a large sum of money from the Rogers family in retaliation for stealing their land and burning a ranch. After Maria buries her husband she goes in search of Manuel (Hossein), an old flame and quick-draw shooter. It seems that, in another life, Maria spurned Manuel’s love and married his good friend. Since that time, Manuel has lived in a deserted ghost town in the middle of the desert, preferring to nurse his wounds alone. Manuel agrees to help Maria seek revenge, not for the gold her husband left behind, but more for a sense of duty towards the woman he still carries a torch for.

A plan is hatched whereby Manuel will help Maria humiliate the Caine clan before escaping to a quieter, more peaceful section of the frontier. But, as in many westerns, there is plenty of deceit and many people have individual plans of their own that don’t necessarily mesh with Manuel’s and Maria’s plan. Will Maria successfully exact her revenge? Will Manuel live through the plan? And will the couple finally be able to find peace together?

On the surface the plot seems fairly cookie-cutter: just another desperate widow seeking revenge for the unjust killing of her innocent husband. But as the plot unfolds the viewer will enjoy some unique deviations from the standard plot, including an ending one isn’t necessarily expecting. In a genre known for its violence and dark themes, Cemetery Without Crosses features murder, kidnapping, rape (implied), and suicide. But the film isn’t totally bleak. There is some humor infused throughout the film, most notably in a scene guest-directed by Leone himself, as Manuel is initiated into the Rogers family in a funny group prank.

With some supporting dialogue written by Dario Argento and featuring a great soundtrack by Hossein’s father, Andre, Cemetery Without Crosses is a solid French entry into the spaghetti western genre and is very enjoyable.

With opening and closing scenes in black-and-white, the majority of the film is in color. The colors are vivid in Arrow’s print and really display the beauty of the desert landscape. There is some damage near the beginning of the film that even Arrow couldn’t fix with their brand new 2K restoration, but aside from some early blemishes, the film is gorgeous. It features both English and Italian mono soundtracks as well as English subtitles for both versions of the film. Both Blu-Ray and standard DVD presentations are available.

Perhaps due to the obscurity of the film, the special features are a bit skimpy for this release. There is a short interview with director and star Robert Hossein exclusive to this release as well as an archive interview with Hossein. There is also a report from a French TV station on the production of the film. A trailer rounds out the special features section.

While the number of special features doesn’t compare to most other Arrow releases, don’t let that deter you from purchasing this package. The film itself is a solid entry into the genre that should please most spaghetti western fans and, even with some minor print damage near the beginning, this version is probably the best we can hope for given the age of the film. Overall, a very solid package and a very good film.

Cemetery Without Crosses is available through Amazon or you can go directly to Arrow Film’s website at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa