The Brute and the Beast (1966)
Preceding his string of celebrated, gore-drenched horror films by roughly a decade, director Lucio Fulci first delved into the western genre right as the Italian variation on this predominantly American cinematic tradition was beginning to draw attention, both from film critics and filmgoers. Armed with visual audacity, a formidable cast of rough-and-tumble characters, ironic humor, a heap of cynicism and no shortage of violence - Spaghetti Westerns were both a tip of the hat to their American forerunners as well as a significant act of cinematic revisionism.
Lucio Fulci's The Brute and the Beast is an ideal example of the paradoxical fusion of unorthodox traditionalism displayed by many Italian Westerns. At the center of the film is Tom Corbett, played by the charismatic Franco Nero arriving fresh off the success of Sergio Corbucci's influential and highly-entertaining, Django. We are first introduced to Nero's character as he pans for gold, an occupation immediately identifiable with the old west, which in turn posits Tom Corbett as a passive, archetypal western figure. While The Brute and the Beast is, like other Italian westerns, filled with an abundance of western motifs, as the film progresses it becomes clear that Nero's Tom Corbett is out of step with the ruthless world of this particular western, and seemingly out of touch and incompatible with the majority of the characters in the film. Furthermore, once Tom Corbett is thrust into a frontier colored by malice and ultra-violence, both the film, and the conventional introduction to the character, begin to take on their true significance.
That being said, one of the more difficult aspects to The Brute and the Beast is the way in which the film's protagonist, Tom Corbett, conducts himself. He has a traditional sense of honor and wants to play by the rules, however, unbeknownst to himself he's become embroiled in a realm ruled by the dishonorable and unruly. Because of this, he is wholly ineffectual throughout much of the story, and there are times when, at a glance, the protagonist's futile attempts become a bit exasperating. Nevertheless, Tom's drunkard, violence-prone brother Jeff, excellently played by George Hilton, serves as a type of intermediary between the world of Tom's antiquated values (that seem a holdover from classic westerns) and the recently vicious, ultra-violent world that permeates the film. Indeed, it's only after his unscrupulous brother agrees to help that Tom achieves any sort of success. To be certain, like many of Fulci's films, nihilism suffuses The Brute and the Beast - yet by film's end the overriding pessimism and sense of anarchy give way to a gesture of order and (albeit blunted) optimism.
There are other characters in this western that, like Tom Corbett, also might be seen as traditional, or classic western archetypes. However, they are also similarly incompatible with the chaotically violent world of the film and usually meet with a bad end. For example, Mr. Scott, played by Giuseppe Addobbati, is perceived to be the tough guy in charge of the film's primary locale, Laramie Town. Yet, the viewer ultimately learns that Mr. Scott merely functions as a figurehead while his maniacal son, Jason Scott, is in fact the one controlling the region with his volatile brand of bloodthirsty injustice. Mr. Scott appears disturbed by the mindless violence committed by his son, but his traditional notions of authority and lawfulness are at odds with the madness and brutality that reign freely. In short, Mr. Scott shares a kinship, both literally and figuratively, to Tom Corbett - a typical western character caught in an atypically brutal landscape in which he appears to be ineffectual and helpless.
In addition to the parallel that exists between Tom Corbett and Mr. Scott, Jeff Corbett and Mr. Scott's son, Jason, are also characters that mirror each other. Both are impulsive, eccentric and pretty unhinged and, to a large degree, characterize the bulk of the film. Whereas Tom and Mr. Scott (and a few other minor characters) seem out of their element, the violent, unruly behavior of Jason Scott and Jeff Corbett are completely in tune with the film's proceedings; they are the titular Brute and Beast. Additionally, they are arguably the film's most entertaining characters, and classic examples of the traditionally unorthodox personas that embellish and personify the spaghetti western.
The screenplay, by the great Italian director Fernando Di Leo, is an exceptional interweaving of classic western motifs with the imaginative and violent extravagance that would distinguish the Italian western. Working with cinematographer Riccardo Palottini, Lucio Fulci's The Brute and the Beast is a visually elaborate film that beautifully complements the story, and deserves and rewards close attention. Claims that it lacks the visual prowess or inventiveness of Fulci's later films are erroneous, if not completely beside the point (the visual approach to a horror film, a western, or any genre of film being completely dissimilar). The Brute and the Beast is a thematically and truly visually sophisticated film that questions the genre even as it advances it.
Lucio Fulci was proud of this film, it's one of his finest, and if you haven't seen it I highly recommend searching it out.
This DVD can be purchased from Xploitedcinema.com
Labels: cult film, fernando di leo, foreign cinema, lucio fulci, spaghetti western