Cemetery Without Crosses [Une corde, un Colt…] (1969)
AKA The Rope and the Colt, Death Valley Gunfighters, Cimitero senza croci

Starring Michèle Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand, Pierre Hatet, Philippe Baronnet, Pierre Collet, Ivano Staccioli, Béatrice Altariba, Michel Lemoine, Anne-Marie Balin

Directed by Robert Hossein

Expectations: Pretty high, this one’s supposed to be a genre classic.

Cemetery Without Crosses is another of these movies that I have a hard time rating. This stems from my ambiguous feelings toward the film, as it is definitely well-made and interesting, but ultimately I found the film painfully slow and not all that engaging. My mind wandered so much while watching this one because it is a film composed almost entirely of music over images without much dialogue. It’s similar to this year’s Drive in that way, and like that film, I feel that it is less than it could be if it was slightly more accessible.

In terms of its story, Cemetery Without Crosses looks to be a simple revenge tale. The film opens with a man desperately riding away from a group of men. He reaches his house and his wife Maria, only to be captured by the men following him and promptly hanged. Maria wants revenge on these rancher bastards, so she enlists the help of a depressed old friend Manuel who currently fritters away his time hanging out in the saloon of a ghost town, thinking about what might have been. Sounds like a good setup for any standard revenge tale, but Cemetery Without Crosses is anything but standard. Instead, it takes a somber, hard look at the reality and the cyclical nature of revenge and how it can never truly deliver the satisfaction and the freedom it initially promises.

The reason for this difference in style from your traditional Spaghetti Western is simple. This isn’t really a Spaghetti Western in the classic sense. This is a French produced Euro-Western, as opposed to the Italian produced Euro-Westerns we collectively call Spaghetti Westerns. This simple fact, and that this is director/star Robert Hossein’s only Western, pretty much tells you all you need to know. This is a deliberately different take on the Spaghetti Western, but not so different that it cannot be watched as a member of the genre.

While I wasn’t particularly taken with this movie, it is incredibly well shot and edited. Where a lot of Spaghetti Westerns were obviously produced as quickly as possible without much care being taken to create a lasting, worthwhile experience for the viewer, Cemetery Without Crosses is clearly made with passion, heart and a wonderful knowledge of visual filmmaking. There’s hardly any gunfights in the film, but each one is handled perfectly, with quick editing and heightened tension to grasp the viewer. The film is dedicated to Sergio Leone and it’s scenes like this where I see his influence the most. He also apparently directed the dinner scene of the film, which is oddly enough, one of the best scenes in the film.

The music by the director’s father, André Hossein, is exceptional, adding a wonderful and much-needed flare to the film. The main theme is repurposed in many ways throughout, from a rousing opening number with vocals, to a plaintive guitar version for the more quiet moments. This theme reworking is masterfully done and adds so much to the film’s experience. It’s a good thing that the music is as enjoyable as it is, because long sections of the film are virtually music videos for the score. You’ll become very familiar with the main theme and you just might find yourself absent-mindedly humming it to yourself later in the day.

Cemetery Without Crosses is definitely more introspective than your standard genre film, but never in a preachy, overly dramatic way. The lack of dialogue allows the viewer to ponder every moment and consider the ramifications of what has happened on-screen. So yes, this is the thinking man’s Spaghetti Western, and if you’re looking for that type of thing, then look no further! For me it was kind of boring, and the musings I had on revenge (and revenge films) in the spaces between scenes weren’t revelatory enough to make me consider this in a greater light. It is a very well made, respectable Euro-Western though, and one that is highly regarded by genre fans. So don’t necessarily take my word for it, watch it for yourself!