A very scruffy Franco Nero appears to be stopping off to pick up his giro as he dodges the soap on his way to the Stonehenge Love-In in Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma, returning from the Civil War to his home town, only to find it a ruin, populated by weirdoes and ridden with plague – yeah I know that feeling well. But even worse, it seems that Keoma’s half-brothers are, against their good father’s wishes, in league with Caldwell, the brutal dictator controlling the town with his iron fist. And even Keoma’s former mentor and friend, George, has turned into a blubbering drunk. Welcome home Keoma!
Of course, Keoma isn’t going to see his old town go down the drain like this, and sets about righting wrongs, not only with his six-shooter but also with his sawn-off, his knife and George’s bow-and-arrow, leading to his eventual defeat, his inevitable, spectacular comeback and then unfathomable (and a little callous, methinks) ride into the sunset.
First of all, it’s impossible to look at Keoma without making comparisons to Django. In fact, its various nom-de-plumes include Django Rides Again and Django’s Great Return. The films are remarkably similar, at its most overt this happens during the first fifteen minutes or so when Keoma rescues a woman from a set of hooded bad guys and then takes her to the local saloon/brothel, forcing one of the girls there to give up her room for the pregnant lady. The differences, of course, outweigh the similarities but they are fairly subtle, at least when comparing the movies’ lead characters – despite being a drifter, Keoma still has his roots, isn’t running away from himself and still feels emotion for those around him.
Racism is a subject that runs prominently throughout Keoma. Keoma himself is half-Indian, and the bullying he endured as a child at the hands of his vicious older brothers has led to a strong bond between him and black former-slave George, admired greatly by the young Keoma. Strangely enough though, George claims his new-found freedom is the cause of his alcoholism, blaming it on his not having a purpose in life any more. And Nero does little to promote Native American culture – beneath his cowboy hat he conceals a ghastly mullet, he wears his colourful shirts open and his sideburns are longer than his beard.
Django is a very surreal movie, and so is Keoma. However, whereas Django’s surrealism comes from its sheer recklessness, Keoma’s is manifested more in its visual style. The flashback sequences are the most obvious example of this, with today’s Keoma standing disembodied in the past, watching it move along beside him. Also throughout the movie is the spooky appearances of a ratty old bag-lady – although her identity is never really revealed, I have an inkling that it is meant to be Keoma’s mother. No wonder he never took his girlfriends home! And then there are the gunfights – rather than fast, loud affairs they are fairly quiet, with many scenes being filmed almost entirely in slow motion.
Which is really the problem with Keoma – it isn’t fast enough. Sometimes it seems as if it's OD-ing on slo-mo when there should be so much more excitement and energy. The miserable, melancholy song that plays throughout the film doesn’t really help. There are some impressive, inspired moments here though – a target’s-eye view of Keoma and his father shooting (seen through the bullet holes), Keoma announcing the impending death of four bad guys (it really cannot be described in words – think Dusty Bin!), Keoma “crucified” as a Jesus figure at the hands of his demagogic, power-hungry brothers, and the cat-and-mouse finale, glimpsed through the cracks in the wall and floor of an abandoned shack.
Despite its sometimes slow pace, Keoma is a great film, recommended for fans of the genre. Strong imagery, a good story and unusual tone give it the edge on other westerns – if it was just a little faster, it could almost be a classic. Almost.
Aka: Desperado, Django Rides Again, Django’s Great Return, Keoma Il Vendicatore, The Violent Breed.