“Let me tell you something Pilar: To have no eyes means to be a half a man. To have no eyes and no money, now that’s a bitch.”
It begins with a classic long shot of a lone rider guiding his horse into town, the wide, limp brim of his cowboy hat obscuring his face. He does not look up as the horse makes strange figure-eights around the long, empty midway, zig-zagging this way and that between the buildings as if stomping around will give it the lay of the land by feel alone. It’s an odd scene, but telling – we know what is happening by virtue of the title, but nonetheless it is an engaging and somewhat necessary introduction to the character. The blind man is teaching his horse to lead him, akin to a Seeing Eye dog. But make no mistake about it; this cowboy needs no steed to find his way around…it just kind of helps from time to time when he needs some outside advice. No sirree, this guy’s a sharp-shooting bad-ass that that takes advantage of the ignorance of others to gain the upper-hand, all the while spouting hilarious one-liners that would put Arnie or Bruce Willis to shame.
This blind man is on the hunt for 50 missing women, whom he has a contract to deliver to some Texan miners as mail-order brides. But it seems his partner, Skunk, double-crossed the poor blind guy and sold off the women to a Mexican bandit-pimp named Domingo, who wishes to use the women as prostitutes and as bargaining chips in his lust for power. Domingo’s brother, Candy (played by Ringo Starr – apparently the story goes that Allen Klein, a manager for the Beatles, financed the film and had Ringo in mind for a role after the Beatles broke up), loves a gringo woman named Pilar and will have nothing to do with the 50 women. The blind man uses this to his advantage, playing Pilar and her father against an enraged Domingo, who can do little besides trying desperately to dissuade his brother from courting the young Pilar. And, as with many similar Spaghettis, there is a subplot involving the Mexican military – this time with a imprisoned general and his revenge against his betrayers.
One of the defining (and in my opinion one of the most endearing) qualities of the best Spaghetti Westerns, is the mixing up of numerous storylines, sometimes to the point of utter confusion, with the only express purpose of bringing it all together in a whopping finale. And yes, director Ferdinando Baldi does this masterfully here. You have the whole blind man angle with the 50 women, the story of Domingo, Candy, Pilar and her father, and the plot of the Mexican general seeking out the women and vengeance in general. They are all juggled around, yet with no strings left unattached at any point. In the end, everyone is seemingly pitted against each other and makes for a tense, rewarding and bloody climax.
It is well known that Baldi borrowed his character from the Zatoichi films, mirroring the plight of Ichi, but I also think he’s taking a page from Sergio Corbucci and playing on the stereotype of the handicapped hero – in this case most likely Silence from The Great Silence, who was a mute and therefore a freak in the old west. Baldi (and Tony Anthony to a great extent as well) certainly play this up as everywhere the blind man goes he is ridiculed and spat on, beaten up or otherwise ignored. And, well…this is the idea – that the viewer and everyone else are lulled into a sense of pity for the poor guy and he’s underestimated at every turn. The only real difference between this and other similar characters is that the blindness is not ever explained, and hence not used as a plot point other than an excuse for a unique and ass-kicking character…I mean, come on! Of course you’re going to cheer an underdog like that! I suppose that’s the genius; the subtlety of the character and why it works so well. You simply don’t need any background.
The violence is high and the stylistic flourishes that so typify the Italians of the era abound here. The blind man has bright, almost inhumanly blue eyes that are convincing in their absurdity. Domingo, for the first number of scenes, is lovingly (almost obsessively) caressing and handling a small snake, and there is a sequence later on where the blind man and the snake meet face to face. And the later funeral scenes are indeed awesome – the mourning Mexicans paint the town entirely black in honor of the deceased, while they carry the dead man in a stark white coffin.
As well, the whole thing with the 50 women makes for some amazing exercises in gratuity – the initial shower scene, for example. Baldi isn’t happy with one beautiful lady soaping herself up, no…why not have 50 of them showering together? Oh yes, make no mistake about it, there are copious amount of boobs on display throughout. Another sequence has the women escaping (with the help of the blind man of course), and the banditos running them down in the desert and corralling the hysterical group like cattle…only to beat them up, rape or kill the majority of the ones who try to run. On that note, there is an outrageous amount of violence towards women in general here, with the one glaring exception being the sister of Domingo and Candy, who is as conniving and calculating as the rest of the family – a strong feminine presence amidst the testosterone-fuelled banditos.
But the great strength of Blindman is its ability to balance the solemn and farcical attributes perfectly. It’s no easy feat – the funny parts can’t outweigh the violence and serious nature, and vice versa. Hence why the excessiveness of the film doesn’t quite seem so poor in taste, and why the funny parts don’t seem quite so hammy. There are many examples of the genre that are stand-outs in this type of case (Sabata being one of my personal favorite examples), but so rarely is it employed with such ferocity and downright excitement. It is exceedingly violent and over-the-top, but dammit if that doesn’t make the film a blast to watch time and time again. You can easily see roots in these types of films for the modern action movies, especially with the blind man and his perfectly timed and comical one-liners. And the score, as melodramatic as the rest of it, keeps it all in check and rests perfectly atop the action on-screen.
Blindman is a stand-out and somewhat of an anomaly for the Spaghetti Western genre. By 1971 the phenomenon was on its down-swing, soon to reach its death knell. But this is a definite stand-out when considering all of the years of the genre, and it consistently makes top lists of critics and western snobs alike. “I want my 50 women,” says the blind man, and I for one can’t blame him. Bring ‘em on!
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