Learning to see beyond Django: Christopher Forsley of PopMatters on “Minnesota Clay” (1964)

minne clay

At PopMatters, there is an interesting review of Sergio Corbucci’s second western Minnesota Clay (1964) by Christopher Forsley. Since Quentin Tarantino popularized Corbucci’s Django (1966) among film geeks and hipsters, the ‘other’ Sergio has been a great deal of attention. Here is what Christopher had to say:

It’s hard not to compare Minnesota Clay (1964) to A Fistful of Dollars(1964). Not only were they filmed at the same time, released the same year, and both made by men named Sergio—Sergio Corbucci in the first case and Sergio Leone in the second—but they also used the same source material to tell similar stories. The source material used was Dashiell Hammett’s early hardboiled detective novel, Red Harvest (1929), along with Akira Kurosowa‘s cinematic samurai version of that novel, Yojimbo(1961). The stories told involve marksmen who, after arriving to towns in turmoil due to on-going gang wars, pin one gang against the other to bring gold to their pockets and peace to the citizens.

Minnesota Clay and A Fistful of Dollars are also two of the earliest offerings from the two greatest Spaghetti Western directors. But whileA Fistful of Dollars became an international sensation, launching and then guiding the genre in the years that followed, Minnesota Clay was in comparison a quickly forgotten box-office bust. One reason for its failure was the bad-timing that left it in the shadow of Leone’s groundbreaking film, but another was its mediocrity, which becomes especially obvious when you compare it to Corbucci’s later triumphs like Django (1966), The Great Silence (1968), and Companeros (1970).

 

He continues:

Structurally, Corbucci tells his story with just as much craft as Leone, and the plot of Minnesota Clay, like A Fistful of Dollars, is an entertaining one. But unlike A Fistful of Dollars, nearly every element surrounding the plot is bland. For most of Minnesota Clay’s 91 minute runtime, I felt as though I was watching one of the many nondescript American westerns that the Hollywood studio system shitted out during the ‘40s. The costumes are too clean and colorful, and the sets are too well lighted and swept.

 

While Forsley is a bit harsh at times, he does admit that the film isn’t terrible, only that he found it bland.

51jSFOzUAgL._SL500_SY300_What I found interesting about this article was not its analysis. I differ with Forsley’s conclusion about the film, but I would not have when I first started watching Eurowesterns. As with most people, my introduction to the genre was through the Dollars trilogy, then Once Upon A Time In The West (1968). In the early 1990s, you simply couldn’t get your hands on most other spaghetti westerns. I was able, however, able to get my hands on a couple of VHS tapes including a washed version of Day of Anger (1968). When I first saw this film, I was disappointed. I wanted to see another film like For A Few Dollars More (1964). But this movie was “too clean and colorful, and the sets are too well lighted and swept.” The hero was clean cut Giuliano Gemma. The music was a little cheesy (I thought then).

Later, when the internet became ubiquitous, venues like the Spaghetti Western Web Board allowed me to trade duped tapes with other fans. Since then, there has been a Renaissance of the genre in DVDs, peer-to-peer sharing, and even Youtube. Seeing a wider range of films, I slowly was acculturated to the genre. When WildEast released their great DVD version I gave Day of Anger another chance . . . and it is now a favorite.

In other words, I had to learn to see beyond Leone.

If Forsley continues to pursue the genre, I predict that he will eventually have the same experience. He will need to see beyond Django and CompanerosMinessota Clay is a decent b-western effort with the first appearance of a number of Corbucci’s recurrent themes. It does look a bit like an American b-western, but there a number of films made in this imitative aesthetic that are enjoyable: In A Colt’s Shadow (1965), Gunmen of the Rio Grande (1964), Bullets Don’t Argue (1964), etc. If you are willing to accept these films for what they are — and not reject them for what they are not — you will find that they are enjoyable, decent b-westerns (and Day of Anger is a classic . . .).

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