A darker Spaghetti Western with checkered morality
French actor Robert Hossein directed and starred in Cemetery Without Crosses, a very unconventional Spaghetti Western. Its basic tale of vengeance in the Old West owes much to Sergio Leone and his trailblazing path in the genre. One of the most memorable moments in Cemetery Without Crosses is actually directed by Sergio Leone himself. Unfolding as a classic revenge drama between two warring clans, the film suffers from Hossein’s own character being its strongest protagonist. This is definitely not a Western from Hollywood with its darker themes and ambiguous morality.
Cemetery Without Crosses was shot in 1968 at possibly the height of the American Western craze sweeping Italy and Europe. The film opens with a brutal hanging. The Rogers are exacting revenge on Maria Caine’s husband for stealing something from them. They hang her husband as she looks on. An old flame from Maria’s past soon shows up, vowing to help her get revenge on the Rogers clan. Manuel (Robert Hossein) is a crafty but ambivalent hero. He’s not the clear-cut hero common to many Spaghetti Westerns. His motivations are ambiguous until the end.
Manuel soon ingratiates himself into the Rogers’ household after rescuing one of their men. He is there following Maria’s orders. Their plan to strike back at the Rogers soon becomes apparent, leading to a tense stand-off between the two sides that can’t end well for anyone. Factions develop within the Caines when Maria’s goals are made clear. The unconventional Western doesn’t play nice with the audience’s expectations. The result is an ending that will make no one happy.
Hossein’s ambitious direction feels nice but ultimately empty.
Hossein’s ambitious direction feels nice but ultimately empty.
While there is a lot to enjoy about Cemetery Without Crosses if you prefer Spaghetti Westerns, a few things stick out. Hossein’s Manual is the film’s anti-hero, the character we are meant to see the movie through. The film prefers to go without dialogue whenever possible, a detriment that makes following along in the beginning difficult. The opening act is a clear case of style over substance. Hossein’s ambitious direction feels nice but ultimately empty. We get the opening scene transitioning from black-and-white to color. One gets the feeling that a more charismatic Western actor like Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef would have made Manuel a far more dynamic character. Hossein plays Manuel with an uncharacteristic reserve for a Spaghetti Western.
There are some nice touches in Cemetery Without Crosses. The musical score by Hossein’s father does a fair impression of Morricone’s classic Western sound. The legendary Scott Walker provides the opening and closing theme song in his inimitable style. It was the first time he had made a song specifically for a film. The dark morality evident in the film gives it an edge that most other Westerns of the time lacked. There are no “good guys” in Cemetery Without Crosses per se, just lesser shades of corrupt vengeance. The most stylish sequence in the film is a slyly humorous dinner scene shot by Sergio Leone himself.
Cemetery Without Crosses is an interesting Spaghetti Western with its darker French sensibility. It’s not a pure crowd-pleaser like the more well-known ones such as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. If you want to a grim tale of vengeance and where that path can lead you, it’s recommended viewing.
Arrow Video releases Cemetery Without Crosses on Blu-ray from a new film transfer supervised by James White, Arrow’s technical supervisor. The included booklet provides this information:
Cemetery Without Crosses has been exclusively restored in 2K resolution for this release by Arrow Films and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with mono sound. A 35mm Internegative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan at Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. The film was graded on the Baselight grading system at Deluxe Restoration, London.
Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Overall image stability was also improved. As the original negative for was deemed to be in too damaged a state to use as a restoration source and no other intermediary lab elements could be found, efforts were made to attain the highest quality results from the Internegative source. Unfortunately this element suffered from occasional damage in the form of density fluctuation, scratches and debris, and instances of chemical stain and this new presentation exhibits occasional instances of this damage, in keeping with the material’s condition. This is especially evident in the initial black and white opening sequence, where scratches and dirt are still prominent.
An Eastmancolor movie, Cemetery Without Crosses has inconsistent video quality in 1080P resolution. Dye fading, erratic grain densities, soft levels of definition and detail, possible vinegar syndrome setting into the elements – this is not an especially pretty look. Arrow Video appears to have done everything they can with the movie’s extant elements and presented it as best they can given those limitations. The AVC video encode for the 90-minute main feature averages well into the thirties on a BD-50, transparently capturing the rough grain and occasionally suspect shadow delineation.
Overt damage to the elements is most evident during the opening reel, though it rears its head in several latter scenes as well. The color grading does everything possible to stabilize the inconsistent contrast, as some scenes suffer more than others. It leads to a few washed-out scenes with poor color saturation. Some video processing was clearly done, a trace of edge enhancement and ringing are noticeable in a couple of scenes. The rough grain structure is on the noisy end of the spectrum, veering away from an organic, film-like sheen in the grittiest scenes.
Since the damaged negative couldn’t be rescued, Arrow did everything they could to bring out the best possible quality from these inferior elements. It’s not a perfect job but definitely a serviceable effort, one that few other companies would have even attempted. You’ve definitely seen better clarity and definition from other vintage movies but not every film was preserved with the utmost care. This is the case for Cemetery Without Crosses. The relatively low score is merely a reflection on the elements’ erratic results.
English and Italian dubs are provided in clear-sounding 1.0 PCM soundtracks. The provided booklet includes this information:
The film’s mono soundtracks were transferred from the original optical sound negatives
at Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. The soundtracks were restored and conformed by
David Mackenzie. Some minor instances of noise still remain, in keeping with the
condition of the materials.
There are times in which the film’s audio synch will appear slightly loose against the
picture, due to the fact that the soundtrack was recorded entirely in post-production.
This is correct and as per the original theatrical release.
The dubs contain intelligible dialogue in acceptable fidelity. The opening theme by Scott Walker has better depth and recording quality than the film itself. This is serviceable audio that shows its limitations on occasion.
Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack display in a white font.
Arrow Video includes a brief assortment of special features, the most prominent being a new interview with director/actor Robert Hossein. The archival material from around the time of the movie’s premiere is very interesting. We rarely get promotional pieces from 1968, much less from French television. All of the featurettes are in French with English subtitles. A DVD version is also included. The Blu-ray is coded for Regions A and B.
Remembering Sergio (05:19 in HD) – An all-new interview with star and director Robert Hossein, filmed exclusively for this release. Hossein explains his relationship with Sergio and how the Spaghetti Western films influenced his movie.
Location Broadcast (07:57 in HD) – French television news report on the film’s making, containing interviews with Hossein, and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand
Archive interview with Robert Hossein (02:27 in HD) – A promotional interview made at the time of the movie.
Original theatrical trailer (03:51 in HD)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
Illustrated collector’s booklet containing new essays by Ginette Vincendeau and Rob Young. It’s 24 pages and contains a nice piece on Scott Walker’s musical career.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener copy that may not completely reflect the retail package. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. The 1080P images have not been altered in any way during the process.