Tony Anthony, Ringo Starr, Lloyd Battista, Magda Knopka, Raf Baldassarre, Marisa Solinas, Franz von Teuberg, David Dreyer
US theatrical: 12 Jan 1972
UK theatrical: Nov 1973
When discovering movies like Blindman (1971), I am overcome with equal parts hope and despair. The fact that such an insane story found serious financing and that so many talented people were a part of it gives me hope in the possibilities of cinema, but it also makes me despair at the reality of cinema. Blindman is an exception to the rule. The rule is that movies with this level of creativity and fearlessness are forced to subsist on meager talent and limited budgets. Blindman is one of a kind; it is the peerless freak of spaghetti westerns. As such, I feel it is my responsibility to protect and promote it.
Some scholars of the spaghetti western believe that Blindman is a travesty of the genre. They argue that the blind protagonist is a joke taken too far, that the inclusion of Ringo Starr is a marketing stunt gone wrong, and that its exploitative violence is misogynic to the max. While all these arguments are true to an extent, they shouldn’t be used to detract from this incredible entertainment that has everything you could possibly want from a spaghetti western: action, humor, nudity, violence, beautiful women, a cool anti-hero, memorable music, and a stunning setting. Blindman, at times, is magical in its originality, and, as a practice in excess and cruelty, it is a triumph that flawlessly blends the tenets of trash cinema with the virtues of the spaghetti western. It is nowhere near perfect, but it is very near perfect in its imperfections.
Although Ferdinando Baldi displays great craft in his direction, Blindman is largely the result of Tony Anthony’s imagination. He came up with the story, produced it, wrote the screenplay, and stars in it as the Blindman. This anti-hero, which was obviously inspired by the iconic blind swordsmen in the Zatoichi samurai movies (1962-1989), takes on a mission that requires him and his partner to transport 50 beautiful whores to a group of miners in Texas. But when his partner double-crosses him and sells the women to a Mexican bandit named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who in turn uses them as bait to scam a Mexican General (Raf Baldassarre) by taking his money and brutally shooting all his men with a Gatling gun, the Blindman declares, “I want my 50 women!”, and goes on a killing rampage of his own until he gets them back.
As you can imagine, going on a killing rampage and getting his women back isn’t so easy for a man who cannot see. Although his “seeing-eye-horse”—a handsome grey and white thoroughbred that uses its tail to guide our anti-hero around and appears out of nowhere when his master whistles—helps get him to where he needs to go and his wits help him kill those he needs to kill, he is at a great disadvantage due to his disability. At one point, for example, he takes Domingo’s younger brother, Candy (the almost unrecognizable and entirely believable Ringo Starr), as a prisoner and exchanges him for the 50 women, but when he inspects their faces he realizes he’s been duped. They are 50 old ladies rather than his 50 beautiful whores.
Because the Blindman is blind, Domingo and his men are naturally unthreatened by him. Instead of simply shooting him dead during one of their many encounters, they choose to make fun of him. They push him into the mud and laugh as he flops like a fish out of water, they pull the trigger on unloaded guns and laugh as he twitches like a speed freak in withdrawal. They sneak a poisonous snake into a salad he is eating, laughing as he knocks it to the ground like a spoiled child who doesn’t like vegetables. The Blindman is humiliated so badly throughout the movie that you can’t help but feel sorry for him, which isn’t how you’re supposed to feel about a spaghetti western anti-hero, but, in the tradition of James Bond, he always escapes death and comes out on top.
The Blindman, in fact, manages to put his disability to great use. While his foes have a grand old time humiliating him, he patiently waits for them to become overly confident and put their guard down. By the time this happens, and it always does, he knows how many there are and where they are located… then he unloads his rifle until they’re all dead. It reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s use of the rope-a-dope during the Rumble in the Jungle. In 1974, Ali was past his prime and didn’t have the stamina he used to, so he purposely allowed his defense to slacken so that George Foreman, in his attempts at hitting the evasive Ali, left himself open for the counter attacks that lead to an eight round knockout and a win for The Greatest.
There is a troublesome amount of brutality projected at the women in Blindman that can’t be ignored. Put simply, the 50 whores in this western take on the role that is played by cattle in more traditional westerns. Besides the sadistic sister of Domingo and Candy named Sweet Mama (Magda Konopka), none of the women are given names or speaking parts. They are merely merchandise. In fact, they spend the entire film running around naked getting assaulted in a variety of ways by whatever man happens to possess them at the moment. Whether they are getting dragged by the hair, slapped across the face, raped in the desert, shot in the back, or hosed down in a cage, these 50 women are brutalized over and over again.
Although there is no excuse for the fact that neither Baldi in his directing nor Anthony in his acting or writing humanizes these women in any way, much of the brutality towards them is given some justice when the movie’s man villain, Domingo, dies at the end. Without giving away too much, let’s just say the Mexican general uses his burning cigar to level the playing field in the final face-off between Domingo and the Blindman. It’s such a violent scene that even the most offended of women watching Blindman may find some vindication for the injustices committed against their sex.
// Notes from the Road
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