Sergio Martino’s Mannaja (aka A Man Called Blade)

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In the Dawn of Video, i.e. the early 1980s, walking into a video store was an adventure. So many movies – so few you’ve heard of. Every other movie seemed to be Italian, and when you got to the Western department, as good as every movie was Italian.

In Scandinavia, MANNAJA was released by legendary VTC and the sleeve had a big warning on it: “Contains realistic, frightening images”. Of course I rented the movie 25 years ago. And ten years after that, I got hold of an ex-rental copy, and now it’s out on DVD.

Sergio Martino’s MANNAJA – which was banned for theatrical release in Sweden in 1977 – is one of the last Spaghetti Westerns made, before the Italians concentrated on horror for a couple of years. It’s a movie in that cool sub-genre “Mud Western”, which was initiated by Sergio Corbucci’s DJANGO in 1966, but aesthetically it’s more reminiscent of Enzo G. Castellari’s KEOMA; lots of slow-motion scenes and a commenting ballad by the De Angelis brothers on the soundtrack: “Youuu’re … alooone … a sooo-li-taaa-ry maaaan! Like … a wolf…”

Bounty hunter Blade rides into a muddy town in fear. English actor John Steiner, a real Man of Terror from countless Italian movies, plays a cruel German wearing a cloak. Following the Italian Western agenda, our hero must be tortured before the Big Vengeance. Django had his hands crushed, Blade is buried up to his neck and his eyelids are nailed to his forehead (!), so the burning sun makes him blind – but only temporary…

I hadn’t seen MANNAJA in a very long time and I actually thought I would like this better than I did. But I’ve gotten older and notice it’s lacking in several ways. The movie is sometimes draggy, the plot is often pretty silly, and wherefrom does the music come when the can-can girls perform?

…But I like it anyway, the movie is tough and moody, and it meant quite a lot to me when I once found it on the shelf in that old video store.


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