THE HELLBINDERS. Embassy Pictures, US, 1967. Originally released in Italy as I crudeli (“The Cruel Ones”). Joseph Cotten, Norma Bengell, Julián Mateos, Gino Pernice, Ángel Aranda, Claudio Gora, María Martín. Director: Sergio Corbucci.

   In some ways, The Hellbenders is a typical Spaghetti western. There’s an antihero, loads of action, violence, betrayal, and vengeance. In other ways, however, there’s something unique about this Sergio Corbucci directed feature. Even if the film doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve, there is undoubtedly an ideology embedded in the feature that makes it a more compelling watch than it deserves to be.

   Namely, that the world is a cruel and brutish place where exploitation and violence are more common than not. Although somewhat nihilistic in its approach, the movie does leave open the promise for a brighter future. Another aspect that makes this particular Italian western different is that the leading actor in question here is not a somewhat youthful actor like Clint Eastwood or Mark Damon; rather, it’s Joseph Cotton during the latter part of his career.

   Cotton portrays Colonel Jonas, a Confederate officer embittered by his side’s devastating loss in the Civil War. Determined that the South shall rise again, he enlists his three sons in a scheme to steal Union cash which he plans to use to finance a new war effort.

   The problem is that his plan depends on having a woman involved in the operation. That’s when he has his son Ben (Julián Mateos – who incidentally looks quite a bit like James Stacy) cajole a saloon girl into playing the part of an officer’s widow to fool the Union Army troops in the area. You see, they will be transporting the loot in a coffin, nominally belonging to her supposed late husband.

   Various twists and turns ensue. Jonas and his boys are put through the ringer. They face off with Mexican bandits, the US Calvary, and Indians. But the final showdown isn’t solely between these Confederate diehards; it’s also between the men themselves.

   Lincoln said something about how a nation divided against itself cannot stand. Apparently, so too with a family. And in the final moments of the film, the absurdity and futility of the entire quest is laid bare for all to see.