Although I have a weak spot for Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, most can be appropriately evaluated by paraphrasing Longfellow: "When they were good, they were very, very good, and when they were bad, they were horrid." "Blindman" is a curiosity from 1971 that I previously panned after viewing an allegedly "remastered" DVD edition that looked barely better than a VHS transfer. The film fits rather comfortably into the latter part of Longfellow's famous nursery rhyme. Although the movie has a devoted fan base, when I first reviewed it I call it "a pretty horrid experience and inexcusably amateurish in execution, given the well-seasoned people involved". The good news is that Abkco Films has released a truly remastered DVD version that considerably improves one's perception of the film. As the title implies, it's about...well, a blind man. He's played by Tony Anthony, who did rather well for himself as a sort of Clint Eastwood Lite character known as The Stranger in a series of Euro Westerns (Any similarity to Eastwood's Man With No Name must have been purely coincidental). Anthony went on to star in any number of lucrative, low-budget action films, the most notable being "Comin' At Ya!, a 3-D flick that has also built a loyal cult following. His co-star in "Blindman" is Ringo Starr. More about him later. The film was based on a Japanese movie titled "Zatoichi" about a blind samurai hero. As with "The Magnificent Seven", which was based on Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai", the story has been transplanted to the American west. When we first see the Blindman (whose name is never mentioned), he rides into a one-horse town and confronts his former partners. Seems they had a lucrative contract to deliver 50 mail order brides to some horny miners. However, a better offer was made from a Mexican bandito named Domingo (Lloyd Battista), who has exported them South 'O the Border to force them into prostitution. Blindman apparently has a sense of honor in terms of fulfilling the original contract. He manages to kill his former partners and sets off to Mexico to rescue the women, presumably so they can sold into another form of prostitution. At first the premise of this film intrigued me. How, after all, can you logically present a story about a blind gunslinger? The answer is you apparently can't. You could get away with it if the film was a satire, but there is surprisingly little overt humor in "Blindman". Yes, in true Eastwood fashion, the hero sometimes makes some snarky quips before, during and after dispatching his adversaries, but for the most part, the film takes itself far too seriously.
How does the Blindman find his way around? Well, he has his own "wonder horse" who seems more like a companion than a beast of burden. The hoofed hero is always at his disposal and seems to be able to do everything but read a map for him. Speaking of maps, Blindman gets to various destinations by running his finger over maps that engraved in leather...sort of a braille system. Given the fact that he has to navigate the state of Texas, then Mexico, one would think he would require maps the size of rolls of kitchen linoleum, but somehow he gets by with navigational tools that fit neatly into his pocket. When Blindman arrives in Mexico, he has numerous confrontations with the brutal Domingo and his army of thugs. He suffers the ritualistic beatings of any hero in the Italian western genre, but always manages to get the better hand by his deadly use of the rifle that he uses as a walking stick. Somehow the Blindman can use instinct and an uncanny hearing ability to gun down his would-be assassins with uncanny precision, though occasionally he does impose on some allies for advice. He also confronts Candy (Ringo Starr), Domingo's equally sadistic brother, who is keeping a captive woman as his mistress. What follows is a seemingly endless series of chases, confrontations and the obligatory imitation Morricone score, all of it under the pedestrian direction of Ferdinando Baldi, who has a revered reputation with some fans of the genre and does manage to set off some impressive explosions. (Amusingly, the concept of showing the "50" mail order brides must have taxed the limited budget so we only get to see them in small clusters.). There are a couple of sequences that stand out in terms of creativity. One involves the surprise slaughter of a barroom filled with Mexican soldiers. The other has a bit of suspense as the Blindman is served a food bowl that he doesn't realize contains a deadly snake. The finale of the film finds Blindman wrestling with Domingo, who has been blinded by a cigar! (Don't ask...) It's supposed to be a tense confrontation, but the sight of the two blind guys rolling around in the dirt looks like an outtake from a Monty Python sketch. The most intriguing aspect of the film is what led Ringo Starr into appearing in it. He had considerable on-screen charisma that he parlayed into a successful acting career. Here, however, his role is colorless and bland. He doesn't even play the main villain, but rather a supporting character who disappears from the story before the movie even reaches the one-hour mark. Starr supposedly was looking to jump-start his film career and worked with Tony Anthony to develop this production. While he acquits himself credibly, he might have at least given his character some memorable lines or characteristics.
The previously reviewed version of the film pointed out that the packaging had indicated the film had a running time of 105 minutes, which matches with the original timing cited on on the IMDB site. However, the screener we reviewed ran only 83 minutes and it looked like it had been edited with a meat cleaver. The ABCKO version is the actual 105 minute cut and the transfer is excellent, a vast improvement over the muddy mess we had previously reviewed. Seeing "Blindman" again under these conditions has allowed me to reevaluate my opinion of the film. While it certainly never rises to the standards of a Sergio Leone production, the movie's quirky premise and the amusing performance by Tony Anthony made the experience far more enjoyable the second time around.