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Film / Navajo Joe

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Relentless in his vengeance! Deadly in his violence!

Navajo Joe is a 1966 Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Corbucci (of Django fame) and starring Burt Reynolds as the title character.

An armed gang, led by 'Mervyn' Duncan (Aldo Sambucci), massacres and scalps a native tribe in the West. The Sole Survivor, a Badass Native named Joe (Reynolds}, decides to avenge his fellow tribemates and wife, and begins a series of hit-and-run attacks against Duncan's men. After Duncan and his gang shoot up a tavern, they discover that a train carrying $500,000 in cash is making its way towards the nearby town of Esperanza and decide to rob it with the help of an inside man. Joe learns about this and takes back the train before delivering it to the town himself. After initially refusing to help the defenseless town, he is swayed by a maid named Estella (Nicoletta Machiavelli) and decides to aid the residents in stopping Duncan and his men for good.

The film was produced by Dino de Laurentis, who wanted to make a film that would rival the popularity of the then-recently released A Fistful of Dollars, and cast Reynolds in one of his first starring roles. The film is notable for featuring a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, who is credited with an alias ("Leo Nichols"). It has been cited by Quentin Tarantino as one of his favorite spaghetti westerns, and parts of the score from the film were later used in the Kill Bill films.

This film features examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Inverted. Several publicity photos and the DVD cover for the film show Estella (Nicoletta Machiavelli) sporting a bandolier and Winchester rifle with Native markings (actually Joe's), presumably to show that she would be aiding Joe during the plot. In the film proper, she never once wields a weapon and has to be rescued after Duncan and his gang take her hostage.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: It's implied that Estella is attracted to Joe, but the latter shuts her down after she meets him at the burial ground, claiming that she's "too young" and hinting that he's still not over the death of his wife.
  • Anti-Hero: Joe is initially this, carrying a vendetta against Duncan and his gang for massacring his tribe above all else. When he saves Chuck and the showgirls from Peyote, he tells them that he had no interest in saving them but killing Duncan's men instead. However, he later changes his tune after seeing the situation in Esperanza and being swayed by Estella.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of the remaining members of Duncan's gang become this after it becomes clear that they're outmatched on Joe's home turf, with one (who tries to run away) being branded and hit in the head with a large rock. Duncan himself begs to be let free, but becomes a Dirty Coward who shoots Joe in the back before being sniped in the head with a tomahawk.
  • Badass Native: Joe may be the Sole Survivor of his tribe, but that doesn't stop him from carrying out a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Duncan's gang using improvised devices, hit-and-run tactics and all manner of tricks at his disposal.
  • Bad Boss: Though Duncan is seemingly nice to his men, he resents his brother (to the point that he angrily rips the latter's wanted poster off the wall while delicately pocketing his own) and doesn't hesitate to shoot a henchman who decides to flee during the final battle.
  • Bank Robbery: After the money is moved from the train, the turncoat doctor leads Duncan and his men in a Trojan Prisoner gambit to siege Esperanza and get the money from the local bank.
  • Behind the Black: Just after the train is attacked and taken over by Duncan's gang, one of the henchmen is walking along the length of the train. When he gets to the front carriage and looks out towards the horizon (with sunlight shining on him), he is punched in the face by someone standing at an angle just in front of him, and Joe steps into frame a half-second later.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joe takes out Duncan and his entire gang, but at the cost of (possibly) being mortally wounded, while several people in Esperanza (including the pacifist preacher, the doctor's wife and several other prominent characters) are killed by the gang. However, the missing money is returned to the town and Esperanza releases Joe's horse to run back to him, confident that he survived.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Despite the amount of violence in the film, including an entire train carriage with multiple passengers being shot-up and one henchman being branded by Joe, there is hardly any gore or blood.
  • Book Ends: The first battle in the film begins with Duncan shooting an unarmed woman (Joe's wife) in the back, and the final battle ends with Duncan doing the same thing to Joe. In contrast, Joe has access to a weapon and uses it to kill Duncan as he jumps out of the range of fire.
  • Bounty Hunter: In a similar fashion to Sergio Corbucci's other films, the Big Bad and his henchman are this, making the massacre and scalping of Native tribes for cash their MO. Their actions are short-lived in the film itself, as they discover early on that the town of Peyote is refusing to pay them for scalps after discovering that they killed Native women and children.
  • Calling Card: Joe strings up the corpses of the gang members he kills and leaves them for Duncan to find. Later on, he also scrawls a symbol in blood (the same as the talisman worn by his slain wife) when he escapes after they torture him.
  • The Cavalry: Joe appears to rescue the fleeing showgirls and Chuck after they're chased out of Peyote by Duncan's men.
  • Chekhov's Gun: After Duncan kills and scalps Joe's wife at the beginning of the film, he rips off her talisman and wears it around his neck. When Joe sees it on him during the climactic battle, it's all the reason he needs to beat Duncan within an inch of his life.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Chuck (part of the showgirl revue in the town of Peyote) is seen using a slingshot and arrow to destroy balloons early on in the film. Later on, after Joe is caught and tortured by Duncan and his men, Chuck rescues him by using the same trick to shoot one of the ropes holding him captive.
  • Children Are Innocent:
    • The one time a child is seen, it's a blond-haired Swedish baby who is crying the entire time. He is left without a family after his mother is shot by Duncan's gang, and his ultimate fate is left unresolved.
    • Dialogue early in the film indicates that the town of Peyote is refusing to pay the gang for Indian scalps after learning that they massacred innocent women and children.
  • *Click* Hello: Joe sneaks up on Duncan this way midway through the climactic confrontation at the end of the film.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • One of the original posters for the film shows an image of Joe aiming a bow and arrow. In the actual film, he never once uses such a weapon, preferring to wield a Winchester rifle instead. It's Chuck (who is part of the showgirl revue in Peyote) who uses arrows, albeit with a slingshot.
    • The DVD cover for the MGM release of the film shows Estella wielding a Winchester rifle on the lower-left corner. Estella is a non-combat participant in the film, and never wields a weapon at any point.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Despite making it clear early on that certain Western towns do not tolerate the massacre of the Indian tribes (to the point that Duncan and his brother have bounties levied on them after their actions go from scalping Indian "troublemakers" to killing women and children for sport), the entirety of the cast — with the exception of Chuck and the showgirls — level casual racial insults at Joe like "Indian", "redskin" and other slurs. For his part, Joe brushes off these names, as he knows that the townspeople need his help and he wants to get the bounty for killing the Duncan brothers.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Subverted. Though Estella makes longing eyes at Joe, it's made clear late in the film that Joe regards her as "too young" for him, and is still pining for his dead wife.
  • Dirty Coward: Duncan's way of dealing with unarmed combatants. He shoots Joe's wife in the back as she attempts to flee during the opening sequence, shoots and wounds one of his own henchman when the latter decides he doesn't want any part of the final battle, and finally shoots Joe in the back after the latter has seemingly killed him. The last time this happens, he gets a tomahawk in his head for good measure.
  • Disguised Hostage Gambit: A variant. In the leadup to the final battle, Duncan and his men are driving the train towards the carriage with the money when they see what appears to be Joe riding away on his horse. After several minutes of shooting at him, they finally manage to shoot him in the back and he falls off. When Duncan gets up to the body, however, he realizes that his own brother, Jeffrey, who was caught by Joe, tied up and dressed to look like him.
  • Disposable Woman: Nearly every major female character dies in a violent or disturbing way.
    • Joe's wife appears just long enough in the picture to be killed (shot in the back as she runs away) and then scalped offscreen.
    • A Swedish female settler is shot in the back as she tries to protect her child on the besieged train.
    • One of the showgirls from Peyote is shot in the chest by one of Duncan's men, bleeds out for several hours, then is killed by The Mole when the girls finally make it to Esperanza.
    • Barbara is shot by one of Duncan's men as she tries to run to her husband during Joe's ambush of the gang. Just as she dies, Duncan fires several rounds into her for the hell of it.
    • Estella is the only one who avoids death, instead being used as a hostage by Duncan to force Joe out of hiding and surrender.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Several of the showgirls do this to lure two of Duncan's men into an ambush by Joe at a nearby cabin, via seducing them and telling them to come at night.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A brief instance of this occurs when Joe kills one of the gang members holding the train, then dons his hat for a few moments to fool a sentry standing on the carriage and dispatch him.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Happens several times in the film.
    • After the showgirls and the showman ride out of Peyote in an attempt to escape Duncan, he sends three gang members after them. As they chase the horse-and-carriage, they seemingly ride past Joe (standing a short distance to their left on a small hill wielding his rifle) without noticing him, in tandem with Behind the Black.
    • When Joe climbs up to the top of the train carriage while retaking it from Joe's men, he gets to the top right beside a sentry standing at the edge of the carriage, who doesn't notice his shadow as he moves past.
  • For the Evulz: Duncan has no problem laughing and gloating before he shoots innocent bar patrons, or shooting several rounds into a woman just after she dies for the hell of it. The only time he breaks this rule is when he discovers that a child is onboard the train that the gang captures (and chastizes them for shooting the boy's mother after he told them not to), although the boy's fate is left ambiguous.
  • Freudian Excuse: Late in the film, Duncan tells the preacher in Esperanza that the reason he hates Indians is because his father (who was also a preacher) married an Indian woman, and the young Duncan was bullied for years by other Indian children. Duncan points out that he would have killed his father, but someone else beat him to the punch. He then shoots the preacher in cold blood before he and the rest of the gang leave the town.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Duncan scalps Joe's wife, the camera shows him pressing the knife to her forehead and then cuts away for several seconds before he stands up triumphantly.
  • The Gunslinger: Unusually, Joe is very proficient with a Winchester rifle, preferring to utilize More Dakka in order to spam his enemies with gunfire and ensure quick kills.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination:
    • Duncan reveals to the preacher in Esperanza that his mother was an Indian and his father was white, which led to him being bullied by Indian children for years and being despised by everyone due to being a half-breed. He claims to have counteracted this by making a living as an outlaw and massacring Native tribes.
    • Averted with Estella. Despite working as a maid for Dr. Lynne and his wife (the unofficial mayor of Esperanza), she doesn't appear to be negatively treated by any of the townspeople, despite being half-Native herself.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The three showgirls from the revue in Peyote, whose show is used as an Establishing Character Moment. They (along with Chuck, their driver) become allies for Joe once they get to Esperanza, and later help him take out two of Duncan's men by seducing them and bringing them to a nearby cabin.
  • Idiot Ball: Nearly every major character gets at least one moment of this.
    • The film begins with Joe's wife being foolish enough not to notice when a large group of armed men is approaching her, instead preferring to smile at their leader until he brandishes a revolver.
    • Throughout the film, Duncan only sends two or three of his men after Joe at a time, clearly expecting them to flush him out. Even after this happens twice, he still sticks to the same tactic and is surprised when it doesn't work again and again.
    • The turncoat doctor willingly rides up to Duncan and his gang and offers to let them use him as a hostage to obtain the money shipment instead of riding to a nearby town for help, despite (a) having just seen them shoot up a tavern and innocent patrons, and (b) not realizing that the gang could just as easily kill him if he outlives his value to the group.
    • Despite being warned not to go outside by Estella during the shootout in Esperanza, Barbara runs out in to get to her husband's body, and is nonchalantly shot by the gang (and eventually, Duncan himself) in response.
    • Duncan successfully convinces Joe to surrender after taking Estella hostage. Instead of shooting him, he spends several hours whipping Joe and leaving him hung upside-down in the stable, thus allowing Chuck to rescue him and continue his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    • Jeffrey goes into an obvious trap on his own, despite clearly knowing that it could be a trap and refusing to take anyone else with him. His actions lead to him getting caught by Joe, dressed up to look like him and gunned down by his own brother.
    • Joe gets his own moment at the end of the film when he holds Duncan at gunpoint and doesn't shoot him, instead listening to his pleas to be let free and severely beating him after discovering that Duncan personally murdered his wife. He then turns his back, allowing the badly-wounded (but not dead) Duncan to fire several rounds into his back before being killed, seemingly causing mortal wounds to Joe in the process.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • Joe is a master of knives, which is exemplified in a scene where (after having just escaped being tortured and hung upside-down), he immediately grabs a knife and throws into the back of a henchman attacking Chuck a good 30 or so feet away, amid moving horses in a corral.
    • At the conclusion of the final confrontation, Duncan shoots at Joe as he walks away. Joe jumps forward and spins around on the hill, grabbing a tomahawk from a nearby marker as he does so and throws it backwards. The resulting shot hits Duncan square in the forehead, killing him instantly.
  • Improvised Weapon: A rifle (used as a club after its ammo runs out), rocks and even a log are used as backup weapons to dispatch members of Duncan's gang over the course of the film.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played with. The young Swedish baby is the only survivor of the train massacre, and Duncan chides the group out before telling Jeffrey to decide what to do with the baby. It's not seen in any scenes afterwards and its fate is left ambiguous, though given how Duncan and co. were said to have killed Native children by the sheriff in Peyote, it doesn't look good for the child.
  • The Lost Lenore: Joe's wife, who is murdered (and scalped) in the opening sequence. Joe spends the entire film fighting Duncan's gang to avenge her and the rest of his slain tribe.
  • Memento Macguffin: The necklace Duncan takes from Joe's wife after she's gunned down becomes a key part of the climax, as Joe holds Duncan at gunpoint and the latter begs to be let go. Joe realizes that it's the same necklace his wife wore and that Duncan killed her, leading him to deliver a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown in response.
  • The Mole: The town doctor in Esperanza, who is revealed to be the son-in-law of the town's banker. He negotiates a deal with Duncan to rob the train early on in the film, and silences the showgirl Geraldine after realizing that she knows his identity from the meeting.
  • No Name Given: Played with. The majority of characters in the film identify Joe as "the Indian". The only time he ever reveals his name, it's to Estella in the burial ground, which only occurs midway through the film.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Joe's wife realizes that Duncan and his gang are not friendly during the opening sequence.
    • The injured showgirl (Geraldine) who is brought to Esperanza gets this when she realizes the doctor working on her is The Mole who's been helping Duncan and his gang rob the train carriage.
  • One-Man Army: Joe is this, as he performs hit-and-run attacks on Duncan's gang throughout the film. By the time the final battle starts, the gang has been reduced to just Duncan and four other henchmen.
  • Price on Their Head: Both Duncan and his brother, Jeffrey, have bounties on their heads for massacring and scalping Indian tribes in the West.
  • Protagonist Title: Like Corbucci's other works. Navajo Joe is the Sole Survivor of his massacred tribe.
  • The Reveal: When Joe sees the tailsman around Duncan's neck during the final battle, he rips it off and tells him that the necklace belonged to his wife, before he delivers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Joe spends the film going after Duncan's gang for massacring his tribe (including his wife, who was the first Native personally gunned down by Duncan).
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Once it becomes clear that Joe has picked off the rest of the gang during the final confrontation, the lone gunman still with Duncan decides that he doesn't want to die and makes a run for it.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: One of the foreign theatrical posters for the film showed Joe wielding a bow and arrow (which he doesn't actually use in the film) and aiming it towards the camera. The French DVD cover also has Joe aiming a rifle slightly up and away, but still in the general direction of the reader.
  • Smug Snake: Duncan, who begins the film smiling at a Native woman before gunning her down as she makes a run for it, the scalps her and gloats about it as the rest of his gang massacre the tribe.
  • The Sociopath: Duncan. Due to bullying from other Indian children and a hatred of his father, he has no problem leading his gang members around for years massacring and scalping Native tribes. He also gloats while executing unarmed civilians and even guns down a preacher who tries to relate to him after he takes the town of Esperanza hostage.
  • Throw a Barrel at It: One of the train workers attempting to protect as it's attacked by Duncan and his gang throws a log at one of the henchmen to knock him off, just before he's killed by the gang.
  • Uncertain Doom: Joe is last seen badly wounded and sitting on a hill, clutching his chest and looking on at Duncan's corpse and the burial ground. The last scene has Estella send Joe's horse back to him, but it's left unclear whether he survived his injuries or not. It should also be noted that some publicity photos clearly show that at least one bullet passed completely through his chest, making his survival extremely improbable.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
    • Duncan has the chance to kill Joe midway through the film after capturing him in Esperanza. Instead, he takes him hostage and tortures him, thus setting up Joe's escape later on.
    • Joe himself has the opportunity to kill Duncan after sneaking up on him during the final confrontation, but chooses to listen to Duncan ramble and beat him down instead. This action allows Duncan to wound (and possibly kill) Joe soon afterwards.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Duncan kills the bank teller's son-in-law after the latter leads him to the locked safe and opens it for the gang, revealing that the money was moved by the townspeople beforehand.