Italian film poster
|Directed by||Sergio Corbucci|
|Produced by||Albert Band|
|Story by||Virgil C. Gerlach|
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
Colonel Jonas is a fanatical and unrepentant Confederate who led a regiment called the Hellbenders in the recently ended Civil War. Similar to Edmond O'Brien's character in Rio Conchos, he is determined to reorganise the Southern Army and defeat the Union. With his sons Ben, greedy Nat, and rapist Jeff, he massacres Union soldiers transporting a consignment of banknotes and conceals the loot in a coffin supposedly belonging to a deceased Confederate officer, Captain Ambrose who was killed in the Battle of Nashville.
A drunken prostitute, Kitty, pretends to be the officer's widow. When Kitty is killed attempting a double-cross, Ben persuades Claire, a combination saloon hostess and professional gambler, to take Kitty's place - they fall in love. They consummate their love during a gunfight between Jonas and a local bounty hunter.
The cool Claire proves her worth when feigning grief to a sheriff's posse who stop the wagon and wish to search the coffin suspecting the party may have been responsible for the theft and massacre. The party has another close shave when they stop in a town where the local minister who knew the late Captain Ambrose forces the party to stay for a memorial service where the town can pay their respects.
Later the party is attacked by Mexican bandidos but is rescued by the American Cavalry who capture several of the Bandidos. Heeding Claire's wishes, the soldiers escort the wagon to the fort where Captain Ambrose was a former commander.
Claire, resentful of Jonas' fanaticism, arranges for the coffin to be buried in 'her' husband's fort. Jonas orders his sons to sneak back into the Union fort, dig up the coffin, and return the money to the buckboard; in the meantime, he whips Claire and makes her stay outside of the cave where the group takes shelter in the storm, leading Claire to become deathly ill from pneumonia.
The group moves on - but their horses are killed what appears to be a mad beggar but is a thief who wishes to rob them. They later fall afoul of Indians who were thought to be 'friendly' and would be agreeable to selling horses to the Hellbenders. The chief demands that Jeff (who raped and murdered his daughter with a bayonet when he should have been buying horses) be handed over to him. Ben denounces his family's fanaticism and offers the Indians all the money in the coffin, only to be caught in the crossfire between his arguing brothers, who shoot each other over the money; satisfied, the Indians ride away. The mortally wounded Jonas discovers that he has dug up the wrong coffin that contains the remains of the Chief Bandido who promised Jonas they would meet again. Jones crawls away like a real hellbender dragging the coffin which falls into the river, as the flag of the fictional Hellbenders regiment floats down the river to the Jonas ranch.
In a contemporary review, "Byro." of Variety felt the film was not superior to the majority of other European Western films due to "indifferent direction, uneven color quality, and heavy-handed acting" and that Joseph Cotten gave "one of his weakest performances of his career." The Monthly Film Bulletin stated the film was "quite efficiently made but with the usual quota of gratuitous violence" and that the film's script was "more ingenious than most"
- Hughes 2004, p. 136.
- Hughes 2004, p. 145.
- Hughes 2004, p. 144.
- Variety's Film Reviews 1964-1967. 11. R. R. Bowker. 1983. There are no page numbers in this book. This entry is found under the header "September 6, 1967". ISBN 0-8352-2790-1.
- "Crudeli, I (The Hellbenders)". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 36 no. 424. British Film Institute. May 1969. pp. 99–100.