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Minnesota Clay

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Minnesota Clay **** PG-13 (1964)

Cameron Mitchell: Minnesota Clay

Georges Riviére: Sheriff Fox (as Georges Riviere)

Ethel Rojo: Estella, Ortiz’s Woman

Fernando Sancho: Gen. Domingo Ortiz

Antonio Casas: Uncle Jonathan Mulligan

Julio Pena: Lt. Dr. Stevens

Diana Martin: Nancy Mulligan

Antonio Rosso: Andy Mudo (as Anthony Ross)

Gino Pernice: Scratchy, Fox’s Gunman

Ferdinando Poggi: Tubbs: (as Nando Poggi)

Written by: Adriano Bolzoni, Sergio Corbucci, & José Gutiérrez Maesso (dialogue for Spanish actors)

Directed by: Sergio Corbucci

Synopsis: After breaking out of a Union Prison Camp, gunman and former soldier Minnesota Clay travels to the Mexican border to find Fox, his former friend who falsely accused him of the crime that sent him to jail. Complications arise when he discovers Fox is now the corrupt Sheriff of the border town and is feuding with Mexican bandit Ortiz for control. An unknown wild card in seductive senorita Estella begins playing Fox and Ortiz against each other, further endangering Clay to both men. Clay also must come to terms with losing the opportunity of a relationship with his daughter.

Image result for Minnesota Clay film

Image result for Minnesota Clay film

Before he created Django, Hud, and Silence, Sergio Corbucci gave Italian audiences Minnesota Clay. The early to mid 1960’s had Italian directors using typical American character types for their Westerns, but Leone and Corbucci would change that with their respectful inaugural efforts in the genre. Clay is for the most part a product of the Italian fascination with the American West, but many story/action elements and character traits are very much Italian in it’s early stages. The standard story of betrayal and revenge in the post Civil War era gets a European makeover that breathes new life into the Western film. Another interesting feature is a more positive view of the relationships between men and women in Italian Westerns. Normally women were objectified and abused in these films, but here women are shown as being treated fairly and humanely, men only responding harshly when the women betray them. While not completely Italian or American inspired, the film can be looked at as the border between imitation and originality, offering a unique homogenous mixture that shows the inspiration the American films created in Italians and the themes, motifs, and styles the Italians would come up with and revolutionize a genre that until then was bordering on life and death with audiences. The title character’s dealing with poor eyesight hints at a nod to the recent hit Japanese franchise Zatoichi starring Shintaro Katsu, though with the character not being totally blind it’s a vague nod at best.

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Cameron Mitchell, an American actor who went into character roles after his romantic days faded does well in the title role. Having made the transition to Westerns already in shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza, Mitchell’s haggard middle age features made him an excellent choice for the aged gunfighter coming to terms with his life. Not an Anti-Hero in the classic tradition of Franco Nero, Giuliano Gemma, Gianni Garko, and Anthony Steffen, Mitchell plays Clay as a man who prefers to bluff his way out of situations rather than use his guns, only resorting to violence when absolutely necessary. Dubber Emilio Cigoli’s booming voice aids Mitchell in the character’s assertive he means what he says attitude. Mitchell’s use of his eyes for the cold hard stare isn’t as effective as say Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef, but it gets the job done in letting his enemies know he’s come to settle old accounts. Mitchell also adds a touch of the humane to the character, showing he still has friends who knew of his innocence in spite of the bad luck and misfortune that seems to follow him. Clay is also Corbucci’s first character to succeed in spite of a handicap, in this case his slowly fading eyesight, though he’s not going blind.

Image result for georges riviere Minnesota Clay film

Image result for Minnesota Clay film

Georges Riviére, a lesser known but still well liked French character actor who made his name in Argentina, is both charming and slimy as Sheriff Fox. Riviére plays Fox as a man who was once good, but his envy of Clay and the woman who loved him led him to lie about Clay’s involvement in a crime and land the man in jail. Fox’s own fortunes prospered to the point he became Sheriff of a little town near Mexico. Riviére adds a sense that Fox is totally aware Clay has come to kill him for framing him and then taking and killing the woman he loved, but doesn’t look too worried about that. The addition of a double-dealing personality by Riviére in that Fox is supposed to protect the citizens of the town, but instead has his henchman, some who even pose as his deputies, rob many of the stagecoaches coming into the territory, laying the blame on the local Mexican bandits hiding out in the desert. Fernando Sancho, the noted Spanish actor who has the record for the most Italian Westerns, is in one of his first prominent role as Gen. Ortiz. A Mexican bandit merely looking to survive after falling into a vagabond existence after a recent conflict, Sancho plays Ortiz as someone who doesn’t take from those he knew would go without if he stole from them. Initially grateful of Clay for saving the life of his returning girlfriend from Fox’s goons, he quickly falls into a trap when Fox and the woman he loves plot against him. While not seen on screen much, Sancho still plays a interesting character whose not totally good, but not totally bad either.

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Image result for Minnesota Clay film

While an early effort of the genre, Minnesota Clay was, along with Per u Pugni di Dollari, one of the first films of the genre that utilized the elements they would later become loved and cherished for in later years. Tamer in some aspects, but revolutionary in others, the film is pretty much a mixed bag that manages to work on many levels with success. Good acting, fairly well shaped story, and fine use of locales and imagery rise the film above what might have been considered typical genre remaking. Having a hero with a medical condition having to rely on other senses in order to protect those he cares about offers an interesting deviation and unique interpretation to the genre. No Anti-Heroes here, but the protagonist is certainly wary of other people and has in a sense lost his faith in others, but situations he couldn’t predict allow him a chance for redemption.

(While a little tamer than your average Italian Western, Minnesota Clay still has some of the early hallmarks that made the genre what it is. I do recommend this film to fans who’s like to see the genre in its early stages and see the progression to what everyone knows and loves about them. The only DVD in print is an Italian language only one and the sole Blu Ray that was from France with the original Italian and French audio is now out of print [I was lucky enough to get a copy when it was still available]. A copy is worth tracking down, and many are fairly and decently priced.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more iformation

IMDB/Minnesota Clay

Wikipedia/Minnesota Clay Clay

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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