While Sergio Corbucci has illustrated a knack for blending westerns and comedies with films like Compañeros, Sonny and Jed is difficult to handle. There have been missteps in the past, like with the exasperating The Hellbenders, but not every movie can or has to reach the same heights as Django or The Great Silence to have value. Nevertheless, this 1972 outing is pretty damn rough.
Sonny and Jed is known by a range of alternate titles, including but not limited to Bandara Bandits, Far West Story, The Gang of the Far West, and the pithy J&S: Criminal Story of an Outlaw Couple. The screenplay is a by-committee job, with Corbucci joining the likes of Adriano Bolzoni, José María Forqué and Sabatino Ciuffini.
Tomas Milian stars as Jed Trigado, a ruthless roughneck who purports lofty moral ground because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Sheriff Franciscus (Telly Savalas) is after him, but a young woman named Sonny (Susan George) helps him get away. Jed thanks her the best way he knows how: by trying to rape her.
Despite this inauspicious start, an “uneasy” relationship develops and they become bandits. They rob and steal and argue and fight and drink, all while Franciscus keeps on trying to throw them in the clink. Sometimes, they take tense refuge with the madam (Laura Betti) at the whorehouse and sometimes things just fall apart.
Sonny and Jed is a cynical piece of work in that most characters are rotten to the core. The traditional protagonist is set up as a Robin Hood-esque hero, with values of disdaining the rich and making sure the country’s impoverished have food, money and machine guns. Milian’s Jed seems, to some extent at least, to have read from the playbook of the Compañeros’ revolutionary students.
But Corbucci wants no part in making Jed out to be a good man, with Jed beating and verbally abusing Sonny. His misogynistic bite comes through when he says women are worse than animals and can’t come up with a good reason for a virgin to be alive.
On some level, this degree of degradation works to deepen the layers of the film. Sonny and Jed makes a piss-poor attempt at evening the scales later on, but George’s character is mostly around for the cruelty. She is the butt of Jed’s emotional, moral, sexual, and physical violence and returns to the well time and time again, assured that her abuser loves her.
But the trouble here is the lack of focus, as Corbucci seems to oversee a hodgepodge of scenes that refuse to cooperate as a greater whole. The audience is hauled through sequences of ill-treatment and bizarreness without the benefit of a strong central thread. As such, there are minimal rewards.
Savalas’ Franciscus exists on the periphery as the Bonnie and Clyde-oriented couple farts around through foggy stages of their dysfunction. Betti’s Dona Aparacito is given the opportunity to camp it up in an deranged brothel, but her scenes only work in the service of molesting the ever-loving hell out of Sonny.
There is an Ennio Morricone score and Sonny is given her own theme song. The cinematography by Luis Cuadrado and Alejandro Ulloa wanders through the characteristic Corbucci palette of rain, muck and even a little snow and there are some neat shots, like the zooms when Sonny first spots Jed.
But overall, this is a disappointing spaghetti western. While Sonny and Jed may attempt some appraisal of the relationship between its titular characters, it’s difficult to reckon that with the glibness emphasized by its lack of cohesion. And not for nothing, but there’s only so many times someone should witness Tomas Milian drinking milk straight from the goddamn cow.