Minnesota Clay (or Le Justicier du Minnesota in Europe) is a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci and released in 1965. The film shares its title with its lead character, Minnesota Clay, a quick-shot outlaw who is slowly going blind. Clay, who has been framed by a man named Fox, escapes from a labor camp and sets out to prove his innocence by returning to the town he was barred from. While there, he finds himself caught in between a conflict involving two vicious gangs and tries to form a relationship with his estranged daughter, all while dealing with his gradually worsening vision.
Cameron Mitchell plays the lead role as the desperado known as Minnesota Clay. Despite his vision problems, he's still described as "the best shot in the Union." Clay isn't your typical spaghetti western anti-hero; he's much more reserved than his Leone counterparts. Instead of killing people, he usually chooses to use his expert shooting skills to shoot the guns right out of their hands, and in one of the most memorable scenes, he smugly walks into a saloon and infamously asks for a glass of milk.
This film marks the rare occasion that Mitchell is given a lead role, and he doesn't disappoint. His character is quick-witted and has a lot of one-liners. His dry wit proves to be quite funny.
- Fox: Join up with me, I'm counting on you.
- Clay: Don't, I got an ulcer, it hurts when I laugh.
Besides Mitchell, the rest of the cast is largely unmemorable. Fernando Sancho once again reprises a role as the stereotypical Mexican bandit, Ortiz. Alberto Cevenini as Andy tries to provide cheap laughs as the bumbling sidekick, but mostly does so unintentionally. His dialogue is awfully dubbed and terribly corny.
This film was Sergio Corbucci's second spaghetti western, and one of the first in its genre. The directing, minus a few minor goofs, is quite well done. Corbucci employs long panning shots, especially at the beginning of the movie, to set the scene and emphasize the landscape. The skillful camerawork during the horse chase scene acts as a prelude for techniques Corbucci would later exhibit in his masterpiece Django.
The directing is not without its flaws though. Corbucci, who was in his very early stages of directing, makes some notable blunders. Unexpected transitions from day to night are not uncommon. Some of the night time scenes are actually shot day for night, the only problem is that the sky in the background, which appears too light to pass for night, makes it rather obvious that these scenes were filmed during the day.
The action is what you would expect from a western: it's over-the-top and exaggerated. There are lots of great spills when rider's fall of their horses as Clay uses his only his revolver to take out wave after wave of Mexican bandits. The final scene involving Clay's battle with Fox and his gang while nearly blind is a very climactic and entertaining one. Corbucci's application of Clay’s disabillity provides a fresh and intriguing apex for the film.
Despite the innovative aspect of Clay's blindness, the plot is dull and generally uninteresting. The story hardly differentiates itself from any other typical western. All of the characters beside Clay are unlikable and generic. The majority of the dialogue is just plain lousy, and the badly-dubbed voices of some characters is painfully obvious.
The ending in the American version of the film varies greatly from its Italian counterpart. In the Italian version, Clay survives after his battle with Fox. In the next scene he is seen wearing a pair of eyeglasses. He throws them up and shoots out both lenses, and as he does so, his sight is magically fixed. The American version contains a more pessimistic version. It has Clay dying in his daughter's arms after his final battle with Fox.
Overall, Minnesota Clay is an interesting look at the early stages of the spaghetti western genre. For fans of westerns or fans of Cameron Mitchell, Minnesota Clay will definitely provide some enjoyment.