The Hellbenders

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The Hellbenders
I crudeli joseph cotten sergio corbucci.jpg
Italian film poster
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Produced by Albert Band
Screenplay by Albert Band
Ugo Liberatore
José Gutiérrez Maesso
Additional Dialogue:
Louis Garfinkle
Story by Virgil C. Gerlach
Based on Guns of North Texas
by Will Cook (uncredited)
Starring Joseph Cotten
Norma Bengell
Julián Mateos
Gino Pernice
Ángel Aranda
Music by Leo Nichols
Cinematography Enzo Barboni
Edited by Nino Baragli
Alberto Gallitti
Alba Cinematografica
Distributed by Cineriz (Italy)
Embassy Pictures (US)
Release date
2 February 1967
Running time
90 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian

The Hellbenders (Italian title: I crudeli, lit. The Cruel Ones) is a Spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Corbucci in 1966.[1][2]


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 US 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.


I crudeli was made back-to-back, in Spain and Italy, with The Tramplers, with Joseph Cotten in a similar role.



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