The Deserter (1971 film)

The Deserter
The Devil's Backbone (USA)
Ride to Glory (USA) Video title

The Deserter Region 4 DVD cover
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Norman Baer
Ralph Serpe
Written by Stuart J. Byrne
William H. James
Clair Huffaker
Starring Bekim Fehmiu
John Huston
Richard Crenna
Chuck Connors
Ricardo Montalban
Ian Bannen
Brandon deWilde
Music by Piero Piccioni
Cinematography Aldo Tonti
Edited by Frank Santillo
Distributed by Paramount
Release dates
  • March 25, 1971 (1971-03-25)
Running time
100 minutes
Country Italy
United States
Language English

The Deserter (La Spina Dorsale Del Diavolo) is a 1971 Italian-American Western film by Dino De Laurentiis. It was directed by Burt Kennedy.

Scripted in the style of The Dirty Dozen (1967), and designed as a vehicle for Yugoslavian theater and film matinee idol Bekim Fehmiu, the film featured an ensemble cast of well-known American actors.[1] Noted for Shane (1953), actor Brandon deWilde appears in his last Western film before his death the following year.[2][3]

The film was shot largely on location in Italy, Spain and Yugoslavia. Many exterior scenes were filmed at the Fort Bowie set built in the Province of Almería, Spain, where the desert landscape and climate that characterizes part of the province have made it a much utilized setting for Western films, among those A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and later 800 Bullets (2002). This same set was also used in the films Blindman (1971) with Ringo Starr and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (1972).[4]



US Army cavalry returning from a 2-week patrol head to a mission finding its inhabitants have been savagely killed by Indians just a short distance from Fort Bowie. Among the dead that sought sanctuary in a desecrated church is the dying wife of the patrol's leader.

Having bitter hostility for his wife's brutal murder by Apaches due to what he believes was army negligence, Capt. Victor Kaleb shoots and wounds the fort commander, Colonel Wade Brown, and deserts the cavalry where he disappears into the southwestern wasteland to kill Apaches.

Two years later when marauding Apaches led by Chief Mangus Durango hold up just out of the cavalry's reach in Mexico, Kaleb is promised amnesty by General Miles in exchange for leading a small band of hand-picked soldiers across the border to wipe out the Indian stronghold known as "La Spina Dorsale Del Diavolo", the Devil's Backbone.

There a battle to the death ensues with Kaleb's desert-trained forces proving successful. After the conflict, the remainder of Kaleb's band presents themselves to General Miles back at Fort Bowie. General Miles explains that he has been ordered to arrest Kaleb upon his return, but all parties present agree to Colonel Brown's resolution to the situation: Victor Kaleb was killed in action at the Devil's Backbone. Kaleb rides away from the fort a free man.


In his investigation of narrative structures in Spaghetti Western films, Fridlund writes that The Deserter mainly follows the "Professional Plot", as described by Will Wright in his analysis of American Westerns, that is the cooperation of a group of professionals fulfilling a mission.[5]

Home media

CD soundtrack cover for The Deserter.


The Deserter was originally released on VHS in the United States by Paramount Home Entertainment, on September 9, 1992. Paramount has not released the film as a DVD in North American Region 1. It is presently available in DVD Region 0 by East West Entertainment LLC in standard non-widescreen VHS conversion and Region 4 by Reel Corporation, Australia.


The score for The Deserter had music composed and conducted by Piero Piccioni. Originally a practicing lawyer securing movie rights for Italian film distributors, he was eventually credited with scoring over 300 films. Piccioni was influenced in his use of jazz by 20th century classical composers and American cinematography and this is apparent in The Deserter soundtrack.[2]

Piccioni's score was released on CD in Italy in 1997 on the Legend label, as CD 28, 14-tracks under the title Piero Piccioni: La Spina Dorsale Del Diavolo. Recent discovery of the stereo master tapes of the original session, with an extra 25 minutes of music, is featured on the limited 1500 unit special edition Legend CD 32 DLX, released July, 2010, as a 26-track 74:34 CD.[2]

See also


  1. The Deserter at the Internet Movie Database
  2. 1 2 3
  3. Wildest Westerns Magazine
  4. Western Locations Spain
  5. Wright, Will: Sixguns & Society. A Structural Study of the Western. University of California Press, 1975.
    Fridlund, Bert: The Spaghetti Western. A Thematic Analysis. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company Inc., 2006 pp. 209-10.
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