Thursday, December 13, 2012

On DVD: DJANGO Double Features

With the upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited DJANGO UNCHAINED, there's been a renewed interest in the spaghetti westerns that inspired it.  Sergio Corbucci's DJANGO (1966) was itself just one of the hundreds of spaghetti westerns made after the incredible success of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood films A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), but it managed to create--at least in Italy--a phenomenon of its own.  DJANGO, which starred Franco Nero as a mysterious stranger who drags behind him a coffin containing a large machine gun, led to a stampede of assorted sequels, knockoffs, and ripoffs that featured "Django" in the title.  The only "official" sequel with Nero came two decades later with Nello Rossati's belated, dismal, RAMBO-inspired DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN (1987), but starting with Giulio Questi's insane DJANGO, KILL! (IF YOU LIVE SHOOT!) (1967) with Tomas Milian and going into the early 1970s, there were no less than 50 so-called DJANGO films, starring a ton of different leading men, not to mention other knockoffs like DJURADO (1966), DRANGO (1966), RINGO (1967), CJAMANGO (1967), GARRINGO (1969), SHANGO (1970), and about 20 different SARTANA films, including several that teamed Sartana with Django.  And it gets even more confusing when you consider that future Django Anthony Steffen starred in the practically interchangeable DRANGO, RINGO,  GARRINGO, and SHANGO, and that DRANGO was also released as SOME DOLLARS FOR DJANGO.  In short, the Italian habit of making unofficial sequels to blockbuster successes wasn't limited to just influential American hits (George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD was released in Italy as ZOMBI, which led to Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2, which was released as ZOMBIE in the US; Ridley Scott's ALIEN led to Ciro Ippolito's ALIEN 2: SULLA TERRA;  and Michael Cimino's THE DEER HUNTER was released in Italy as IL CACCIATORE, which begat Antonio Margheriti's IL CACCIATORE 2, aka THE LAST HUNTER in the States), but also to their own.  The huge Italian success of DJANGO led to an entire "Django" genre.  Timeless Media, a division of Shout Factory, has just released two budget-priced double feature sets with four DJANGO obscurities.  Each set lists at $6.99, and while they certainly aren't Criterion-level transfers, they look much better than the list price would indicate, all in anamorphic widescreen and looking positively pristine compared to the usual public domain YouTube-level stuff you get on those $9.99 "50 Western Classics" cheapie sets. With only one outright clunker over the course of these two releases, cult movie nerds and spaghetti western completists will definitely want to pick these up.

(Italy - 1967)

(Italy - 1971)

DJANGO KILLS SILENTLY (aka DJANGO KILLS SOFTLY) stars Eurocult fixture George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori) in one of his earliest films. The 6' 9" Eastman, best known to Italian horror fans as the cannibalistic killer who rips the fetus out of a pregnant woman and eats it, and later devours his own disemboweled entrails at the end of Joe D'Amato's THE GRIM REAPER (1981), gets a rare good guy role here as Django, riding into the small town of Santa Anna and getting involved in a turf war between the powerful Thompson (Luciano Rossi, billed as "Edwin G. Ross") and the outlaw El Santo, which, if the performance of Mimmo Maggio is any indication, is Spanish for "Almost Tuco."  Django has a score to settle with El Santo, who killed an old friend, and he doesn't care much for Thompson either, so--stop me if you've heard this plot before--he decides to play them against one another.  Written by BLACK MAGIC RITES auteur Renato Polselli (as "Leonide Preston"), and directed by Massimo Pupillo (1965's BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) under the pseudonym "Max Hunter," DJANGO KILLS SILENTLY looks and sounds like a spaghetti western, but aside from the Leone-esque opening credits and Berto Pisano's blatantly Morricone-inspired score, it plays a lot like a western from the 1940s or 1950s.  Lots of saloon brawls and standard-issue shootouts, and certainly none of the nihilism or political subtext of even the Corbucci or Questi films.  Still, it's an enjoyable enough western on its own terms, with Eastman (dubbed by Tony La Penna) a likable Django, and there's a scene-stealing, hilariously twitchy performance by spaghetti western regular Federico Boido (as "Rik Boyd") as The Nervous One, an exceptionally edgy Thompson gunman.  1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. (Unrated, 94 mins).

DJANGO'S CUT PRICE CORPSES (aka A PISTOL FOR DJANGO) is a bit more in line with the rougher, more violent post-DJANGO spaghetti scene.  Directed by veteran sleaze merchant Luigi Batzella (THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT, NUDE FOR SATAN, and the vile Nazisploitation "classic" SS HELL CAMP, aka THE BEAST IN HEAT) under the name "Paolo Solvay" (one of several pseudonyms he used), CUT PRICE CORPSES has bounty hunter Django (Jeff Cameron, dubbed by Frank von Kuegelgen) riding into a Mexican town in search of the four nefarious Cortez brothers, led by Ramon (Edilio Kim).  Ramon, his brothers, and his gang are on the run after a Silver City bank robbery and the kidnapping of a young woman (Dominique Badou).  Also pursuing them is bank investigator and steely card sharp Fulton (Gengher Gatti), who switches alliances as quickly as anyone else in this thing.  Django briefly joins forces with outlaw Pedro (future screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici, credited under his acting name "Mark Devis"), who used to run with the Cortez gang, but it goes nowhere when Pedro tries to kill Django maybe ten seconds later and gets shot in the gut for his trouble, making about 12 minutes of screen time utterly pointless (except for the fact that the ruthless Django seduces Pedro's wife to get to him).  The very low-budget CUT PRICE CORPSES is pretty average as far as these go--watchable and diverting but cliched and predictable.  Almost everything is ripped off from other movies--Django even tells the town undertaker to "get four coffins ready," which is in no way similar to Clint Eastwood's introduction in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; Gatti is obviously meant to be a Lee Van Cleef stand-in; and Django's eventual sidekick Pickwick (John Desmont) is the burly sort of which Bud Spencer had been playing for a few years and would continue to in the TRINITY movies and its various knockoffs.  And the big, meaningless plot twist--SPOILER--that the fourth Cortez brother is actually a woman (Esmeralda Barros) is obvious from the first moment she's onscreen. 

Really?  You're not supposed to be able to tell this is a woman?

The fashions are a bit more 1971 than you'd expect, with Django sporting a Peter Fonda-in-EASY RIDER hairstyle, and Pedro's hilarious white-dude afro and bellbottoms.  It's silly and inconsquential, the sets are laughably cheap, a lot of it doesn't make sense (why does a confused Pickwick totally lose his shit and attack Django for no reason?) and Cameron isn't the most charismatic Django (he had a very busy few years in spaghetti knockoffs, playing Sartana on a few occasions and starring in other ripoffs like the same year's COFFIN FULL OF DOLLARS before disappearing from movies in 1973) but DJANGO'S CUT PRICE CORPSES is OK enough for spaghetti western die-hards and enjoyably dumb if you're in the right mood. 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (Unrated, 82 mins)

(Italy - 1971)

(Italy - 1970)

Anthony Steffen (real name Antonio De Teffe) is best known to American grindhouse fans for the 1971 Italian horror film THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, but he was enormously popular in his native country for his many spaghetti westerns that came in the wake of DJANGO.  Steffen had already played Django twice before 1971's A MAN CALLED DJANGO! (aka W DJANGO!, aka VIVA, DJANGO!) in a pair of Sergio Garrone westerns from 1969: A NOOSE FOR DJANGO and the supernatural western/horror hybrid DJANGO THE BASTARD (aka THE STRANGERS GUNDOWN).  Prior to that, as mentioned above, he also had the title roles in the DJANGO ripoffs DRANGO (aka SOME DOLLARS FOR DJANGO), RINGO, A TRAIN FOR DURANGO (1969), and SHANGO. A MAN CALLED DJANGO! was directed by Edoardo Mulargia (as "Edward G. Muller"), who himself was not a stranger to the world of DJANGO ripoffs,  having previously directed SHANGO, CJAMANGO, and 1967's DON'T WAIT, DJANGO...SHOOT!  The intense Steffen is a terrific Django in this violent, cynical, and downbeat film, obsessively pursuing the men responsible for the murder of his wife.  He rescues about-to-be-hanged horse thief Tuco, er...I mean, Carranza (Glauco Onorato, dubbed by Ed Mannix), who used to run with the men responsible but was in jail at the time of the murder, and two form the usual unholy alliance when Django agrees to help Carranza get revenge on his own enemy, the sadistic Jeff (Stelio Candelli), a vicious thug who controls the town.  Of course, the various threads intersect and double and triple crosses ensue in somewhat predictable ways, but A MAN CALLED DJANGO! benefits from a legitimately devastating finale--complete with a nicely-done final shot that borrows from Sam Peckinpah--that Steffen plays wonderfully, making him probably the most effective Django after Nero and Milian.  This one probably deserves to be better known.  2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. (Unrated, 90 mins)

DJANGO AND SARTANA'S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST stars American actor Jack Betts as Django.  Betts, who's still active today in small roles on TV and in movies, was a TV actor in the late 1950s and early 1960s who started going by the name "Hunt Powers" in 1964, and relocated to Europe in 1967, where he became a busy spaghetti western fixture.  He played Django in several films, including 1972's marvelously-titled DOWN WITH YOUR HANDS...YOU SCUM!  He frequently worked with director Demofilo Fidani, regarded by some as the "Ed Wood of spaghetti westerns." Though there's only a little about SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST that's terrible from a technical standpoint, it's certainly the low point of these double feature sets, even with Fidani hiding behind what might be the greatest fake American-sounding pseudonym ever:

Dull and confusing, DJANGO AND SARTANA'S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST (aka DJANGO AND SARTANA ARE COMING...IT'S THE END) dithers around and doesn't even bring the two heroes together until an hour in, and even then they don't ever work side by side and don't exchange words until the last scene.  Crazed outlaw Black Burt (Gordon Mitchell) kidnaps a young woman and plans to take his gang to Mexico when word gets out that Django and Sartana (Franco Borelli, credited as "Chet Davis") are both separately coming for them.  Instead of fleeing, Black Burt sticks around, ranting and raving and playing poker against his reflection in the mirror.  Mitchell's insane performance is really the only reason to watch this, and it drags badly when he's not around, feeling about twice as long as its brief 83 minutes.  Betts is appropriately stoical as Django, but Borelli's Sartana is barely in it, and the film is so meandering and incoherently edited in the early going that it was a full 40 minutes before I was entirely sure that Betts was Django and Borelli was Sartana (the DVD packaging and IMDb both have it wrong, crediting Betts as Sartana and Borelli as Django).  I think the dubbing crew might've even been confused as well on a couple occasions.  The film's low budget is apparent during the climax, when Django is shooting a bunch of different members of Black Burt's gang and the shots of Betts firing and the gang members being shot don't even match, with the gunshot outlaws obviously culled from stock footage from other movies.  Betts is an alright Django, but DJANGO AND SARTANA'S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST is pretty bottom-of-the-barrel stuff.  1.85 anamorphic widescreen (Unrated, 83 mins)

1 comment:

  1. I think I need to pick these up. If nothing else, I need to see 3.

    Apparently the least interesting sounding of the bunch, Dick Spitfire's epic classic Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West is the one I do own... in the collection Sartana: The Complete Saga. I haven't finished the non-canon movies in that. I doubt I'll start with that one.