First there was a man with no name but a man needs a name if he is to be a hero, especially in the lawless world of the Western. So, in 1966 that name was first given and Django was borne to these violent arid plains, courtesy of director Sergio Corbucci; the rest indeed is history. In my humble opinion it was the Italian so called “Spaghetti Western” that was the king. I never bought into the John Ford / John Wayne template. They just didn’t deliver the goods compared to the Italian stylish violence of movies such as the quintessential Sergio Leone classics like the phenomenal ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’. One viewing of that and I was well and truly hooked. Of course I am not dismissing the likes of Peckinpah’s ‘Wild Bunch’ but in the video nasty era these Italian products became highly sought after and were as collectible as their horror counterparts. The Italians knew what they were doing even if they were copying things to a large extent. The name Django became a bit of a cult one at the time and the word “banned” was as apt here as it was with the splatter movies due to the high body count and bloodshed that at the time we were only able to read about.
Amazingly it was not until 1993 that the original Django was finally certified for the UK market and we were finally able to see Franco Nero deliver justice courtesy of his infamous Gatling Gun.
Still the cult was alive as there were the likes of other movies with the Django title that although not sequels by any means upped the stakes with other directors and actors continuing the legacy that Corbucci had crafted. Probably the most infamous is Thomas Milian’s portrayal of the lead in Guilo Questi’s ‘Django Kill’ subtitled … If You Live Shoot. This was an incredible blood fest delivering the goods via scalping, savagery and mass slaughter and was unsurprisingly unavailable in the UK for even longer than the original. It took Corbucci until 1987 to come up with an official sequel in ‘Django Strikes Again’ but following the release of the original there were around 30 films featuring the eponymous gunslingers name coming at the audience in a fast and bewildering succession. Once the Italians find a niche in the market they really do milk it for all it’s worth.
Of course we should side track a little and look at the basterd enfant of Hollywood geekdom Quentin Tarantino with his recent ‘Django Unchained’. This, which I wanted to see before writing this piece, owes less to the original than even his last Inglorious stab at Italian re-invention did to Antonio Margheriti’s original. I found as with most of his films this to be an infantile, overlong, narrative driven film that really deserved to be chained up and locked away rather than forced upon the people who know and love the originals well. The fact that it has nothing apart from name to do with the original is in itself totally misleading. I also found it childishly revelled in overuse of the ‘N’ word as though Tarantino had been given carte blanche to its usage and was trying to fit it in as many times as possible. It owed more to the likes of Russ Meyer’s ‘Blacksnake’ in my mind than anything else but I guess he had been beaten as far as a loose remake of that was concerned already. The simple fact is that Django Unchained is crass Blaxploitation at its worse.
Thank god for ‘Django Prepare A Coffin’ courtesy of Arrow Films.
Originally released in 1968 and also known as ‘Viva Django’ this was directed by Ferdinando Baldi and is a particular coup for the UK market as not only is it the first release here it is the only other one apart from a hard to find German DVD version. Baldi had experience with the Western genre from films like Texas, Addio (with Franco Nero in the lead) 1966 having moved on from atypical peplum pictures. I think it is fair to say he was never a household name and his films although covering a wide range of styles from giallo to Vietnam war films never really saw him up there with the more respected and reviled directors around in the era.. He handles this film admirably though and this is no doubt mainly down to the great scenery, psychedelic opening titles, classic film score and casting of it. Django here is played expertly by Terrance Hill who along with Bud Spencer was widely known and respected as a half of double in action and comedy films. Here he certainly plays it straight with a glowering, stubble enhanced charm, exuding menace but playing his roll with a certain moralistic fairness. Of course in any Western one has to have the baddies and here they are pretty much everywhere as it is a film of greed with almost everyone out for themselves. Even those with good intentions are tarred by the greed brush in a film full of twists and turns with betrayal rearing its ugly head all over the place. One of the most familiar appearances to Italian genre picture enthusiasts is undoubtedly going to be big bad George Eastman. Here the actor plays a bit of a fall guy, a dim witted and easily manipulated part that does not even see his muscle winning the day. Eastman looks younger than we are used to perhaps with thick black hair (possibly a syrup) but he does steal his scenes even if it is due to recognition from his gut munching excesses in films such as ‘Anthropophagus The Beast’ and ‘Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead.’
Django is a hangman who is cheated on and wronged by the aforementioned greed of others. This results in his wife dead and him left for the buzzards in a stagecoach robbery. From here he goes about hanging some wrongly accused criminals and with them building a ghost army of vengeance driven by his hatred. How he pulls this off will be giving too much away but after things start to gel from the slightly confusing first reel it all begins to make sense.
Anyone slightly au-fait with Western genre convention hardly needs the plot spelled out for them but as it unfolds the film is a delight to watch. It is also action packed, full of brawls, punch ups and with a huge bullet count as it leads towards the inevitable conclusion, one that you really need to even avoid looking at the cover of the film if you want a complete surprise. It is not however overly gory. Violent yes but nothing compared to some of the aforementioned or the likes of Luci Fulci’s gloriously debauched stab at the genre. This no doubt helped it gain a 15 certificate but even Django itself after having been banned for so long has the same rating now and if you are looking for a tight action packed, fast paced Western you will not be disappointed here at all.
Obviously the scope for the film company is massive here as there are a load of other good Italian Western’s we would literally kill to see released; just working their way through the various Django titles will keep them going for ages if they can gain the rights and polish them up to look as good as this. I guess it is all down to sales though but for me this is the perfect way for the company to go rather than relying on releasing films that fans already have perfectly good uncut copies of on other regions.
So forget wasting money at the multiplex and pick yourself up a bone-fide original classic Spaghetti Western with Django Prepare A Coffin!