Django! The Classic Spaghetti Western Franchise (Timeless Media Group, NR)

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dvd django_75The only one I could even slightly recommend is A Man Called Django, and even that would be pretty low on my list of Spaghetti Westerns.

 

If you only know one hero of classic Spaghetti Westerns, it is Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” from Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. If you only know two, the second is Django. Franco Nero, the manliest man ever to step in front of a camera, played the titular hero in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film. Django became notorious as one of the most violent films ever made (the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs is a direct homage) and was also a huge success in its native country of Italy. Today, it is considered a masterpiece of the genre, although hardcore enthusiasts argue that Corbucci’s later work, The Great Silence, is the superior film.

Always quick to capitalize on success, the Italian film industry set about ripping the film off. There are 31 one documented sequels to Django, and quite a few other movies that used the name in alternate titles. Only one of these sequels is considered official, and it didn’t come out until well after the Spaghetti Western boom of the ’60s and ’70s. Now, in conjunction with the upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Django Unchained, four of these unofficial sequels are being released on two separate double-feature DVDs.

The first film is A Man Called Django, aka W Django, aka Viva Django. All of these films have multiple titles and it can get quite confusing, especially since Viva Django is also an alternate name of a completely different film, Django, Prepare a Coffin. A Man Called Django opens with the murder of a woman who we later learn is Django’s wife. We pick up with Django looking for the gang responsible for her death. Django here is played by Anthony Steffen, who has a bit of a Hugh Jackman vibe going on. He’s fine as a lead, but he seems a bit too lighthearted. Early Spaghetti Westerns were noted for their cynicism, but the success of a film called They Call Me Trinity led many filmmakers to infuse comedy into their Westerns. Django is still on a quest of vengeance, but he smiles the whole time.

A Man Called Django is very reminiscent of The Good the Bad and the Ugly, with Django teaming up with a former member of the gang he is hunting. This character is similar to Tucco from Leone’s film, and the two of them even pull the trick of turning the criminal in for a reward and then saving him. Their uneasy alliance also recalls Death Rides a Horse, another very popular entry in the genre.

A Man Called Django is easily the most polished film of the four on these discs. It is the only one shot in ’scope, although the use of the frame can’t even come close to what Leone and Corbucci did when they were on top of their game. If I were to make a list of essential Spaghetti Westerns, this one would not even enter my mind. But as someone who has a love for the genre, it was fairly enjoyable—and it only started looking better as I moved on to the other films in this series.

Another popular hero of the genre was Sartana, a kind of avenging angel known for using Bond-style gadgets. There were many unofficial Sartana movies, and several unofficial Django Sartana crossovers. The second film on the first DVD is Django and Sartana’s Showdown in the West. I think the first thing to note about this movie is that at no point is there a showdown between Django and Sartana; in fact, they hardly share a scene. A gang kidnaps the daughter of some major figure, and according to the plot synopsis, Django and Sartana team up to go save her. In reality, they do not team up. They are both trying to save her independently.

I have to be honest: I had trouble telling Django and Sartana apart. Both of the lead actors are such generic, bland leading men, they end up looking almost exactly the same. Not only that, they both look like one of the major villains. The lack of a charismatic protagonist is devastating to this movie, and the jumbled plot and long stretches of boredom do nothing to help it. Even the end credits creep up the screen at an agonizing pace. The only redeeming element is the leader of the villainous gang. He seems to be a giant child who cannot read, gets angry at his own reflection in mirrors, and lays on his bed, playing with guns and making “pew pew” sounds with his mouth. He isn’t remotely threatening, but I enjoyed him, as a ’60s-Batman-type villain.

The second DVD contains Django Kills Silently and Django’s Cut Price Corpses. Django Kills Silently starts with a bang. Within moments, a family is attacked and murdered by a gang of Mexican outlaws. Cut to our hero riding into town, as he tends to do. Here, he is played by the giant George Eastman, a mildly respected star of Italian genre movies. Eastman is likable enough, probably in the same league as Anthony Steffen.

This film was made closest to the original Django and bears the most similarities, although the connection is still very tenuous, and unless I missed it, the protagonist is never referred to as Django outside of the film’s title. Django Kills Silently has its moments, but is almost instantly forgettable. It doesn’t have a single original idea and the things it does well have been done better in better movies.

Django’s Cut Price Corpses has the best title of the four movies, and so it was quite disappointing to find that the title was the only exceptional aspect of the film. Here Django is played by Jeff Cameron. Cameron makes more of an impression than the guy from Django and Sartana’s Showdown in the West, but that may be simply because he doesn’t look exactly like the rest of the cast. He is after the Cortez Brothers, as is Fulton, a man sent from a bank to retrieve some stolen money, and a large buffoon named Pickwick who wants to retrieve his stolen saddle. Pickwick is happy to tell you that he wants the saddle, over and over again. While his constant whining was obnoxious, I appreciated the fact that I knew what he wanted.

I never quite got a sense of who Fulton was and why he was there, and I really didn’t understand why Django cared so much about this tiny gang that hides out in a cave for the majority of the film. I always try to avoid lazy criticism, but I have to say that I was bored throughout this film. I didn’t care about anyone on screen and didn’t even want to know anything about them. The short 82-minute running time felt way too long.

All in all, this is a pretty disappointing series of films. The only one I could even slightly recommend is A Man Called Django, and even that would be pretty low on my list of Spaghetti Westerns. The other three are not worthy of the time it takes to watch them. They represent the bottom of the barrel, the entries of a genre that do nothing but repeat clichés with a complete lack of energy or originality. I love the look and feel of Westerns—specifically, Italian Westerns—but even that love could not carry me through the chore of watching these films. It’s not that they’re terrible; it’s that they are completely unremarkable, and only the most diehard fan of the genre would get anything from them. | Sean Lass

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