A Fistful of Westerns: The Making of The Italian West
Part VIII: The Bastard Sons of Django
After the success of Sergio Corbucci’s Django, Italian westerns started slapping that name on just about any film whether the character was named Django or not, much like Leone’s “stranger” character. Around fifty films came out with the name Django in it, The Return of Django, Django Does Not Forgive, Django The Bastard, Gun Man of One Hundred Crosses (I have a French poster) which depending on the country was Django or Sartana, (Sartana is another series, I’ll get into in a future blog) just to name a few. Some of these were just re-titlings of different films and most of the ones I’ve seen aren’t very good, but two of them were very good, Fernando Baldi’s Preparati Le Bera Django Prepare A Coffin and Giulio Questi’s Se Sei Vivo Spera or Django Kill…if You Live Shoot!
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Django Prepare A Coffin (1968) also refereed to as Viva Django in some countries, is probably the closest Django ever got to getting some kind of sequel, in this case a prequel, Django did get an “official” sequel in the 80s Django Strikes Back. In Coffin original Django Actor, Franco Nero, wasn’t around so producers cast German Italian actor Mario Girotti, who had just taken the stage name of Terrence Hill and looks remarkably like Franco Nero but slightly younger, though he’s a couple years older.
In Django Prepare A Coffin, Django is a friend of politician David Barry (German actor Horst Frank, The Head, Cat O’ Nine Tailspin) who offers him a job for lots of money, Django declines because he wants to settle down with his wife, but before he does this he delivers a shipment of cash and is ambushed leaving him badly injured but killing his wife. Five years later the local sheriff hires Django as the hangman, but Django has something up his sleeves, revenge! Django knows that Sheriff Lucas (writer, director, actor George Eastman), was responsible for the ambush five years latter. Before hanging the people he straps a hook onto them to fool everyone, then cuts them down later, freeing them and assembling a gang to help him go after Lucas when he’s ready. Garcia, one of f the freed innocents knows where the stolen gold is stashed and convinces the others to steal it behind Django’s back, after all they’re just stealing it from their former jailers.
Directed by Fernando Baldi, this was supposed to be a trilogy, as actor Franco Nero signed for three pictures. Nero did star in Fernando Baldi’s Texas Adios ( though not a sequel to Django, it was marketed as such in some countries), but producers wanted Terrence Hill instead. Since it’s an unofficial prequel Django is supposed to be younger and Hill definitely does look younger.
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Director Fernando Baldi had primarily directed Sword and Sandal epics by this point, he co-directed the Orson Welles starer David and Goliath (Welles also was an uncredited Director on the picture as well) Django Prepare A Coffin would be his second spaghetti western after Texas Adios. What Baldi lacks in cinematic virtuoso he more than makes up for it in his action scenes. One of the stand out scenes is when Django traps Lucas and his gang in a saloon and a shoot out commences.
This moment plays out almost like a war picture, with gun fire everywhere and Django sets the saloon on fire. For further impact Baldi sets this sequence at night making the pyrotechnics center stage. The editing is fast paced and taunt. There’s a big reveal, which I won’t say here) and Django meets up with with a gang of men for a final shoot out in a cemetery, this time he’s not all banged up like in Django. Here he patiently digs up a coffin next to his wife’s grave as he waits for the final confrontation. It’s strange that this wasn’t considered an official sequel as there are so many similarities their names are the same, the Gatling gun makes an appearance, he gets beat up badly and is “resurrected”, and speaking of resurrection…
Django, is literally resurrected in Giuliano Questi’s debut feature, the subversive Django Kill…If You Live Shoot. The film is perhaps the most violent and disturbing western ever made and made by a first time director.
After being a journalist and making a series of documentaries director Giuliano Questi tried his hand at acting playing future Warhol Superstar Nico’s man in Fellini’s La Dulce Vita. In 1965 Questi was writing a horror film along with Franco Arcalli, which he would later later return to direct called Death Laid an Egg (a Giallo film that takes place on a chicken farm and stared Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignant) when he was asked to write and direct a western and Se Si Vivo Spara! (If You Live Shoot) was the creation.
Django Kill… is one messed up sickie, I’ll try to give a quick synopsis. As typical of spaghetti westerns, Cavalrymen are delivering a cache of gold when a gringo gang and a Mexican gang lead by Cuban actor Tomas Milian (Companeros, Soderbergh’s Traffic) ambush them and steal the gold. Milian’s character here is a half breed called The Stranger and not Django as the title implies. When they meet to split the money the gringo gang pull guns on the Mexicans and make them dig a trench and gun them down including The Stranger. The gringos pick up and leave.
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They arrive at a ghostly, seemingly abandoned town and this is when things get down right creepy and weird. As the gringos walk their burrows along the street there’s a little naked kid taking a piss like one of those peeing cherub statues, another guys sits in a rocking chair with his foot on top of a little girl while she screams “let me go, Uncle. In a window they see some man abusing a woman then she bites his arm. “It sure don’t look like heaven.” one of the gang says. Before they killed the Mexicans there was a shootout and their horses ran away. I’ve always assumed that these guys are in some kind of purgatory suffering for their actions. We’re hateful of these guys for the murders we just witnessed but director Questi is now making us fearful for them.
Meanwhile two Native American’s embarrassingly played by a couple of Italians looking a lot like Buster Keaton’s Chief Rotten Eagle From AIP’s Pajama Party, resurrect The Stranger (this scene was lopped off the version I recently watched but is on a disk I have) they nurse him back to health and use part of his gold to make golden bullets for him. For their help they ask him to tell them the secrets of the Land of The Dead.
Back in town the gang go into a saloon, obviously frightened by what they’ve seen. The bar keep leaves to tell the shop clerk/preacher that these men are evil. The towns folk all come out and brutally murder the gang. This scene is not a typical cowboy shoot ‘em up but a vicious scene that would fit in a horror picture. They beat them and hang them, some upside down. Oaks the gang leader is still alive when The Stranger shows up.
The Stranger looks around and is obviously shocked by what he’s witnessing when another gang shows up, Zorro and his gang of black clad homosexual’s he calls his Muchacho’s, yes you read that right this isn’t some subtextual thing it’s right there in your face. The Stranger shoots Oaks with his golden bullets but doesn’t kill him.
Zorro knows about the gold and doesn’t want him dead so the townsfolk bring him into the saloon to get the bullet out. Once they discover the bullet is gold they rip his stomach open and start digging for golden bullets, this scene could be in Dawn of The Dead its that graphic!
The picture gets weirder and weirder, but the plot structure is a warped variant of Fistful of Dollars. The religious motifs are everywhere eventually The Stranger is crucified by Zorro. The Muchacho’s gang rape the greedy bar keeps son, off screen thankfully, and he ends up killing himself. The film is so over the top subversive that you can’t stop watching it. The action scenes are very good and Tomas Milian’s performance is excellent. (He would later win a SAG award for Traffic) If filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini were to have made a spaghetti western I imagine this is what it would look like. This film was a huge influence on Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell.
The gay Muchacho’s became the coffee addicted banditos played by Irish Folk Punk band The Pogues and the gringo and Mexican gang was morphed in to the characters Joe Strummer, Sy Richardson, Dick Rude and Courtney Love.
Next: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.