Friday, June 29, 2012

Django the Bastard (aka The Stranger's Gundown)


                                                              1969
                                               Director: Sergio Garrone
                       Starring: Anthony Steffen, Paolo Gozlino, Luciano Rossi

                                                    

Sergio Corbucci's 'Django' was a huge hit in 1966. So popular and infuential was this seminal Spaghetti Western that lesser filmmakers began cranking out dozens of unrelated films with the name Django in an attempt to cash in on the original's success (isn't this always the case in every genre?). Many of these were pretty listless but a few were actually quite good (though none could touch Corbucci's original). This one, Django the Bastard is one of the best and a fine 'Gothic' Western as well.

After the credits (complete with appropriately stirring theme track) unspool, we are treated to one of the great opening sequences in the genre. A mysterious gunman (black hat and poncho, the whole nine yards) enters a small town carrying a handmade, wooden cross with the name Sam Hawkins on it as well as the current date. Hawkins emerges from an inn and recognizes the man as Django. Django quickly kills Hawkins who drops dead conveniently right in front of the cross specially made for him. As flashbacks slowly reveal, Django was a Union soldier whos squad was betrayed on  the battfield by a trio of Generals who sold them out to the Yanks. Left for dead, Django has re emerged to wreak his vengeance upon the three traitors. But is it actually Django or his ghost that they find themselves up against?

Director Sergio Garrone is not in the same league with the other Sergios (Leone and Corbucci) but under the right circumstance, he can coax himself into presenting a decent film. Django the Bastard is probably his best. The early scenes in particular are extremely well done. Throughout the early portion, it is suggested that Django is an invincible, avenging spirit (a Grim Reaper of sorts) and the comeuppance wrought upon each of the wrongdoers has a wonderfull air of the supernatural. It almost feels as much like a Giallo as it does an Italo Western. Unfortunately, the second half of the film can't quite keep the sense of dread going. The story bogs down slightly as we are introduced to one the Generals' evil, twisted brother (an admittedly creepy character) who among other incidentals takes a bit away from the central story. Things do wrap up with a well executed final one on one showdown, but some of the power is lost by that point.

As Django, Anthony Steffen is his usual solemn self. He isn't bad here, but his interpretation of Django falls short (as all other Djangos do) of Franco Nero's definitive portrayal. Of course, it was a little difficult for me to judge his perf here as the English dubbing on the print I saw was just terrible.

Overall, Django the Bastard makes for a good entry in the faux Django series. If you like atmosphere in your Spaghetti Westerns, then this one is for you.

                                                              *** / ****




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