Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Germany's Koch Media have followed up their wonderfully lavish Sergio Sollima Italo-Western Box with a similarly packaged set that features three genre entries that were marketed as Django films in Germany. As it happens, only one of these shows, Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar (AKA Ten Thousand Dollars Blood Money), had the honour of actually featuring a character called Django when it was first released in Italy (see the intro to the reviews of Django - Unbarmherzig wie die Sonne and Django Shoots First for a brief account of the various circumstances that led to decidedly non-Django-related films suddenly becoming Django-related, etc). As with the Sollima set, the three discs presented here feature both Italian and German language audio tracks that are supported by English subtitles - a welcome feature since all three titles have yet to receive an English language release on DVD in either the UK or America.
The three films on offer here go together quite nicely in as much as all three shows feature protagonists that aren't afraid to show some emotion: real tears are shed by the tough hombres who populate these features. Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar and Django - Der Bastard (AKA Vengeance is Mine) are kind of companion pieces that were both produced by Luciano Martino and Mino Loy. One gets the distinct impression that the producers demanded that their scriptwriters read some of English literature's classic period romances before putting pen to paper: both of these stylish and quite distinctive films feature some really well observed romantic and relationship-orientated scenarios. And care was taken to cast actors who were capable of convincingly expressing and projecting the intense emotions demanded by such material. Nora Orlandi's beautiful but melancholic music greatly complements the actors' efforts in both films and it is this excellent music that Koch Media have been kind enough to present on the bonus CD that accompanies this set. Orlandi's particularly sad and lonely-sounding trumpet pieces - and the dreamy, ethereal theme that accompanies the flashbacks in the second film - are really something else. By comparison, Domenico Paolella's Django - Die Bibel ist Kein Kartenspiel (AKA Execution) suffers from the limitations imposed by a lower budget but it still manages to contain some interesting characters and emotionally charged scenarios.
Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar
1967 / 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9 / 10,000 Dollari per un Massacro, Ten Thousand Dollars Blood Money, Ten Thousand Dollars For a Massacre/ 93 m.
Starring Gary Hudson, Claudio Camaso, Fidel Gonzales, Loredana Nusciak, Fernando Sancho, Adriana Ambesi, Pinuccio Ardia, Franco Lantieri, Massimo Sarchielli, Ermelinda De Felice
Cinematography Federico Zanni
Production Designer Riccardo Domenici
Film Editor Sergio Montanari
Original Music Nora Orlandi
Written by Franco Fogagnolo, Ernesto Gastaldi, Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini
Produced by Luciano Martino and Mino Loy
Directed by Romolo Guerrieri
Django ('Gary Hudson'/Gianni Garko) only goes after bounties that are worth $10,000 or more. Although he has several opportunities to apprehend a vicious Mexican outlaw, Manuel Vasquez (Claudio Camaso), Django repeatedly lets him go because he only has a relatively small bounty on his head. When Django decides to retire to San Francisco with his girlfriend Mijanou (Loredana Nusciak), he agrees to pick up one last bounty but his decision leads to disaster and despair.
Actor Gianni Garko is best known to genre fans as the star of the hugely popular Sartana series - so it's initially kind of strange and disorientating to find him playing a character called Django here. Garko states in the disc's informative interview that no direct connection to the original Django character created by Sergio Corbucci and Franco Nero was intended but the general look of Garko's stylish outfit - and the presence of actress Loredana Nusciak - can't help but bring an inadvertent sense of connection and continuity to the show. Either way, Garko is on great form here. His fast-shooting bounty hunter initially seems to live a double life that is akin to that of a comic book super hero: he kind of disappears between jobs and only the local photographer, Fidelio (Fidel Gonzales, of Johnny Yuma), knows how to contact him. Things change somewhat when he realizes that he is falling in love with the disillusioned owner of a local saloon, Mijanou. She wants out of the wild West and she also wants Django to give up his dangerous and morally dubious career: she's particularly appalled when she observes Django purposefully goading Manuel into committing a criminal act simply because he wants the price on the bandit's head to rise. Django remains reluctant to change but his feelings for Mijanou eventually get the better of him.
At this point the film really becomes an unforced and quite affecting love story. The tensions provoked by Django and Mijanou's different needs, wants and plans for the future are realistically defined and played out. It takes time for the two to really get to know each other and become fully concerned with where their future together lies. Sick of the local state of lawlessness, Mijanou eventually makes it clear that she's heading for San Francisco with or without Django. And when she subsequently nurses him back to health after he is ambushed by two of Manuel's men, Django realizes that he is ready to make a real commitment to her. But when the reward for Manuel suddenly tops $10,000, Django just can't help himself from going after one last pay day. The scriptwriters here appear to have been consciously seeking to transpose a Thomas Hardy-like tale of doomed period romance to a Spaghetti Western setting. And they pretty much succeeded: Django and Mijanou's relationship soon becomes ill-fated and the film's theme switches from one of romance to one of revenge.
Actor Claudio Camaso was the brother of Gian Maria Volonte (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Face to Face) and he was able to play up the family resemblance when he needed to. Camaso also shared his brother's ability to convincingly portray callous and deranged Mexican bandits. As such, Camaso was able to make his own memorable impact on the genre when Volonte chose to become more discerning and politically motivated in his choice of film projects. A further added bonus is the presence of Fernando Sancho (The Big Gundown, The Man From Nowhere, Django Shoots First) in the role of Manuel's equally feral and wayward father. Sancho plays a kind of patriarchal figure who governs a colony of violent Mexican criminals and his character here is much more rounded than the sometimes two-dimensional Mexican general/Mexican bandit types that the actor often played. Sancho eschews his often quite humorous approach and plays things fairly straight here, though there is a blackly-humoured running gag about the accuracy of the sights on his pistol present. While he's effectively made up to look much older than usual, he's as strong and as dangerous as ever and he sports - like most of the characters in the film - a noticeably distinctive and superbly stylized outfit. The effect is a little similar to catching up with a Marvel comic for the first time in twenty years and immediately noticing how much more realistic and defined an old-time super hero looks in his newly updated and upgraded outfit. Both Manuel and his father have active relationships with quite interesting female characters.
Most of the film's technical aspects are of an excellent quality and cinematographer Federico Zanni makes good use of his camera. There's some decent compositional work here and some good camera moves on display. Director Romolo Guerrieri skilfully moves the film's centre of concern from action to romance to action again in an impressively smooth and seamless manner. Guerrieri's ability to comfortably place strong and interesting female characters within the Spaghetti West would be taken to even greater heights with his next genre entry, the spoofy but enjoyable Johnny Yuma. Unusually for a Spaghetti Western, Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar opens with a sequence set on a beach. Django's reclining body fills the screen and he appears to be sunbathing until the camera pulls back and reveals that he's actually laid next to the body of his latest hit and is simply taking a rest after their confrontation. Nora Orlandi's suitably melancholic music is excellent, well up to the standards set by the likes of Ennio Morricone.
This is a splendid presentation of a relatively rare film. Picture quality here is excellent, really sharp and colourful with very little in the way of print damage. I made use of the film's Italian language soundtrack and that was excellent too. And the disc's English subtitles played just fine. The disc's twenty four minute interview with Gianni Garko (subtitled in English) finds the actor discussing his working relationships with Claudio Camaso and Klaus Kinski amongst other things.
Django - Der Bastard
1967 / 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9 / Per 100,000 Dollari Ti Ammazzo, Vengeance is Mine, One Hundred Thousand Dollars Per Killing / 92 m.
Starring Gary Hudson, Claudio Camaso, Piero Lulli, Claudie Lange, Susanna Martinkova, Fernando Sancho, Bruno Corazarri, Andrea Scotti, Silvio Bagolini, Carlo Gaddi
Cinematography Federico Zanni
Production Designer Franco Bottari
Film Editor Eugenio Alabiso
Original Music Nora Orlandi
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Sergio Martino
Produced by Luciano Martino and Mino Loy
Directed by Giovanni Fago
Bounty killer John Forest ('Gary Hudson'/Gianni Garko) finally gets a chance to exact revenge against his duplicitous half-brother (Claudio Camaso) when he spots his face on a 'wanted' poster. But honouring wishes communicated from beyond the grave, allowing his judgement to be clouded by feverish flashbacks and letting his attention be diverted by a cache of stolen gold results in John getting careless.
Here producers Luciano Martino and Mino Loy present a Spaghetti Western that incorporates a really intense and tragic story of lost love and inter-family betrayal. The resultant effect is kind of like taking a story that one of the Bronte sisters might have written and transposing it directly to the Spaghetti West. Gianni Garko turns in another top-notch performance here as the tormented, anguished and world-weary John Forest. As in Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar, every effort is made to make the romantic relationships encountered here as detailed and as realistic as possible. You can't help but feel for Forest and his current girlfriend, Anne (Claudie Lange). She loves him deeply and her son is starting to look upon him as his father but Forest just can't open up and make a commitment to the pair.
A series of beautifully realized flashbacks and feverish dreams reveal just what is troubling Forest: seemingly the most popular of two brothers, a younger John is seen winning a beach-based riding contest and winning the heart of a local girl. His increasingly resentful brother Clint (Claudio Camaso) is depicted as second-best on both counts. Further flashbacks show the deeply romantic side of John's nature and his contented and fulfilled outlook on life. Then it is suddenly revealed that John is not his father's son and he winds up taking the blame for a crime committed by Clint. Ostracized by his girlfriend, his family and his community, John spends time behind bars before being reduced to becoming a bounty killer. Years later he has managed to acquire everything that he needs to start a new life but he just cannot let go of the past.
One day Anne reveals that a passing surgeon-major from John's hometown called by looking for him and told her about John's past. He confirmed that John's ex-girlfriend hadn't waited for him but Forest needs to hear this for himself and so he winds up heading into the territories where Southern troops are retreating from the Unionists. This section of the film features some very The Good, The Bad and The Ugly-like Civil War details. Representations of realistically shattered towns, frightened civilians making ready to flee from the oncoming carnage, exhausted troops on the move and impromptu army hospitals that carry a determinedly anti-war vibe all loom large here. John eventually finds the surgeon-major who also confirms that John's mother is no longer living. With Clint now a criminal, her final wish was for John to bring him to justice alive. And, in the event that they must fight, John must not draw first. This request - which gives the film its own unique twist - kind of constrains John's ability to fully exact his revenge but he's determined to abide by it.
In time we learn that Clint is as bad, as untrustworthy and as greedy as any Spaghetti Western villain but he's also a good actor. He's got a knack for convincingly talking his way out of trouble and he acts pretty smart when he eventually needs to distract John from his intended mission. A parallel narrative has Clint and two pals double-crossing Jurago (Piero Lulli of Django Kill) and his men and escaping with a cache of stolen military gold. Clint then double-crosses his duplicitous pals too. The later reappearance of these criminals causes complications for John when he eventually apprehends Clint and the balance of power, which is contested three ways by John, Clint and the other villains, convincingly changes on a number of occasions during the latter half of the film. There's plenty of action, intrigue and heartache along the way (.... Spoiler begins) but it does eventually come down to John facing Clint in a duel: the heart-rending final shot of John's blood and sand-caked face, his final utterance to Clint and the sequence that follows it have been known to prompt tears from even the most macho of genre fans (.... spoiler ends).
This is another relatively rare but near enough excellent genre entry. As with Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar, the inclusion of convincingly rendered romantic and relationship-based scenarios adds a further dimension to the film and makes for something a little different. And, once again, there's nothing forced about the presence of the female characters here. We're still in the same dangerous and unforgiving Spaghetti West created by Sergio Leone and the women in these two Martino and Loy films remain just as vulnerable as the male characters: there are no concessions in the form of silly/unrealistic/humorous set-pieces granted on the basis of gender here. Django - Der Bastard also contains some other quite interesting elements. The dreamy nature of the slow-motion-shot flashbacks to happier times would certainly appear to have influenced the flashbacks featured in Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite. As with John Mallory in Leone's film, John Forest's past is literally another world when compared to his present: high society types who dressed well and lived in a mansion close to the coast, the Forest family were about as far removed from the wild West as they could possibly be.
There are also some interesting supporting characters present here too. There's a very brave and excellently realized elderly Marshal character who explains that he's had to take on the job because all of the local young men have gone off to fight in the war. Piero Lulli's Jurago is the kind of gleefully wicked gang leader that the actor specialized in playing. And Fernando Sancho appears in a cameo at the start of the film. Possessing both a pistol and the shooting skills that allow him to blow heavy doors right off their hinges, Sancho and three Mexican desperadoes go gunning for John Forest but wind up having the bounties on their heads collected instead. There's also some great art direction on view in this film and special care was taken to make the costumes featured look realistic and lived in: all of the costumes on display here have been suitably aged and dirtied, Sergio Leone-style. The show's cinematography (Federico Zanni, again) and other technical aspects are all of a high standard while composer Nora Orlandi turns in another excellent and emotionally charged soundtrack score. John Forest is renamed Django in the German language version of this film and the German title, Django - Der Bastard, would appear to duplicate that of Sergio Garrone's excellent supernatural Spaghetti Western, Django the Bastard.
The quality of this presentation is just as pleasing as that of Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar. The picture quality here is excellent and there's very little in the way of print damage. I made use of the film's Italian language soundtrack and that was excellent too. And the disc's English subtitles played just fine. This disc features the second part of an interview with Gianni Garko (subtitled in English). Clocking in at 29 minutes, contributions from Giuliano Carmineo and Guglielmo Spoletini are also featured.
Django - Die Bibel ist Kein Kartenspiel
Koch Media (Germany)
1968 / 1.85:1 anamorphic 16:9 / Execution / 89 m.
Starring John Richardson, Dick Palmer, Rita Klein, Franco Giornelli, Piero Vida, Nestor Garay, Romano Magnino, Dalia Bresciani, Lucio de Santis, Ivan Scratuglia
Cinematography Aldo Scavarda
Production Designer Luciano Vincenti
Film Editor Alfonso Mula
Original Music Lallo Gori
Written by Fernando Franchi, Domenico Paolella and Giancarlo Zagni
Produced by Fernando Franchi
Directed by Domenico Paolella
A desperado called Clint ('Dick Palmer'/Mimmo Palmara) is released from jail and he immediately sets about tracking down one John Coler (John Richardson). It turns out that Coler was an ex-partner who duped Clint out of his share of a fortune in stolen gold. Clint succeeds in catching up with Coler's look-alike younger brother, Bill (John Richardson, again), resulting in much confusion. Unfortunately Clint's heavy-handed approach results in both a gang of vicious Mexican bandits and Bill's circus troupe chums taking an active interest in locating John Coler and the stolen gold too.
This is a quite obscure, lower-middle tier Spaghetti Western and its appearance on DVD will no doubt excite hard-core genre fans. It's a low budget affair but the film's technical crew made fairly good use of their limited resources. There are odd sequences here that play a little flat and rushed and there is also a bit of padding present in the form of extended chases and the like. But, by contrast, quite a number of brave attempts to employ interesting Leone-like camera angles and innovative Leone-like camera moves can be found here too. These efforts aren't always completely successful but the fact that director Domenico Paolella cared enough to even try and compete with the genre's big boys wins the film a degree of goodwill from me. The film may have been somewhat hampered by its low budget but knowing that Paolella wasn't a lazy hack who just cynically plonked his camera down and hoped for the best makes it easier to forgive the film its most obvious shortcomings.
It's worth noting that the film's final, action-packed and gimmicky shoot-out is actually pretty well staged and is worth sticking around for. And while there are plenty of familiar genre staples here - the mean and moody vengeance-seeker Clint, the cache of stolen military gold, the gang of vicious Mexican bandits, the gaggle of circus folk, etc - this show remains a quite distinctive genre entry that is reasonably original in its outlook and execution. At one point Bill Coler and one of his circus pals put on a crazed mime act-cum-staged street fight as publicity for their show but they only succeed in bemusing the drinkers in the local saloon. It's a sequence that kind of predates some of the routines witnessed in Gianfranco Parolini's Sabata films. The film's requisite interrogation sequence features a very bizarre ritual that involves the use of a medieval knight's mace and a jar of leeches. And there's even a pool shark character here who possesses a gadget-rigged pool cue.
The nearest thing the film has to a recognizable star is John Richardson, who made a brief splash in a trio of Hammer films (One Million Years B.C., She and Vengeance of She) before choosing to work almost exclusively within the Italian film industry. 'Dick Palmer' is Mimmo Palmara, an actor who played supporting roles in a good number of reasonably well known genre entries. Euro-cult fans might recognize one or two other minor faces here but quite a number of this show's cast were unfamiliar to me. But that kind of adds to the film's charm: it's refreshing to come across a film from a popular genre that actually features actors who are largely 'new' faces. But while these faces may be unfamiliar there's nothing much wrong with their acting abilities: the film's low budget does result in one or two slightly shaky performances (you know the drill by now) but the acting here is of a decent standard for the most part. In fact John Richardson does a very good job of bringing both Bill and John Coler to life. Employing one actor in dual roles doesn't always work successfully but Richardson is quite convincing as the two Coler brothers. And the camera trickery and editing used when the two brothers interact with each other works well enough too. One technical element that is beyond reproach is Lallo Gori's excellent and superbly rousing soundtrack score.
What this film lacks in terms of budget and technical expertise it more than makes up for with the surprises that its story-line throws up. Scriptwriters Fernando Franchi, Domenico Paolella and Giancarlo Zagni cleverly and convincingly use some quite novel ideas and unexpected occurrences to really upset the conventions that long-established models of classical narrative development have routinely promoted as the norm. The film's initial "could Bill Coler really be John Coler?" puzzle is played out well but the show contains many more surprises that are best appreciated without prior warning. Bill Coler in particular makes for a quite unusual genre hero. He can recognize the appeal of gold and untold wealth but he also realizes that there is sometimes a heavy price to be paid by those who let their lives be governed by uncontrollable greed. (.... Spoiler begins) Bill does his best to bring about a resolution that will satisfy all of the film's main players but there are few winners here and Bill can't really be classed as one of them. The show's finale has Bill enjoying a poignant flashback before he is unceremoniously jerked back to reality: his response is to violently cast both his gun and the bar of gold that he is holding to the ground before breaking down in tears of anger and regret (.... spoiler ends).
In terms of picture and sound quality, this is a quite stunning presentation. This may be an obscure and low-ish budget film but Koch Media have applied the same impressive quality controls that govern the remastering and presentation of their more well known genre titles. The picture quality here is excellent, really sharp and colourful. I made use of the film's Italian language soundtrack and that was excellent too. As ever, the disc's English subtitles played just fine.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Django - 10,000 Blutige Dollar rates:
Supplements: Gianni Garko interview part one, trailers and an image gallery
Django - Der Bastard rates:
Supplements: Gianni Garko interview part two, trailers and an image gallery
Django - Die Bibel ist Kein Kartenspiel rates:
Supplements: trailer and an image gallery
Packaging: Three DVDs, a CD and a booklet (German language only) housed in a fold-out digipack which is in turn housed in a card box.
Reviewed: February 11, 2006
Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson