Blue Underground presents an excellent collection of four notable films, each with their own particular style showcasing why the Spaghetti Western spent nearly a decade dominating the Italian film market and provided a new distinctive voice to an already popular and well-worn genre. The first film, Django, is exclusive to this box set.
DJANGO (1966)- Dragging a coffin behind him, Django (Franco Nero) appears in a god-forsaken town divided between two factions, General Hugo Rodriguez and his banditos and Major Jackson and his gang of racist, red hooded Klansmen. Between the opposed groups stands the towns brothel. Django makes a quick enemy in Maj. Jackson when he kills a few Klansmen that were torturing a local whore, Maria. Django takes on Maj. Jackson and forty Klansmen single-handedly and strikes a deal with Hugo to rob a cache of gold from a nearby fort. Eventually, all of his plans do not end up roses; Django is left crippled, his hands shattered, but still determined to get his vengeance on Maj. Jackson and his remaining men.
One of the key genre definers that capably took the Leone mantle and inspired hundreds of unrelated sequels that slapped Django in the title merely as a means to profit from the films success. While the basic and clumsily executed concept of the almost superhuman gunfighter entering a divided town, being beaten, and eventually gaining revenge is very Yojimbo or Fistful of Dollars, the atmosphere really sets it apart. The town is a dirty place, just on the outskirts of Hell, empty except for the brothel-saloon, muddy streets, an overflowing graveyard, and far filthier bad guys. Likewise, Django is has a little more definition that the mysterious "Man With No Name" but he is also just as self serving and deadly with a gun. And it is all on the shoulders of director Sergio Corbucci and star Franco Nero. The two would see much success in the genre, and make far better films, Cobucci with classics like The Great Silence, Nero in The Mercenary and Companeros (both also directed by Cobucci), but Django stands as a landmark in the early days of Spaghetti cinema.
Picture: Widescreen, 16X9 enhanced. First of all, Blue Underground does offer a word of warning, or more precisely, an explanation. While the print was taken from the recently unearthed original 35 mm negative, that negative had a fair amount of age damage and wear and tear. So, while the color, sharpness, and contrast are in pretty good shape, the print is marred by frequent spots, watermarks, grain, specks, flecks, and the occasional flutter or lines that BU's restoration team was unable to remedy.
In comparison to the previous Anchor Bay version, Blue Underground's transfer is less washed out, the colors, contrast, and sharpness all see a marked improvement. I compared two scenes, the finale and the negotiation between Django and Hugo in the saloon. In the saloon scene, BU's improved definition makes the sweat on their faces glisten and their stubble is clearer. In the finale, both prints have the right side of the frame marred by some wear. However, while AB's disc shows the landscape as a muddy mix of grays and brown, Bu's has many more tones to the dirt and rocks, as well as the bloody contusions on Django's face, and the stained, dirty hues of his jacket. However, because it is washed out and more muted, the AB versions print damage is less noticeable, but overall, despite the damage, the Blue Underground transfer is still very superior.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English or Italian language tracks with optional white English subtitles. The English dub track is deeper, more resounding. Naturally the two translations offer different slants, and while the English dub is a stronger audio track, it should be noted the Italian track offers Nero's own dub (something the AB version didn't have) and probably presents the characters more in tune with how Corbucci and Nero intended.
Extras: 23 Chapters--- Liner notes--- Trailer--- Photo Gallery, 45 posters, lobby cards, and stills--- Talent Bios for Sergio Corbucci and Franco Nero--- "DJANGO: The One and Only", 13 min featurette interview with Franco Nero and assistant cameraman Ruggero Deodato.
DJANGO KILL... IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967)- Nameless, half-breed bandit (Tomas Milan- Almost Human, Don't Torture a Duckling, The Cynic, The Rat, and The Fist) is left for dead when his Anglo partners double cross him, shooting him and his fellow Mexicans down after they stole a cache of US Cavalry protected gold. He is rescued by two Indians, who become his sidekicks, giving him bullets of gold for his revenge and revering this man who has returned from the other side. However, as he tracks the turncoats, he finds they have already met their death at the hands of an odd nearby town that has dispensed their own brand of quick justice on the thieves. The gold has been divided by the two town heads, the overtly religious Oldeman, and the seedy saloon owner Templer. The half-breed finds himself torn, attempting to help out both Templers' son, who is abducted by the bandit Mr Sorrow in exchange for the gold, and Oldeman's, possibly insane wife, who Oldeman keeps locked in a room.
Defintiely a Spaghetti like no other. If You Live, Shoot! (the Django Kill bit was just tacked on to cash in on Django's popularity) is an uncompromisingly surreal opus, more in line with Luis Bunuel or Ingmar Bergman than Sergio Leone. It is probably a testament to blind financial backing that such an offbeat film got made, and thank heavens for that. Director Giulio Questi (Death Laid and Egg) definitely has and eye for the hallucinatory and symbolic. The half-breed is not some assured enigmatic gunfighter out for revenge or profit like most Spaghetti protagonists, but is instead a Christlike figure (always wearing a headband, at one point his is even crucified by Mr. Sorrow) drawn into this nightmare world. The object of his revenge, the man who double-crossed him, dies because the townspeople begin gleefully, greedily probing his body after they find out the half-breed used gold bullets to shoot him. Likewise, he is after the gold, more because it he sees it as a source of corruption. Mr. Sorrow's gang is a bloodthirsty homosexual posse that wears identical black outfits (symbolic of Italy's fascist regime). Definite not for your average Spaghetti fan, but rewarding for those who enjoy this kind of style (myself included). Infamous for its bizarre surreal logic, an off kilter, often gruesome vision, If You Live, Shoot! deserves it's reputation as a great offbeat bit of cult cinema.
Picture: Widescreen, 16X9 enhanced. Print is is pretty good shape, considering its age and genre, very little wear and tear.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English or Italian language tracks with optional white English subtitles. Both tracks have the standard bit of dub muffle but they are overall quite clear and free of any distracting hiss, pops, and such distortion. The differences I noticed between the two tracks include more musical underscoring on the English track and a bit more dialogue on the Italian track.
Extras: 26 Chapters--- Liner notes--- Trailer--- Photo Gallery, 37 posters, lobby cards, and stills--- Talent bios for Giulio Questi and Tomas Milan--- "Django Tell", a new 21 min fantastic featurette in which Questi and Milan recall the film in great detail.
RUN, MAN, RUN! (1968, aka Big Gundown 2) – Scruffy, uneducated, but amiable, low level Mexican thief Cuchillo (Tomas Milan) finds himself in the center of the revolution. After being jailed with revolutionary poet Ramirez, in exchange for $100 he aides Ramirez in his escape. But, when Ramirez is killed and Cuchillo has been entrusted with the location of a hidden cache of revolutionary gold, Cuchillo is wanted by several factions vying for the fortune- including, the bandit Riza, the cruel President Diaz's bounty hunters, Cuchillo's sultry bride-to-be Dolores, the revolutionary General Santillana (cameo by John Ireland- Hate for Hate, Southwest Passage, Little Big Horn), the fanatical Salvation Army Sgt. Penny, and the self serving, ex-sheriff, gunman Cassidey (Donald O'Brien- The Sect, Dr. Butcher M.D., Keoma).
Unfortunatley, never distributed in the US, this was my first time seeing the film and, in my opinion, is among the best Spaghetti Westerns I have seen. Run, Man Run's fun style, elements of lighthearted comedy, realistic brutality, and a very political subject matter, reminded me a lot of Segio Corbucci's excellent The Mercenary and Compañeros. Director Sergio Sollima was always a 'high road' director(The Big Gundown, Face to Face, Violent City and Revolver) and when compared to many of his Italian cinema cohorts, he was much more concerned with the substance of his films than their ability to appeal to a mass audience. Rather than the usual Spaghetti Western action (though there is still plenty of that on hand), Run, Man Run is richer in politics, laughs, and colorful characters. Cuchillo is simply a great protagonist, so uneducated he doesn't know how to use a gun (he throws knives) much less a shovel, and completely in over his head. It hinges on ones taste for his character and the comedy, such as this exchange when Cuchillo is trying to cross the border and asks for directions, "Excuse me, amigo"- "I ain't your amigo, you dirty Mexican."- "I think we're in Texas."
Picture: Widescreen, 16X9 enhanced. Print looks great. Very little wear whatsoever, save the usual Spaghetti Western graininess, or occasional speckle of dirt, but overall fantastic with no noticeable transfer defects.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English or Italian language tracks with optional white English subtitles. Well, the Dub Vs Sub debate when it comes to Spaghetti westerns (Although Italian in origin, they featured international casts, they were recorded without sound, always intended to be dubbed into respective languages of the countries where they were distributed) is one thing, but, technically, the English dub track on Run, Man, Run! is much, much clearer. The Italian track has a tinny, 'canned' sound, and the overall mix isn't as full as the English dub. Once again, it comes to personal preference since the dialogue is different in a few subtle ways depending on the track you choose.
Extras: 27 Chapters--- Liner notes--- Trailer--- Photo Gallery 27 posters, lobby cards, and stills--- Italian Credit Sequence--- Talent Bio s for Sergio Sollima and Tomas Milan--- "Westerns: Italian Style" 36 min kitschy program about Spaghetti Westerns from the late 60's. While it does have some very lame stuff like western fashion, western themed weddings, and western themed bars with two horrible songs by a duo calling themselves "John and Wayne", it does have behind the scenes bits with key directors of the genre, including a young, buff Enzo G. Castellari (difficult to say which film he's making, says it is his fourth, but he made four films in 1968, probably it is Kill Them All and Come Back Alone since Chuck Conners also appears later in the show), Sergio Corbucci filming The Great Silence, Sergio Sollima editing Run, Man, Run, and preparing the train for Leones Once Upon a Time in the West.--- "Run, Man , Run: 35 Years of Running", new 17 min featurette interviewing Sollima and Milan about the film. Really fantastic, while both men love the film, their contrasting opinions of each other are great, such as Sollima's dislike for Milan's reliance on method acting, and Milan's confidence in his skills, "I'm fucking talented." Sollima, also reveals a very interesting secret about the film score.
MANNAJA: A MAN CALLED BLADE (1977)- Mysterious bounty hunter, Blade (Maurizio Merli -Violent Protection, Convoy Busters, Violent Rome) arrives in the town of Suttonville, which is ruled over by a religious zealot and silver baron named McGowan and his henchman Voller (John Stiener- Cut and Run, Tenebre, The Last Hunter). Blade has a vendetta against McGowan, and soon makes his presence known by taking on Voller's men and helping out a traveling burlesque show that that the uptight McGowan tries to banish from the town. Blade's mission is sidetracked when Voller double crosses McGowan by setting up the kidnapping McGowan's daughter, and Blade's attempt to help the old man goes bad, leaving Blade buried up to his neck, eyes burned out and blinded by the sun. Blade is saved and is forced to seek out his revenge blind but still determined and deadly.
A Man Called Blade falls into the norm of most Spaghetti Westerns, like Django, an entertaining action piece featuring an enigmatic lead character up against some dastardly bad guys. It was made when the genre had faded out and stands as, by most accounts, the last Spaghetti Western and a decent enough swan song for the genre. Director Sergio Martino (Mountain of the Cannibal God, Torso, Case of the Scorpions Tail, Devil Fish, The Great Alligator) is a prolific, I guess it would be fair to say, b-filmmaker, and Man Called Blade is one of his better efforts. Until the end, it is a perfectly paced and well plotted action adventure, and then it gets a tad silly when a blinded Blade is in a cave fashioning crude axes (his weapon of choice, hence the name) and the inevitable finale of axe Vs. pistol showdown. The films saving grace, even with the silliness of the finale, is in the atmosphere that Martino shrouds the film with. The intro with Blade chasing a fugitive through a misty swamp has an almost horror overtone. Blade and Voller's men have a rough and undignified hand to hand brawl in the towns muddy main street. And even the finales, Blade in a cave, picking off Voller's men and Blade Vs. Voller in a dense fog, have such assured direction that it makes the laughable plotting forgivable. This atmosphere combined with star Maurizio Merli's presence makes the film a really entertaining action adventure.
Picture: Widescreen, 16X9 enhanced. Perhaps because it is the most recent of the films, the color, contrast, and sharpness on A Man Called Blade is the strongest. While there are still some age wear, graininess, spots, and occasional slight background edge enhancement, it is a very pleasing print of the film and should more than satisfy fans.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English or Italian language tracks with optional white English subtitles. Aside from translation, the disparity between the tracks was minor. Both were in good shape, usual slight dub muffle, but overall clear and strong, especially when it comes to the music and its weird, booming, unforgettable theme song.
Extras: 24 Chapters--- Liner notes--- Trailer--- Photo Gallery 16 posters, lobby cards, and stills--- Talent bios for Sergio Martino and Maurizio Merli--- "A Man Called Sergio", new 12 min featurette interviewing director Martino about the film.
Conclusion: If you are a fan, this collection is a godsend. Certainly it is also a good introduction, showcasing a wide range of Spaghettis, from the landmark Django, to the comic/political Run, Man Run!, to the surreal If You Live... Shoot!, to the pulp action of A Man Called Blade. Blue Underground is a new company, only a few months old, but they are already defining themselves as one of the best cult genre companies out there by seeking out quality transfer material and solid extras.