Two low-rent but respectable meat 'n' potatoes (or is it pasta and bread?) spaghetti Westerns. Just in time to soak up some of that residual promo gravy from
former video clerk director Tarantino's latest juvenile, racist ripoff homage to something he watched on VHS over and over again, Timeless Media, a division of Shout! Factory, has released Django! Double Feature: A Man Called Django! and Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West (original Italian titles: W Django! and Arrivano Django e Sartana...e la Fine), from 1971 and 1970 respectively. Even casual fans of the genre will enjoy these unsurprising but admirably straightforward efforts, buoyed by Timeless/Shout!'s sweet anamorphic transfers and trailers/posters extras for these little-seen Italian oaters. Let's look very briefly at each title.
A MAN CALLED DJANGO!
As she prepares for bed, a woman opens her door, expecting her husband, and four bandits enter. Roughing her up, she reaches for a pistol and is shot dead on her bed, her music box playing nearby. Enter silent but deadly gunslinger Django (Anthony Steffen), who arrives in border town La Puerto, looking for bandit Carranza (Stelio Candelli)...who's just about to be strung up by Jeff (Cris Avram), the latest warlord to control the town. Django executes a rescue of Carranza, knowing that, although he wasn't one of the men who killed his wife, Carranza does know the names of the other four murderers. Teaming up with Carranza, Django relentlessly hunts down his prey.
Directed by Edoardo Mulargia, going here by "Edward G. Muller" (Pray to God and Dig Your Grave, Go With God, Gringo), and scripted by Nino Stresa (Goliath and the Barbarians, Sabata, the Killer), A Man Called Django! (also known here as Viva! Django) borrows the basic framework of Henry King's Gregory Peck Western, The Bravados, filtered through the now-standard conventions of the spaghetti Western genre. Not in any way "deep" or ironic or complicated in its themes or execution, A Man Called Django! is rather straightforward in telling its standard revenge melodrama...and there's nothing wrong with that approach. Comedy elements that were already beginning to seep into the peaked spaghetti Western genre crop up (Django's blowing up a bandit with a 1/4 stick of TNT; Django posing as a friar to rescue Carranza; pulling Jeff and Lola's bed through town as Jeff's henchman comically run into pillars and posts), while inevitable borrows from more famous, successful westerns all'italiana appear (Django's and Carranza's relationship is a direct lift of Eastwood and Wallach from Leone's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).
While the structuring and the framing are pretty standard, Mulargia keeps the action coming at a steady pace (those final stop-n-go freeze frames are pretty cool), executing some fairly energetic shoot-outs that always leave the viewer properly oriented to the action, while keeping the choreography simple and to the point. Not top-flight western all'italiana, but respectable, quick-moving, and quite entertaining, with Steffen's famously diffident stance perfectly suited to not only the material, but also Mulargia's clean, anonymous approach.
DJANGO AND SARTANA'S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST
Bandit Burt Kelly (Gordon Mitchell) has stolen the gold bullion payroll for Fort Bellamy's troops, and he has to hightail it over the Mexican border to avoid the avenging soldiers. To do so, he kidnaps Jessica Brewster (Simonetta Vitelli), the beautiful daughter of a nearby rancher, to hold her hostage. Burt's plan backfires when the townspeople begin to talk of employing bounty hunters to find Burt, so he orders his henchmen to take out his two most dangerous foes: gunslinger Django (Jack Betts, here as "Hunt Powers"), and the mysterious Sartana (Franco Borelli), who seeks justice in the Old West without pay. Soon, Django and Sartana form an unspoken alliance to defeat the mad dog killer Kelly...before he kills them.
Despite the deceptive, misleading nature of the title that suggests a final battle between the two famous Italian spaghetti Western characters (the English translation of the original title, Django and Sartana Are Coming...It's the End is way better, anyway, and makes more sense), Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West is yet another cheap knock-off of the more notable "official" franchises. The Django of this movie acts in accordance with the conventions of any standard western all'italiana anti-hero, without specifically referencing the Corbucci creation (he kills for money, he's rough with his women, he's cynically amused by his own tenuous alliances and vendettas), while the Sartana character offers vague hints of the original (he's described as "mysterious" at one point, while at the finale, he refuses remuneration for his "good deeds") without exploiting the Bondian elements of the original. Directed by Demofilo Fidani (Down With Your Hands...You Scum!, His Name Was Sam Walbash, But They Call Him Amen) and/or Diego Spataro (Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived at Eldorado), depending on which version you're watching (both credited solo here with one of the best potential porno director pseudonyms I've ever seen: "Dick Spitfire"), Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West still shows signs, at least in this DVD version, of its English conversion job (at one point, there's a "Burt Keller" wanted poster for badman Burt Kelly).
However, those little inconsistencies don't gum up the works of what turns out to be a high body count exercise in straight-ahead spaghetti Western action. Just like the first movie in our double feature, Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West could never be accused of being an elaboration on, or an expansion of, the genre; it's strictly a regurgitation of conventions already set in stone by this point in the genre's timeline. Still, although its elements are familiar, Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West, as written by Fidani and his wife Mila Vitelli Valenza, keeps its cool and just gets on with it, not pausing to make itself more meaningful...but staying on point (when a peasant says the villagers owe everything to Sartana, and another peasant asks why, the response is a matter-of-fact, "because he's Sartana!" What else?). Fidani botches a long, drawn-out poker game that should have been foolproof, but that's about his only misstep here, as the action never lets up, and the performers look good in their Western duds (Mitchell is pretty amusing in a most welcome strange villain: he plays poker with himself in a mirror...and cheats!). Again, like the first movie: Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West is no great shakes, but it's more than competent, and it moves. And that's all I need if I want basic western all'italiana pleasures.
A Man Called Django is anamorphically enhanced at a nice, wide 2.35:1 ratio, while Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West is anamorphically enhanced at 1.85:1. Both transfers, despite some minor imperfections are quite nice compared to the way I've seen these in crappy VHS bootleg versions. Colors are bright and vivid, the image is sharp sharp, and grain is minimal at most. Good show, Timeless.
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio tracks are serviceable on A Man Called Django and Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West, with little hiss and no closed-captions or subtitles available.
Original trailers are included, along with poster images, too. Nice.
Solid presentation of two enjoyable, workmanlike spaghetti Westerns. A Man Called Django and Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West aren't going to top anyone's list of favorite westerns all'italiana, but they get the job done in a reasonably entertaining fashion. Quite good transfers and some welcome extras make Django! Double Feature: A Man Called Django! and Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West an easily high recommendation pick.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.