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Sergio Corbucci's seminal Spaghetti Western Django was a big hit in Italy and Italian cinemagoers subsequently developed a special affection for Franco Nero's avenging gunfighter. So much so that Django's popularity was quickly noticed by a number of Italian producers and distributors who sought to cash-in on the ensuing Django craze. This resulted in a rash of "Django" sequels but few of these films actually detailed the further adventures of the original Django character: most of them featured un-related anti-heroes who just happened to be called Django too. That's the case with the film under review here, Alberto De Martino's Django Shoots First. Made in 1966, De Martino's film features some sequences that are fairly light-hearted in tone but it remains a good-looking show that boasts some decent attempts at Spaghetti Western-style grittiness and film noir-style dramatic intrigue.
This Spaghetti Western opens with what is surely one of the best plot devices ever cooked up by the genre's writers: Django invites an approaching bounty killer to share his camp fire and food only to discover that his guest has his estranged father's body in tow. What makes the scenario even more interesting is the fact that this Django isn't really a wholly typical genre anti-hero. He may have the Man With No Name's quiff and beard but his clothes (kind of utilitarian cowpoke duds) make him look like a country boy who is out of his depth in the Wild Spaghetti West: consequently, when Django forces a duel situation, the bounty killer figures that he can take care of him with a trick shot from a concealed gun but Django is smarter and more experienced in gunplay than he looks. He's also a lot more talkative than most genre anti-heroes: post-gunfight he talks to both himself and his father's body as he agonizes over whether he should claim the reward money himself.
Glenn Saxson's Django character generally projects a fairly light and easy-going personality, especially when he's romancing the Silver Creek saloon's pretty barmaid, Lucy (Erika Blanc of The Devil's Nightmare). Nevertheless, he can turn nasty when he has to and Saxson's take on generic machismo is actually quite good. The actor displays a great deal of confidence here, and he brings a kind of Giuliano Gemma-like sense of fun to his role, but he doesn't exude enough charisma to make a particularly big impression as a genre anti-hero. However, Saxson's approach is so earnest and inoffensive that negatively comparing him to the genre's more iconic actors would be an unfair and inappropriate exercise.
Fernando Sancho (Arizona Colt, Clint the Nevada's Loner), the undisputed king of the Spaghetti Western Mexican bandit players, is present here in a rare outing as a gringo good guy. Gordon is an eccentric character who likes the smell of money so much that he spends his days idly hanging around inside the Silver Creek bank. Sancho looks great in his well-designed gringo outfit and he turns in a really note-worthy performance, expertly providing just the right amount of mild comic relief in a couple of spots. In many ways Gordon is like a gringo antecedent of the supporting Mexican characters that Pedro Sanchez played in each of Gianfranco Parolini's three Sabata films. Just like those characters, Gordon proves to be a valuable asset to his newfound anti-hero benefactor. Also helping Django out here is the mysterious Doc: Doc sports a smart Douglas Mortimer-inspired outfit and he possesses a handy gadget-rigged cane. We're not sure where Doc's loyalties lie at first but he comes to play a major part in one of the show's film noir-influenced sub-plots.
The chief bad guy here is the town's boss man Kluster who was also Django's father's business partner. He's not too happy when Django starts pushing him for his father's fifty percent share of the town and he reacts by amassing an army of bad guys to keep Django and Gordon at bay. Consequently, we're not too surprised to discover that Kluster had a hand in Django's father's demise and Django's quest for monetary gain soon becomes bolstered by a desire for revenge too. Kluster is aided and abetted by Ward (Lee Burton), a particularly nasty bad guy who holds sway over a number of equally dangerous henchmen. Django bests Ward and a few of his men in a series of over-dramatic but well choreographed fistfights. As it turns out, the duplicitous Jessica Kluster (Evelyn Stuart of The Leopard and La Dolce vita) proves to be a very unpredictable and dangerous handful too.
Django Shoots First swings towards the more populist end of the genre but there's nothing wrong with that: this remains a thoroughly engaging and entertaining show in a rip-roaring kind of way. Parts of the film (Django's romance with Lucy, the overly-cute stuff involving Lucy's kid brother, the over-cooked fist-fights, the sequence where Django gets pinned down on a rock face by Ward and his sharp-shooting men, etc) kind of bring to mind scenarios typically found in American B Westerns from the 1950s. Appropriately enough, genre stalwart Bruno Nicolai provides a splendidly bombastic, rousing and catchy soundtrack score that sometimes sounds like a loving, Spaghetti Western-tinged tribute to the kind of music found in those very films. Nicolai's music compliments some generally very good, and at times outstanding, cinematography: the ultra-stylish sequence where Django and Gordon meet up and cautiously walk down Silver Creek's main street, in full view of Kluster's amassed ranks of intimidating bad guys, briefly begs comparison to Sergio Leone at his swaggering best.
The aforementioned sequence detailing the confrontation on Silver Creek's main street is probably the show's best-realized set piece but director Alberto De Martino and cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini consistently make impressive use of the 2.35:1 widescreen frame and the show's action is generally covered from a variety of interesting angles. Vittorio Marchi's set designs and Gaia Romanini's costume designs are impressive too: there are so many great costumes on display here that we are left wondering why Django ended up being lumbered with what has to be the blandest outfit in the show. A number of busy and well-staged crowd scenes would seem to confirm that this show had the benefit of a decent sized budget. This is a decently paced and thoughtfully-written genre entry: De Martino neatly wraps up all of the show's loose ends during some atmospheric after-dark scenes that take place on Silver Creek's deserted streets and within a nearby cemetery.
The English language version of Django Shoots First presented here for the first time on DVD is around ten minutes shorter than the Italian language version reviewed previously (see here). However, most of the cuts appear to have been made to the film's slightly ill-fitting comedic aspects: I noticed that the overly slapstick and excessively long barroom brawl that occurs towards the film's end has been drastically shortened in the English language version and a jokey bit of dialogue that Django spouts after the final shootout has been removed too. As such, Dorado Films' English language presentation of the film actually plays with a slightly more serious tone when compared to the longer Italian version of the show.
The picture quality of this presentation of Django Shoots First falls just short of excellent much of the time. There's next to nothing in the way of print damage to be had here but there are odd sequences that play a little on the soft side. The sound quality of the presentation's English language dub track is near enough excellent. The DVD also features Italian and French language dub tracks but these audio options are not supported by English language subtitles.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Django Shoots First rates:
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