Starring Gianni Garko (billed as Gary Hudson), Fidel Gonzáles, Loredana Nusciak, Adriana Ambesi, Pinuccio Ardia, Fernando Sancho, Claudio Camaso, Franco Lantieri
Directed by Romolo Guerrieri
Expectations: Moderate. I had heard this was good, but I am treading lightly.
Finally, I get to review a Django clone film that actually has its own complete identity. This is truly a great spaghetti western and while it doesn’t approach the same caliber as Leone or Corbucci, it’s still on the short list of spaghetti westerns that might be enjoyed by a general audience.
The thing that really sets this film apart from the other Django clones is the characters. The focus is on the relationship between Django, a bounty hunter who has no problems working on both sides of the law, and Manuel, a true criminal who terrorizes those that stand in his way. Both characters have a level of depth that makes them likeable, hateable and just downright interesting all at the same time. At its heart this Western is not an action picture, as a lot of the other Django clones are trying to be. The story is character driven and a lot of its entertainment value comes from the constant back and forth play between Django and Manuel. On top of that are some good gun battles that counterpoint the character drama with some fun action.
Click the play button to listen to the $10,000 Blood Money theme while you read!
For me, Django takes a back seat in this one to Manuel (Claudio Camaso). The two characters pass on horseback early in the film, and they share a look into each other’s eyes that suggests a history together. They ride off in opposite directions but it is clear they will meet again. Django goes to turn in a dead man for the bounty on his head, and Manuel heads off to pay a visit to Mendoza, the man who caused him to go to jail four years earlier. When Manuel confronts him, Mendoza offers any price to be allowed to live.
Manuel asks rhetorically, “What might be the price of four years of my life, Mendoza?”
Before Mendoza can reply, Manuel looks up slowly into his eyes and says, “What’s the name…of your daughter?”
Camaso delivers the line with a menacing, calm demeanor and instantly we know exactly the type of man he is. This event sets the rest of the plot into motion, in what proves to be a simple but effective western yarn.
Why Django and Manuel share a bond is never really explained, but the story and the acting is well done, so you can believe and sense that something actually did occur in their past. Manuel is a great, memorable villain and a key reason why this film works as well as it does. The two characters bond and get closer while they continue to battle internally, and the viewer is left with a torn heart over who to root for. The end only furthers these feelings and I still find myself thinking and pondering over the nature of the characters. This is definitely a film I will be visiting again at some point.
Gianni Garko plays Django well, with a soft-spoken nature and a similar air of mystery to Franco Nero’s portrayal. He might not be Corbucci’s coffin-dragging badass, but I’ll take this one over the other Django clones I’ve seen so far. Generally, this Django isn’t played for novelty, although he does have his moments, such as when he shoots a face into a gourd or rolls himself in a barrel to catch an attacker off guard. These moments are fun and lighten the mood of an otherwise tense and brooding film. Garko went on to have lots of success the next year as Sartana, originating the character and playing him in four of the five official films in the series.
The film’s one flaw is that the directing could have been a bit more inspired. It’s a well-made movie, but Guerrieri’s camera lacks the originality and risk-taking found in Corbucci’s original, and this is what ultimately hold this film back from being an instant classic. There was a severe overuse of snap zooms as well. I enjoy them overall but there were a handful in almost every scene of the film so it lessened their desired impact. I also think this film would have had a lot more credibility upon release if it wasn’t lumped in with the Django clones, because it really rises above the rest of what I’ve seen. Any directorial issues I had are heavily outweighed by the wonderful story and characters though, making this a Django clone not to be missed.
As a side note, there is a female character, Mijanou, played by Loredana Nusciak, who hawkeyed film buffs will recognize as Maria, the damsel in distress from the original Django film.
Be sure not to miss Uncle Jasper’s review tomorrow of Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot! from 1967, in the final day of our two-week extravaganza, A Fistful of Djangos!