Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Film Review: Navajo Joe (1966)

Also known as: A Dollar a Head (US working title), Navajo’s Land, Red Fighter, Savage Run (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 26th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Dean Craig, Fernando Di Leo, Ugo Pirro
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Leo Nichols)
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Aldo Sanbrell, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Tanya Lopert, Fernando Rey, Franca Polesello, Lucia Modugno

Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica, C.B. Films, Dear Film, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“My father was born here, in the mountains. His father before him and his father before him and his father before him. Where was your father born?” – Joe

I have never seen Navajo Joe, which is probably a crime, as I love spaghetti westerns and consider myself an aficionado of them. I especially love the western films of Sergio Corbucci and I have always been a big fan of Burt Reynolds, a man too cool for just about anyone they put him in a movie with. Also, this has one of the greatest scores that Ennio Morricone ever did. In fact, some of this songs here have been reused in other films.

Burt Reynolds plays Joe, a Navajo badass that wants to avenge the slaughter of some of his people and his woman. He tracks the killers and finds that they are taking advantage of a desert town and that someone in the town is working with them. He offers his services to the citizens at one dollar a head, to be paid by each person in town. The town is reluctant to pay Joe and realistically, if Joe is just planning on getting revenge, he should just go for it. But I guess making some money isn’t a bad thing. He gets mixed up with a local woman of Navajo decent but ultimately, only cares about his dead love. Navajo Joe is a true drifter with revenge in his heart. He’s got no time for love, only time for justice served with a hearty helping of lead.

Corbucci, one of the three Sergios of Spaghetti Westerns, made this film just after Ringo and His Golden Pistol and his most famous classic Django. This is a film that carries on the quality that Corbucci westerns were known for. While it isn’t quite the masterpiece that Django was, it is still a balls-to-the-wall violent action epic that will leave you satisfied. Revenge stories are great and adding in Burt Reynolds was a pretty cool touch, even if Corbucci didn’t know how great the man would become, as this is very early in his acting career.

The action sequences were well shot and very fluid. I liked the fighting style of Reynolds’ Joe as he slithered around the dirt and in and out of the train, killing off scumbags in the process. The film’s action was well choreographed, unique and interesting.

Navajo Joe is a good western and after seeing it, it would have been cool if Reynolds and Corbucci did a few more. I liked Reynolds in this role a lot and this played really well, mainly because the script was good and Corbucci is just a great director that probably deserves more credit outside of his preferred genre.

Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Ranking the Films of Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone is my second favorite director of all-time (following Stanley Kubrick). Like Kubrick , I don’t think that he was capable of a bad film. When watching a Leone film, at least for me, I am not just watching a movie, I am living an experience. Here, I have ranked the motion pictures he directed.

1. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Dollars Trilogy, Part III)
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. Duck, You Sucker! (a.k.a. A Fistful of Dynamite)
4. For A Few Dollars More (Dollars Trilogy, Part II)
5. A Fistful of Dollars (Dollars Trilogy, Part I)
6. My Name Is Nobody
7. Once Upon A Time In America
8. A Genius, Two Partners & A Dupe
9. The Colussus of Rhodes
10. The Last Days of Pompeii

Film Review: Unofficial ‘Django’ Sequels, Part II (1966, 1969, 1971)

It has been too long since I did the first installment of this series of reviews for the unofficial Django sequels. So I figured that it was about time that I pick it up and do the second installment. I actually own enough Django films to do at least five of these.

Introduction:

The original Django was an enormous success in 1966. It opened a lot of doors for its star Franco Nero and its director Sergio Corbucci. The film also inspired unofficial sequels to be created by a multitude of studios because copyrights in Europe back then weren’t as strict as they are in the United States.

There are forty-six Django films listed on his character page on Wikipedia. Most of those are lost to time. A dozen and a half or so, are still out there on streaming services, DVD or VHS – if you can track them down. Some are free on YouTube. Anyway, I’m trying to see as many of them as I can.

Some actually feature the character of Django and some just use his name in the title due to its popularity, even though the character isn’t in the film.

As I watch these films, I will review a few at a time. They won’t necessarily be in chronological order, as that doesn’t matter anyway, as none of these films are really connected to each other apart from a word in their titles.

A Man Called Django! (1971):

Also known as: W Django!, Viva! Django
Release Date: September 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Edoardo Mulargia
Written by: Nino Stresa
Music by: Piero Umiliani
Cast: Anthony Steffen

14 Luglio Cinematografica, 90 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen has played a version of “Django” more times than the original Django, Franco Nero. Steffen’s movies are usually pretty good for knockoff spaghetti fare and he may be the most recognizable actor associated with the Django name, other than Nero… and now, Jamie Foxx.

A Man Called Django! a.k.a. W Django! a.k.a. Viva! Django is a better than decent spaghetti western on its own. It is one of a few examples of a Django picture that didn’t need to be connected to Django because it would have actually been better as its own standalone film. And in retrospect, it kind of upsets me for Anthony Steffen, who could have easily broke out as his own star and didn’t need to be the king of unofficial “Django”s.

This spaghetti extravaganza follows Django, as he sets out to exact revenge on the man who murdered his wife. He has help from a horse thief named Jeff and what we end up witnessing is a movie with more layers to it than what is first suspected. It starts out like a straight up revenge flick but evolves nicely due to some twists and turns.

The action is pretty good, the acting is solid from Steffen and fairly average from the others. The music really stands out but a lot of these Django films have pretty stellar scores that mimic the original’s style.

If you are going to delve deep into Django ripoffs and clones, as I have, I’d have to say that this is one of the few high points. Although, the editing is a bit sloppy in parts and in one scene Django literally punches a guy from a nighttime shot to a daytime shot.

Django the Runner (1966):

Also known as: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro, lit. The Colt sang death and it was… Massacre Time (Italy), The Brute and the Beast (US), Colt Concert (UK), Massacre Time
Release Date: August 10th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Lallo Gori
Cast: Franco Nero, George Hilton, Nino Castelnuovo

Mega Film Colt, I.F. Produzioni Cinematografiche, Panta Cinematografica, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

Lucio Fulci, most famous for directing several classic Italian horror films – most notably Zombi 2, also directed a handful of spaghetti westerns.

In Massacre Time, he directs Franco Nero, who was just coming off of his biggest hit Django. This movie was actually repackaged as a Django film in some international markets, making it one of several dozen unofficial Django pictures. Although, this has nothing to do with the character of Django. Nero plays someone else entirely.

Massacre Time sees Franco Nero return home to find everyone that he knows and loves to be under the rule of evil land barons. He quickly develops a rivalry with the son of the evil patriarch. This leads to a brutal bullwhip fight and other confrontations between the two. The bullwhip fight is the highlight of the film for me, as it was actually quite intense and nasty.

Nero teams up with his brother in a war against the land barons. There is a lot of action and typical spaghetti western violence. The style of the film isn’t all that refined but it certainly feels like the tone of a Fulci picture.

It isn’t a great movie but it gets a lot of praise from spaghetti western aficionados. I found it to be pretty dull for the most part, except for the bullwhip battle. The final battle is a bit clunky and has no real suspense. The film just sort of ends with a resolution that felt half-assed on execution. But it was also an early film in Lucio Fulci’s catalog and probably a big learning experience for him.

 

Hanging For Django (1969):

Also known as: Una lunga fila di croci (Italy), A Noose For Django, No Room to Die
Release Date: April 18th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Written by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasco Vassilli
Cast: Anthony Steffen, William Berger

Junior Film, 97 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen is back!… Again! Apparently he wasn’t sick of playing various incarnations of Django. In fact, maybe his movies are actually sci-fi pictures, as we are peeking in on different Djangos from different dimensions and timelines. Actually, he isn’t even named Django in this one, he is referred to as “Johnny Brandon”.

This movie teams up Steffen with another spaghetti western great, William Berger. Both men form an alliance, as bounty hunters, to stop a rich guy that is smuggling in immigrants and doing other criminal things. It sort of starts like the relationship between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in For A Few Dollars More but then there are double crosses and lots of fun twists to the plot.

For another film ripping off the Django name, this one could have survived on its own merits. It was a good spaghetti picture and the chemistry between Steffen and Berger was pretty awesome. Steffen is such a good hero and Berger always does a magnificent job with these sinister weasel roles. Just look at how he almost steals the show away from Lee Van Cleef in the original Sabata.

Hanging For Django is actually my favorite of the three pictures from this set. Strangely, the one actually starring Nero (the original Django) was the one I liked least. However, all three are pretty close to the same level. This one just gets a slight edge because I really liked the Steffen-Berger match up. This one was also better shot and edited than the two other pictures here.

There’s also a seven barrel shotgun in this movie… seven!

Film Review: Cemetery Without Crosses (1969)

Also known as: Cimitero senza croci (Italy), Une corde… un Colt… (France)
Release Date: 1969 (France)
Directed by: Robert Hossein
Written by: Robert Hossein, Claude DeSailly, Dario Argento (Italian version)
Music by: Andre Hossein
Cast: Michele Mercier, Robert Hossein, Lee Burton, Daniel Vargas, Michel Lemoine, Anne-Marie Balin

Loisirs Du Monde, Copernicus Films, Fono Roma, Les Films Fernand Rivers, Euro International Film, 90 Minutes

Review:

Cemetery Without Crosses is a pretty obscure spaghetti western that has been lost in time and because it is part of a genre that has been dominated by the Three Sergios (Leone, Corbucci and Sollima), as well as other better known directors: Duccio Tessari, Giuseppe Colizzi, Enzo G. Castellari, Tonino Valerii, Gianfranco Parolini, Fernandino Baldi, Giulio Petroni, Lucio Fulci and others.

Cemetery is directed by one of its stars, Robert Hossein. He worked together with spaghetti maestro Sergio Leone when he had a small role in the masterpiece Once Upon A Time In the West. He learned a lot from the maestro in his short time, watching him work. In fact, he dedicated this film to Leone.

This picture is actually a great representation of the upper echelon of spaghetti westerns. While not quite as good as Leone’s epics, it still displays amazing cinematic prowess for a director that didn’t have the experience of his idol.

Hossein did a fantastic job of framing his shots, using lighting to enhance the narrative in creative ways and he had a real sense of how to effectively create depth of field. For an example of the latter, look at the scene where Manuel (Hossein) and Diana (Balin) walk back to the ghost town in the distance.

The story of the film is interesting and not a rehash of dozens of other spaghetti westerns, as many of these films can blend together due to their narrative similarities. There is a battle between two gangs, one of the men is killed, the cut of his money is given to his widow. The widow, wanting revenge, uses the money to hire her ex-lover, Manuel. The widow and Manuel plot to kidnap the daughter of the opposing gang in an effort for the widow to have her husband properly buried in a legit cemetery. The story has a lot of twists and turns and it can get complicated if you’re not paying attention but it is well constructed even if it has a lot of parts and may have been overly ambitious, especially for just a running time of ninety minutes.

Cemetery Without Crosses is a well made western with solid gravitas. It is also great in that the women in this movie have brass balls and may even be tougher than the men. Who says we’ve never had strong women in movies until Wonder Women?

I actually love this film and it is one of the best in the genre, even though it isn’t as recognized as it should be.

Also, the music is phenomenal.

 

Film Review: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Let me sleep. It’s too early for a hanging.” – Max Lozoya

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.