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: The Dark Tower (2017)

Release Date: July 31st, 2017 (Museum of Modern Art premiere)
Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel
Based on: The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz, Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley

MRC, Imagine Entertainment, Weed Road, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t stop what’s coming. Death always wins.” – Man In Black

Idris Elba is a bad ass. Matthew McConaughey is a bad ass. Both men are also super smooth, great actors and the apple of many people’s eye. Then you have Abbey Lee, a woman I just can’t help but be mesmerized by, even if she is just emotionless window dressing in a scene. Throw in the always perfectly sinister Jackie Earle Haley and you’ve got my attention.

Unfortunately, only one word can really describe this film and that is “mundane”.

The Dark Tower was a gigantic missed opportunity. Here, you have a massive and lush universe created by Stephen King over the course of nine books. While I am not a big fan of King, I’ve heard for years that these books are some of his best work and they have become the stories that seem to be the most beloved. From what I understand, this movie was not based specifically on any one of the books but was instead a sort of sequel to them.

The film initially started out with promise but as the picture rolled on, it got worse and worse. In fact, there were some absolutely horrible creative decisions made on several levels of this film, especially if it was going the PG-13 route in an effort to capture the widest audience possible.

I don’t really know anything about the director but the execution was terrible. The acting was mostly good but suffered from the direction and often times, McConaughey’s lines came out pretty wooden. At this point, in his storied career, McConaughey is never really an issue in a movie. I have to put the blame on the director, who apparently wanted McConaughey’s Man In Black to be so cold that he was absolutely emotionless in his line delivery.

The movie introduced a lot of ideas and concepts to filmgoing audiences that might not be familiar with the books but it barely scratches the surface with any of it. There is all this cool shit happening but you never really understand or grasp any of it. The mythos needed to be better established and explained.

The whole film is setup in order to lead to the big final confrontation between the Gunslinger and the Man In Black, something I am assuming literary fans have been waiting for. What we get in the big finale is friggin’ dog shit. Just imagine a wizard versus a gun happy cowboy. The cowboy goes ape shit, blasting off dozens upon dozens of rounds and trick shots until the wizard finally gets duped and shot through the heart. Up until that point, the wizard is using rubble and glass to block shots and even catching bullets in the chaos. It just comes off as hokey and stupid and McConaughey looked baffled by the whole thing as he was doing it. Although, Idris Elba looked like a mastodon of a man as he blasted off hundreds of shots while looking stoic and cool.

I think, based off of the ending, that the film anticipates sequels. I’ll be shocked if that happens because this was a silly and disappointing train wreck.

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.

Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Serial Review: The Phantom Empire (1935)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1935 (first chapter)
Directed by: Otto Brower, B. Reeves Eason
Written by: Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Hy Freedman, Maurice Geraghty
Music by: Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman

Mascot Pictures, 245 Minutes total (12 episodes)

Review:

Marketed as “The most astounding serial ever made!”, The Phantom Empire is quite a bizarre piece of work even for serials. It combines the western, science fiction and musical genres, which was pretty risky, at the time. It also was the first starring role for Gene Autry, who was the quintessential singing cowboy.

Regardless of it being a strange mixture of genres and singing, The Phantom Empire was a successful serial for Mascot Pictures and Gene Autry, who would go on to be a pretty big star.

The story sees Gene Autry playing himself as a singing cowboy who runs a dude ranch where he also does radio broadcasts. The place is called Radio Ranch. Autry’s sidekicks, Frankie and Betsy lead the Junior Thunder Riders, a club featuring kids who dress like knights and ride around on horses. Gene, Frankie and Betsy are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders, who come from a highly advanced subterranean empire called Murania. Above the surface, a group of criminals plans to rob Murania of its radium, while under the surface a group of revolutionaries plots to overthrow Murania’s evil queen Tika.

The genre mixing alone isn’t the weirdest thing about this picture. As the plot unfolds it gets stranger and stranger.

While this isn’t the best looking serial, it was fairly well shot for its time. It isn’t as exciting as the odd premise would make you hope but it is still a pretty entertaining experience.

Gene Autry was a love him or hate him kind of guy. I was never really a fan of the singing cowboy thing but this serial provides so much else outside of that popular gimmick that it isn’t bogged down by it.

The Phantom Empire is unique and it is a noteworthy body of work in film history due to giving Gene Autry a stage to prosper and for taking some risks that paid off and paved the way for creativity in future serials.