Movies Till Dawn: Un Uomo, Una Cavallo, Una Pistola – Italian Westerns and American Contorno

Djang0 Prepare a Coffin” (1968, Arrow Video) Though relatively unknown in the United States until its release on DVD, Sergio Corbucci’s doom-laden Euro Western “Django” (1966) was a global hit during its release, spawning tributes on film (it’s the movie Jimmy Cliff is watching in “The Harder They Come”) and in music (Lee Perry’s “Return of Django” and dozens more reggae tracks from Trojan Records). In typical Italian genre fashion, it also spawned dozens of imitations on screen, some featuring characters based on character played by Franco Nero, some renamed to cash in on the success. Ferdinando (“Get Mean“) Baldi’s “Django Prepare a Coffin” is only one of two with any connection to the Nero/Corbucci film, though here, it’s Terence Hill – a dead ringer for Nero who went on to stardom in cinematographer Enzo Barboni‘s lighter-hearted “Trinity” series – as Django, who recruits a team of condemned men to avenge the murder of his wife by a political boss (Horst Frank) and his thugs. Co-written by Baldi and Franco Rossetti – who penned the Corbucci “Django” – “Prepare a Coffin” serves as both prequel and tribute to its predecessor, borrowing its high points – including the Gatling-gun-in-the-coffin conclusion – and Barboni, who echoes own his color-steeped compositions, while also providing a thumbnail background for the character’s single-minded trail of vengeance. The end result doesn’t match the intense violence (and political undertones) of the original “Django,” but certainly delivers its own stylish shoot-out excitement. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes an informative overview of the “Django” films by author Kevin Grant and a European trailer.

Adios, Sabata” (1970, Kino Lorber) Lee Van Cleef originated the role of Sabata, a sardonic sharpshooter with a taste for puns and Bondian gadget weapons, in Gianfranco Parolini‘s Euro Western “Sabata” (1969), but Yul Brynner stepped into the role for this agreeable sequel. Brynner’s Sabata – whose outlandish all-black outfit refers to the character’s origin as a different gunfighter, Indio Black, before the international success of “Sabata” prompted a name change for United Artists’ American release – has a less bemused air than Van Cleef’s Sabata, but still displays a taste for eccentric sidekicks (Sal Borghese’s Septiembre, who tosses lethal metal balls with his feet) and outlandish weapons (a sawed-off rifle with a side-loading magazine), both of which are put to good use in a scheme to extricate gold stolen from Mexican revolutionaries by sadistic Austrian Colonel Skimmel (Gerhard Herter). Despite Brynner’s imposing turn, Parolini – billed as Frank Kramer in the UA version – indulges in moments of the same self-referential humor and playful tone that earmarks the previous and subsequent “Sabata” films (1971’s uneven “Return of Sabata,” with Van Cleef again in the title role), which may displease hardcore Italian Western devotees, though casual viewers might appreciate the hints of levity. Also starring Dean Reed, an American folk singer who embraced leftist/Soviet policies in the late ’60s and lived in East Germany before dying under mysterious circumstances in 1986. Kino’s Blu-ray is the UA English-dubbed print and includes trailers for all three Parolini/Sabata films.

The popularity of Italian Westerns like “Django” and “Adios, Sabata” was briefly echoed in English-language titles, though most of these emphasized the violence and less of the baroque plotting or stylistic flourishes. Two such titles are available from Kino – 1968’s “Shalako,” a British-Spanish-German production, and 1971’s “The Hunting Party,” from the UK. Both titles are mostly sour affairs that go to great lengths in showing how wealthy, privileged types from both sides of the Atlantic are no better – or worse – than the lower-class and non-white populations of the West. Both are also star-studded affairs – “Shalako,” directed by Edward Dmytryk and based on a novel by Louis L’Amour, features Sean Connery (between Bond titles), Brigitte Bardot and Stephen Boyd, while Don Medford’s “Hunting Party” pits ugly American Gene Hackman against unlikely outlaw Oliver Reed, who has made off with his estranged wife (Candice Bergen). Women are on the receiving end of most of the violence – in “Shalako,” Honor Blackman is choked to death with her own diamonds, while Bergen is molested by nearly every character she encounters, including L.Q. Jones in yet another variation on his Cowboy Vermin screen persona – which undercuts whatever vicarious enjoyment can be derived from watching the male characters blast or beat each other. Commentary is available for both discs – Howard Berger and Nathaniel Thompson on “Hunting Party” and “Repo Man” director Alex Cox on “Shalako – as well as theatrical trailers.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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