Following Christmas, January’s always a quiet month. I’ve yet to see Tarantino’s spaghetti-style western DJANGO UNCHAINED, currently on release in UK cinemas, which the Daily Mail’s film critic Chris Tookey has described as ‘a loose remake of a little-seen 1966 film’. I’m still not wholly convinced that simply putting existing Morricone western music on a ‘new’ film will be entirely successful. It didn’t work for DRUMMER OF VENGEANCE (1971).
Djanuary has been a good month for Django DVDs though, with several companies capitalising on the release of Tarantino’s film. In the UK, Arrow Films have released Ferdinando Baldi’s DJANGO, PREPARE A COFFIN (1968), starring Terence Hill as Django, in their Arrowdrome cult movies strand. It’s a great print, with the English language track, and an Italian track with English subtitles, plus a full-colour collector’s booklet which I’ve written exclusively for the release.
Studio Canal has re-issued DJANGO SHOOT FIRST (1966), which was previously out in 2005, now with different, Tarantino-esque packaging. The print’s in great shape, in 2.35:1 Techniscope. I haven’t see this new issue, but if it’s the same as the 2005 release, there’s no English language track, only burned-on English subs to the Italian language version of the film. It’s still worth getting for the quality of the print, though Glenn Saxon hardly takes the role seriously.
DJANGO comes to Blu in the UK, with Argent’s release of Sergio Corbucci’s original classic. And in Germany Koch Media have unleashed the WESTERN UNCHAINED brand, again with Tarantino-inspired livery, with welcome DVD releases of LAST OF THE BADMEN, THE MERCENARY (A PROFESSIONAL GUN), NAVAJO JOE (also on Bluray), TEPEPA (also Bluray), DEATH AT OWELL ROCK, YANKEE, SUGAR COLT, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, THE RETURN OF RINGO, and SHOOT THE LIVING AND PRAY FOR THE DEAD. All are English-language friendly, either via audio tracks or subtitles. For further details, visit the Spaghetti Western Database, which has a round-up of the collection and its specs.
In the US, Timeless Media Group have released two Django double-bills, which are good value for money. The first pairs George Eastman in DJANGO KILLS SILENTLY (1967) with Jeff Cameron as the hero in the excellently-titled DJANGO’S CUT PRICE CORPSES (1971). If the first film is a pleasant surprise, with a young Eastman effective as a hero originally dubbed ‘Bill il taciturno’, then the latter is hilariously inept – there are more (inadvertent) shots of cars in this movie than WACKY RACES. The second disk features Anthony Steffen in A MAN CALLED DJANGO (1971 – aka VIVA DJANGO, which was also an alternative title for PREPARE A COFFIN) and Demofilo Fidani’s DJANGO AND SARTANA’S SHOWDOWN IN THE WEST (1970), which was included in the SARTANA: THE COMPLETE SAGA DVD set a few years ago. This newer print is far superior to the earlier one, and MAN CALLED DJANGO is presented in 2.25:1 widescreen. All four prints are excellent, have English language tracks, and are worth picking up for the rarity of the films.
Away from spaghetti westerns, Arrow Films has also released on Region 2 DVD Antonio Margheriti’s 1980s ‘Commando’ trilogy – CODENAME WILDGEESE, COMMANDO LEOPARD and THE COMMANDER. All three star Lewis Collins, who makes a convincing action hero, but it’s in the supporting casts where they really score, with back-up provided by Ernest Borgnine, Klaus Kinski, Lee Van Cleef, Brett Halsey, John Steiner and Donald Pleasence.
CODENAME WILDGEESE is a German print, in 2.35:1, with English language dialogue. It’s the shortest version of the film I’ve seen, at 84 minutes, compared to the UK videotape version which runs 89 minutes, but it has scenes in this short version that were new to me, which makes this edition pacier than earlier releases. The mercenaries are on their mission quicker here. Apparently the fully uncut version of the film runs 100 minutes. COMMANDO LEOPARD is the best of the trio. This time Collins plays a freedom fighting rebel in South America. This is the uncut version of the film, at 99 mins, in 2.35:1 with English dialogue, and comes with a collector’s booklet written by me, which discusses Margheriti’s career as director and special effects technician. COMMANDO LEOPARD has a great score, which includes uncredited excerpts from Morricone’s BATTLE OF ALGIERS (ok, so reusing Morricone’s music works sometimes). The third film, THE COMMANDER, plays like a send-up of the first two films, with John Steiner’s ‘ALLO ‘ALLO French accent one of the funniest you’ll ever hear. It’s worth viewing to see Lee Van Cleef back in action, shortly before his death in 1989, and his stunt double from spaghetti western days, Romano Puppo, also features. In an in-joke, two characters in THE COMMANDER are named after roles Van Cleef played in the 1950s: Jack Colby and Corporal Stone.
ORDER ‘THE COMMANDER’
Arrow has also released THE NIGHT CHILD (1975), which stars Nicoletta Elmi (from BAY OF BLOOD and DEEP RED) in a tale of demonic possession and a cursed medallion (THE CURSED MEDALLION is the film’s alternative title). As with all of ex-cinematographer Massimo Dallamano’s films, it looks great, particularly when lensing the Umbrian scenery around Spoleto. Like Arrow’s other Dallamano release, SUPER BITCH, this one’s partly set in London. Richard Johnson, in one of his many Euro-movies, plays a director for the BBC making a documentary in Italy. Arrow’s DVD includes both the English language dub and the Italian version, with translated English subtitles. There’s also an informative career overview of Dallamano in the accompanying collector’s booklet by Calum Waddell. I found this made an entertaining double-bill watched back-to-back with Antonio De Martino’s 1977 OMEN rip-off, RAIN OF FIRE. Also known as HOLOCAUST 2000 and THE CHOSEN, it stars Kirk Douglas as an industrialist who’s convinced that his son Angel Caine (Simon Ward) is the Antichrist, when he tries to build a nuclear power plant in the Holy Land. These Italian copies of Hollywood movies are often superior to the movies they imitate, at least in terms of imagination and entertainment value.
To read more about Italian popular cinema, check out my books CINEMA ITALIANO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE ITALIAN WEST and SPAGHETTI WESTERNS.