Sunday, December 16, 2012

Django Month: Django the Bastard (1969)

AKA: The Strangers Gundown or Django the Avenger

Now this is a cracking little Spaghetti western and probably my favourite of all the Django "sequels". Though there's little connection to the original film - don't expect any machine-gun action here - there is a strong similarity in tone that makes it a good cinematic soul mate. And if you're a fan of Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider this is definitely one to check out because it's quite similar and pre-dates both. Here Django is played by Antony Steffen (or Antônio Luiz De Teffé to give him his real name) who starred in a whole bunch of Spaghetti westerns in the 60s and 70s and played the Django character in at least 5 other films. This one is more interesting than most though because he actually co-wrote the script and produced it.

story revolves around Django entering a frontier town where he begins to systemically hunt down and kill several bad guys. In cavalier fashion, he announces that they are going to die by sticking graveyard crosses in the ground with their names and that day's date on. At first we don't know why he's doing this, only that this final goal seems to be killing two men - wealthy sadistic rancher Rod Murdoch and his psychotic brother Luke. The most disturbing element to the story is that it's implied that Django may not actually be flesh and blood but potentially an avenger from beyond the grave!

So, yeah, it's sort of revenge flick with a little bit of supernatural mixed in (I'm such a sucker for these kind of films). The whole is he or isn't a ghost is left nicely ambiguous. For everything that points one way there's something else that points the other and it never settles the issue right up until the end. I liked that approach a lot. The story is riveting and nicely told. It does drag a little in the middle but the ending more than makes up for it. Once again, like the original Django, the film has a nice arc where the lead character starts off seemingly invincible only for things to get much tougher by the end.

Anthony Steffen is a little wooden in the title role but fits the part well. To be honest the film doesn't really demand much more from him than to just look menacing and stare at bad guys a lot. The one big weak point for the film is definitely the extended Civil War flashback in which we see a happy, carefree Django (!). I get that they wanted to make a contrast with who Django was then and is now but it's a really cheesy sequence that's both sloppily shot and acted. Steffen should definitely stick to just strong, silent type roles. The villains are also pretty memorable. There's a nice balance between the calm and methodical Rod and the demented and twisted Luke. Luciano Rossi goes gloriously over-the-top in playing the latter.

The directing was pretty good as well. I mean the set is quite cheap and low budget but the director, Sergio Garrone, manages to make the most of it and create a really gothic atmosphere by using a lot of low key lighting. A lot of the time it feels like you're watching a horror film. There was also a pleasing amount of stylised camera angles. Lots of overhead shots and dutch angles that you don't always see in these types of films. Much like the original Django, Garrone also uses a lot of crucifix imagery which fits perfectly with the old testament/"eye for an eye" atmosphere of the film.

Django the Bastard is a fantastic western that barely puts a foot wrong. Okay, it's not as great as the original but not far behind it either. If you're going to check out just one Django "sequel" make it this one.



  1. Thanks for the heads up on this one, I want to catch up and see some of these sequels as I've only seen the first Django with Franco Nero. Looking forward to seeing some of the films your reviewing here, like this one; I like that if feels like a horror film at times, sometimes there's nothing better then a dark, moody western.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Yeah, a lot of Italian horror directors like Lucio Fulci got there first gigs doing Spaghetti westerns so I guess it isn't surprising.

    Will be extending Django month into January so I can cover some more.