Django the Bastard (1969)

Django il Bastardo / The Stranger's Gundown

Anthony Steffen as Django the Bastard

Anthony Steffen as "Django the Bastard"

Here's one that seems to have a lot of people in the "love-it-or-hate-it" camp: Django the Bastard" (1968), directed by yet another Sergio, this one being Sergio Garrone, and starring and co-written by Anthony Steffen (Antonio De Teffè). Steffen made quite a career in Italian westerns, starring in at least 25 of them. Now, let's be clear about this one - it's most definitely a C-grade film, and although there is much to laugh at, there's also much to enjoy in terms of style, and this film is thoroughly watchable to fans of the genre. A lot of people either love or hate this film.

Steffen stars as Django (yes, it's yet another Django film with no relation to Corbucci's original), who mysteriously rolls into town and systematically hunts down three former Civil War generals in an act of revenge, for they apparently abandoned his troop and left them to be massacred with only Django surviving. That's basically the plot in a nutshell. There's also a beautiful woman, and, as usual, a disturbingly strange psychotic guy with blonde hair, one of the general's brothers:

psychotic overacting weirdo

The psychotic overacting weirdo with blond hair, another genre standard.

The plot is yet again another "vengeance for past wrongs" plot, which is what a good portion of spaghettis are about. The dialogue is pretty bad at times, with a simplistic script; no real character development to speak of here. So to judge the film on those merits alone, it's no cinematic masterpiece. There are flaws abound, especially with the lighting. It almost always looks very unnatural, as though one can see the lighting guy aiming the spot, just offscreen. In one instance, the very laws of physics are defied:

Django physics

In Django's world, the laws of physics don't apply; lights can cast their own shadows!

The set is okay, but it looks a bit too 'clean', and oddly enough, there never seem to be any townspeople, unless the scene calls for it. Most of the time it's empty. This is something I see in a lot of these films, as though the budget didn't allow for townspeople extras.

Now, Steffen has sometimes been criticized for rather stiff performances. I kind of find that rather funny, because the archetypical 'quiet mysterious stranger' he usually plays isn't exactly an over-emotive mush to begin with. And in the flashback scenes, Steffen is actually quite animated, he's not a bad actor, necessarily. So, this film makes me really wonder about what is lost when the dialogue is overdubbed in different languages. It's sometimes hard to gauge the acting (well, not of the blond psycho-guy above) when you can't hear the inflections of the original actor mouthing the words. It really shows in this movie. The overdubbing is pretty crappy. Sometimes the characters will be in the outdoors and it sounds like they're in a small room. Small derringer pistols sound like .44 Magnums. And of course, some things may seem normal when spoken in Italian that seem rather silly in English.

Lest you think I'm just ripping on this, I actually really did enjoy this film. It has almost a horror-like way of presenting itself; one minute Django's there, the next, he's gone. There's some really creepy imagery and some great camera work, as well:

like a ghost

like a ghost

And lots of crosses. Django makes a cross for each of the generals he's after, and even manages to sort of crucify three guys sent after him, sending them back into town on horseback:

three crucified on horses

Django settles the score

So, C-movieness aside, there's some good style to this movie, and some excellent cinematography at times. Django is presented in an almost supernatural and rather sinister way. From what I can gather from other review sites, it's very much a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film. If you're familiar with the genre, and can find a copy of it (in the U.S., VCI has it out as "Stranger's Gundown", in Germany, MCP has it out as "Django der Bastard"), I'd say check it out.

for Len Liu's review of this film, click here.

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