Sunday, December 02, 2012

Seen It: Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

Given the upcoming Christmas release of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012), one hopes that the classic Spaghetti Westerns which influenced the writer /director will be seen by a new generation of fans. What better time to continue reviewing the films as I come across them? Though considered the first "sequel" to the original Django starring Franco Nero, Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967) has exactly nothing, save the genre it inhabits, to do with any of the other films bearing the recognizable name.

There is one word to describe this film jewel: weird. Not exactly El Topo weird (despite the appearance of a naked child in the first 15 minutes as in Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 mind-trip classic), but just odd enough to wonder what could have happened had the co-writer/director, Giulio Questi, had gone the extra mile.

Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (Se sei vivo spara) stars genre-staple Tomas Milian (Run Man Run) as an unnamed anti-hero, referred to only as "Stranger" who travels from loosely related interactions and events through a brutal Mexican setting. Despite the lack of a traditionally coherent narrative, there is quite a bit of interesting activity going on, and, not surprisingly to those familiar with his screen work, the whole thing is very ably grounded by the charismatic Milian. The actor's relatively dark features helped him corner a niche for, shall we say "exotic" genre roles, and here plays the self-ascribed "half-breed,"the Stranger, as a directionless sort. With almost no background, save the flashback events (such as his initial "murder") which set the his present circumstances in motion, he is a clean slate off which Questi bounces unusual ideas.

Beyond the familiar Spaghetti Western trope of the unnamed hero/anti-hero wandering an unforgiving world, there are a number of eccentricities which make Django Kill a worthy viewing for aficionados of the genre. After watching the film the first time, it occurs to me that there is plenty of fodder therein for a college student looking to write an in depth film analysis deconstructing it. Some key points of interest are:
  • Two clearly Italian actors portraying the Native American "guides" who first save the Stranger then from certain death using what appears to be a magic rabbit pelt and then agree to come with him if he'll tell them what was on "the other side" (death).
  • Seemingly out of left field, two scenes have the characters begin speaking Italian with subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Both scenes, referred to as "gold digging" (cutting gold bullets out of a criminals stomach) and "scalping" (take a wild guess), were cut from the Italian original for the US and UK markets due most likely to the gore level. The "gold digging" is . As these scenes were never dubbed into English, they were reinserted with their original Italian dialogue and English subtitles.
  • This film also turns the common casting of a ragtag gang of grotesque, toothless locals in the roles of "bad gang" on its ear. In an usual move which screams "subtext," Django Kill features a veritable parade of male models wearing entire outfits of black with the same white stitching on the shoulders as the bad guys. The lead villain, Mr. Sorrow played by Roberto Camardiel, even gleefully notes when trying to recruit the Stranger to his gang of muchachos that "They make me so happy in their black uniforms."
The terrifying and villainous Muchachos propose a drinking challenge... no, seriously!
  • To make matters even worse, there is an implied molestation of another character (an effeminate young man played by Ray Lovelock who begs to leave town with the Stranger because it is "so evil") by the models-in-black. In a series of cut scenes, the boy is first kidnapped, released, then forced to drink. After having his hair tousled by the gang, he awakes the next day, walks into the dining area (where the mostly half-dressed gang have all fallen asleep on the floor after a night of drinking), steals a gun and commits suicide. 
  • In a later scene during which the Stranger has been captured by the same group, he is tied to a large wooden t-shaped table (yes, like a cross) wearing only a loincloth. His arms and legs (akimbo) are in chains while he is gleefully watched by two of the fellas being "tortured" into revealing a location of hidden gold. The torture is seemingly exacted by the villains deadly creatures: a deadly vamp[ire bat and an iguana. We as the audience only view these terrifying monsters in stock footage but are told they were so terrible he had to talk. Uh-huh.
Next come the very persuasive iguanas and vampire bats!
As with most Spaghetti Westerns, the music plays a key role, though here, the film's primary music consists of random variations on the main theme composed by Ivan Vandor, and heard in the trailer above.

Don't worry about entering the film with too much information based on this post. It would be impossible to "spoil" this film entirely as there is so much weirdness to be seen. (I haven't even mentioned the woman who waves to the Stranger for 3/4ths of the film from her barred second-story window of the film before we are formally even told who she is, or the talking parrot.) As mentioned earlier, it is Milian who keeps it the whole; thing together hurtling toward its bizarre conclusion.

This movie is widely available in any number of genre collections. I viewed it as part of the Spaghetti Western 44 Movie Collection released by Mill Creek Entertainment that was purchased for $9.99 at a local supermarket. I was very pleased to realize the movie included was the remastered version with the previously deleted scenes, too. As both a Spaghetti Western and a "cult classic" it is worth seeking out for a few hours of bizarre viewing.

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