Argent Films have released a group of what they term the ‘original spaghetti Westerns’ – that is, those movies which sprang up, mostly from Italian filmmakers and often filmed (like this one) in Spain, in the late sixties and early seventies. By far the best-known are Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy – but the spaghetti Western is broader-reaching than that, a point amply documented in Christopher Frayling’s excellent book Spaghetti Westerns (published in a new 1998 edition by I. B. Taurus).
This 1967 movie is only nominally a relation to Sergio Corbucci’s renowned spaghetti western Django, released a year earlier. The original title for Django, Kill is Si sei vivo spara, which means If You Live, Shoot! The producers took director Giulio Questi’s stand-alone film and added the Django title in a blatant cash-in.
So, look for Franco Nero’s Django in vain. Here, Tomas Milian is The Stranger (though not, of course, the same man as The Stranger in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter). Having been double-crossed by his gold-hungry gang and left for dead, he follows them to a town called The Unhappy Place, but once there he has more than his old gang to contend with. This is a town full of seething emotions, trustless heavies and absolute immorality, and The Stranger gets drawn into a battle of wits with them.
At first this feels like sub-standard spaghetti. Gritty action sequences are mixed with carefully framed close-ups and tense, if predictably far-fetched, showdowns. Sometimes the action is sloppily staged: for example, one of the Stranger’s Mexican helpers flees for his life in a moment which has two clear goofs – the blood appears on his shirt a few seconds before he is actually shot, and once hit by a bullet he falls to his death clutching his stomach, which is strange, seeing as he was shot from behind.
Milian is clean-cut and good-looking, a bit like Stefan Edberg in a boxing gym. He has an Eastwood-like quality, but there is also something in him that needs mothering. He’s quite a good guy – whereas Eastwood’s heroism, in his films with Leone, was always defined by being the baddest, in a way: the most cold-blooded, the quickest on the draw, and the last man standing. What redeems Eastwood for us is his grace and his poise – we simply want to be him in those films. Milian has none of that authority, and his character isn’t nearly as well-developed, but to his credit he plays it straight, and he makes for a warm hero.
Argent Films deserve credit for this DVD release. The ‘Scope movie is presented in a generally impressive anamorphic transfer: it’s a bit bright, but this adds to the dream-like quality of the dislocated story. As well as the movie, the release includes a very enjoyable introduction by Alex Cox, which might make you nostalgic for the days of Moviedrome on BBC2. Cox discusses the film’s crazed take on the Western, its moments of eccentric violence and its influence on his own movie Straight To Hell. There’s also a featurette (running approx. 25 mins) in which director Giulio Questi and actor Ray Lovelock are interviewed. Django, Kill is uneven and often downright unconvincing, but it contains many Western elements and spikes some of them with a rare surrealism.
It’s great that a film like this is finally available in a restored, uncut version, available to be enjoyed by anyone who likes their Westerns off the rack at an outlet store, as opposed to Leone’s, which strut the catwalk of high bandido fashion.