Django the Bastard (1969)

(Django il Bastardo/ The Stranger's Gundown)

"MORE GHOST THAN BASTARD"

In keeping with tradition, the Italians involved in the making and distribution of this movie chose to give it a typically nonsensical English title, Django the Bastard. I much prefer the title of The Strangers Gundown, given by the folks at VCI Entertainment who have made this film available to North Americans on DVD. This particular release is the version of the film I will be reviewing.

Anthony Steffen in Django the Bastard

THE PLOT

In this tale of revenge with an added supernatural twist, Anthony Steffen stars as Django (unrelated to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 original starring Franco Nero), a confederate soldier who seemingly comes back from the grave to administer "just desserts" to the small group of commanding officers who betrayed him and his regiment to the Union. This movie is often cited as an inspiration behind Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, and although the two movies bare a similar premise, the two films actually do not resemble each other all that much. This film actually bares more resemblance to And God Said to Cain, starring Klaus Kinski. In any case, The Strangers Gundown is a film that deserves to be examined on its own merit. And interestingly enough, Anthony Steffen not only stars in this vehicle, he also co-wrote it. Like many revenged-themed Spaghetti Westerns, the audience already knows how it's all going to play out. We all know that Steffen will kill all the baddies and secure his revenge. But that's beside the point. The fun is in actually seeing the protagonist gets his revenge.

Anthony Steffen in Django the Bastard

THE PLAYERS

It is no secret of fans of Spaghetti Westerns that Anthony Steffen is often accused of being wooden and stiff in his acting, a criticism that I feel is unfairly leveled against him. I have seen Steffen in a few of his non-SW roles, and he shows more versatility and acting range than he is given credit for. In any case, Steffen's supposed "woodenness" is actually adds to this film. Isn't Steffen supposed to be playing a dead guy after all? The stiffness of his character only adds to his menacing and imposing figure in the film. The rest of the cast is of little note, but Luciano Rossi, who plays Luke Murdock, the mad brother of one of the confederate traitors performs admirably with "Kinski-like" glee. You can tell he was having fun playing this role. He is the REAL villain of this movie despite the efforts of Paolo Gozlino, who plays the "main boss". Rada Rassimov plays the money hungry wife who forms an alliance with Steffen throughout the tale. The English dialogue can be horrible at times, but thankfully there is not a lot of talk.

THE MOVIE

Director Sergio Garrone, who collaborated with Steffen on Killer Kid and No Room to Die, and Cinematographer Gino Santini provide a very gothic, dark, and ominous atmosphere to the film. Garrone directs this picture stylistically like a horror movie. Despite the low budget, the night scenes, use of color and shade, and lighting are impressive in many of the shots. The action scenes are well done as well, with good pacing, and it is certainly fun to watch Steffen sneak up on some poor soul and pick off the baddies one by one. Even cooler still, is Django's habit of sticking a cross into the ground with the name and date of death of the soon-to-be dead. Some viewers might be confused with Steffens sudden vulnerability about midway through the film. "Isn't he a ghost? Is he not supposed to be hurt?" one might ask. My interpretation is that there is a limit to his supernatural ability and that he is only a "semi-ghost". He can reappear and disappear in a blink of an eye, but sometimes he is forced to hide himself the good ol' fashioned way. Furthermore, Django's power seems to lie in his gun. When Luke Murdock takes Django's gun away from him, Django suddenly appears vulnerable, he bleeds, his movements less stiff, there is a look of desperation on his face. When he recovers his gun from the dead Luke Murdock, he almost instantly reverts back to his invincible, supernatural, wooden self. The musical score is done expertly by Vasco and Mancuso, but could've stood to be more ominous and desolate to add to the film's already dark and forbidding atmosphere.

Dark horses in the night

CONCLUSION

Overall, this should film is not a masterpiece, but should definitely be considered a classic of the genre nonetheless. The hide and seek nature of the plot is well done. It makes up for a pitifully low budget and B movie production values with its unique elements combined with a good sense of atmosphere and pacing should provide fans of Anthony Steffen and gothic westerns with an enjoyable viewing.

for J.D.'s review of this film, click here.

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