Tuesday, January 15, 2013

DJANGO'S CUT PRICE CORPSES (Anche per Django le carogne hanno un prezzo, 1971)

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is just the latest picture to invoke the global success of Sergio Corbucci's original Django movie. Almost innumerable Djangosploitation westerns followed that 1965 release, taking advantage of the fact that the name "Django" was not or could not be copyrighted to tell tales of countless cowboys who all happened to share the magical gypsy name. Inevitably, the appearance of Tarantino's Django movie has drawn some of the past Djangos to American video stores, though not as many as might have been expected had Unchained come out just a few years earlier. Taking the lead in home-video Djangosploitation is Timeless Media Group, a company that's carved a niche for itself putting TV westerns on video while releasing a decent spaghetti western collection back in 2011. Timeless has put out two double-feature DVDs which could be had dirt cheap at some chains last month. The film reviewed here, directed by Luigi Batzella under the alias of Paolo Solvay, is enjoying its official American DVD debut thanks to Timeless and Tarantino. It's a good example of how low Djangosploitation could go by the time spaghetti westerns as a whole had become increasingly silly and childish.


Filmed in incongruously grassy and fertile locations for a story set on the U.S.-Mexico border, Django's Cut Price Corpses seems most influenced by the comic Trinity films. Hence the prominence given John Desmont (in his only known movie role) playing Pickwick, a big, burly, Bud Spencer-like brawler introduced punching and tossing people about in a cantina as the film's Django (Jeff Cameron, who also did two Sartana movies) arrives. Clad in a shaggy vest that looks more Euro than American, Pickwick has an inane catch phrase ("By the great bull of Bashan!") and just about nothing else going for him. His nonlethal antics instantly reduce the show to the slapstick level, whether he's brawling interminably in the cantina or else holding a gang of gunmen on horseback at bay by shoving his saddle into their horses's flanks. He has a grudge against the Cortez brothers, who cheated him at cards, and so is willing to join Django in his pursuit of their band. To establish his badass credentials, Django orders four coffins from the town's dwarf undertaker. But bank agent Fulton (Gengher Gatti) doesn't want Django to kill the Cortezes right away; he's hoping that the bandits will somehow show him where the loot from their last big bank job is hidden so he can reclaim it... if Fulton himself is what he claims.


Batzella/Solvay, on this evidence, lacks any of the pictorial flair that so often redeems an otherwise uninspired spaghetti western. He seems incapable of establishing or maintaining any kind of dramatic momentum, as he proves immediately with Pickwick's endless cantina fight. The most that can be said for Cut Price Corpses visually is that the locations certainly look different. Perhaps the most different element of the story is the fact that the Cortez Brothers actually include a Cortez Sister. Pilar (Esmeralda Barros) wears a bandana under her sombrero and is mistaken for a boy by everyone until someone shakes her hair loose late, but the dubbed English voice, not to mention Barros's face, makes her gender pretty obvious. You don't usually get female outlaws in spaghetti westerns; usually women handle weapons only when they're revolutionaries in the "zapata" subgenre of Mexico-set stories. Pilar isn't a progressive figure, however. She isn't much of a gunfighter, and during the climactic battle Django is too chivalrous to shoot her. She ends up getting shot down by one of her own gang by mistake.

Django's chivalry typifies this picture's ultimate betrayal of the spaghetti ethos. It closes with a number of plot reversals designed to leave the heroes looking as goody-good as possible. So Fulton isn't a potentially ambiguous bank agent but a lawman who happens to have the bounty money for the Cortez brood to hand to Django. And Django isn't a bounty hunter at all, but only pursued the Cortezes, and tried to call their attention to him with his purchase of the coffins, because they had kidnapped his fiancee. He gives the bounty money to Pickwick, at which point you might well see the whole film as a great bull. That's Djangosploitation, folks: use the magic name and people would watch just about anything. Count me as one of the suckers if you must, but I write it off as a learning experience, and anyway the disc was on sale.

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