Sunday, December 30, 2012


This Spaghetti Western by Giulio Questi (the communist Italian director responsible for the fascinating oddball giallo DEATH LAID AN EGG, 1968) became the stuff of legend, many years before it became commonly available, when Christopher Frayling wrote about its extreme and stylized violence in his seminal book SPAGHETTI WESTERNS: COWBOYS AND EUROPEANS FROM KARL MAY TO SERGIO LEONE. In preparing my list of films that helped inspire Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED for SIGHT & SOUND, I decided it was finally time to see it.

It's one of a hundred or so DJANGO films that haven't anything to do with that character; in Italy and elsewhere, the name became commercially synonymous for a fast-draw gunslinger, much in the way "Frankenstein" became Germanic shorthand for any kind of monster in West German film titles of the 1960s. This one is charismatically played by Tom├ís Milian (called "The Stranger" years before Tony Anthony adopted that moniker) as a Mexican, hired as cheap labor on a successful gold dig who was then shot and left for dead with his fellows by their greedy employer Oaks (Mario Bava favorite Piero Lulli). The Stranger alone rises from the burial pits for revenge and makes his way to a bizarre, Jodorowskian dreamscape of a town of dolorous women and circus freaks where the reigning villain Mr. Sorrow (Roberto Camardiel) is protected by a band of blatantly homosexual gunmen. Religious iconography ensues -- it occurred to me that this might well have been the Italian Western Toby Dammit was hired to star in, prior to his accident in SPIRITS OF THE DEAD -- and gold figures memorably in two of the death scenes, as men tear barehanded into a torso riddled with golden bullets, and again when another baddie ends up drinking it in its molten form.  

Screenwriter Franco Arcalli was principally an editor whose work included DEATH LAID AN EGG*, the "William Wilson" segment of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, BLACK JESUS, ZABRISKIE POINT, THE CONFORMIST, LAST TANGO IN PARIS*, THE NIGHT PORTER, THE PASSENGER and 1900*. The asterisked titles he also scripted or co-scripted, along with LUNA and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Obviously, a name worth remembering and a career whose throughlines warrant closer study.

PS: Not a particular influence on DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Viewed on Blue Underground Blu-ray.

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