Friday, December 30, 2011

One Damned Day at Dawn... Django meets Sartana!

One Damned Day at Dawn… Django meets Sartana! (1970)

Director Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film Django, proved to be one of the most popular, and most influential spaghetti westerns ever. In fact, it was so influential, and so popular, that it spawned a ton of knock-offs, spin-offs, unofficial sequels, and general rip-offs. So much so, that trying to make sense of all of the imitators, and influence is a career in the making.

The star of the original movie was Franco Nero and Nero has pointed out on several occasions, that Django was so popular in Germany, that virtually every movie he made afterwards managed to be turned into Django sequels when they were released in Germany. The Shark Hunter became Django and the Sharks when it found its way to German screens, similarly speaking, if Nero made a modern-day gangster movie, the Germans would probably have called it Django vs. the Mafia.

Another incredibly popular, influential, and generally exploited spaghetti western was director Gianfranco Parolini’s 1968 classic If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death. Next to Django, it’s almost ridiculous to try and catalogue the number of would-be sequels that came in its wake. Never mind the fact that were a number of official sequels and that the film’s star Gianni Garko, actually starred in a number of the unofficial sequels/rip-offs too.

All of that said; here comes a movie that tries to double its impact by cashing-in on both of these iconic euro-western heroes. I’m pleased to say that although it doesn’t present strong imitations of either popular character, this film does deliver when it comes to the basic fun aspects of what makes the spaghetti western such an enjoyable sub-genre of the western movie.

Part of the fun comes from the tight direction delivered by Demofilo Fidani, it’s pretty apparent that the man was having some serious fun on the set, and it shines on the screen too. But, more to the point, the story works, and it never drags, it moves forward at a great pace, and it’s all fun to watch.

Fabio Testi is Sheriff Jack Ronson, an un-proven; tenderfoot lawman that arrives in the gang-controlled town of Black, and finds that he is drowning in a sea of crime, corruption, and general danger. He is called-out almost immediately by the real boss of the town; Bud Willer (played by Dino Strano) a brutal outlaw who rules the town with an iron fist. With the help of his henchman Sanchez, Willer not only gets away with murder, he can keep the town under his control, and all witnesses to their crimes remain fearfully silent.

Oddly enough, Testi represents the Sartana character in the title’s equation, despite the fact that the character bares no resemblance to the classic rendition of Sartana. Fabio not only doesn’t act like the original character, he doesn’t look like, or even dress like the true Sartana. So, that said, nothing about this character even reminds the viewer of its intended reference.

Furthermore, when we are introduced to the Jack Betts portrayed stranger that arrives in town, seeking vengeance against the men that were responsible for the deaths of his wife’s brothers. We automatically assume that he is Sartana, but no, he is Django, and he’s carrying himself with more of the Sartana swagger than any of the Django edge. It’s funny, because I’ve read somewhere that Jack never bothered to watch the original Django movie, and so he just went with his gut, and performed the character as he saw fit. It works, until we realize that this is Django, not Sartana, and once we realize that Testi is supposed to be Sartana, it now works if you ignore all of the attempts to capitalize on the other two movies, and just enjoy it as a self-contained work, thoroughly un-related to the movies that the filmmakers were attempting to cash in on.

It would be easy to complain, but why bother? If imitation is the highest form of flattery, than exploitation is the highest acknowledgement of true success.

-William J. White

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