Raro Video // 1969 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // October 25th, 2013
Freezing's a lot better than a hangman's noose.
Sometimes, Italian westerns are tough to judge. Sure, the Sergio Leone movies are indisputably great, and I'll argue that Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence is the second best example of the genre ever made (only behind For a Few Dollars More). It's when you get beyond those shining examples, the waters get a lot choppier. They all share similarities in style and music, as well as a whole slew of actors, but they're almost exclusively B-pictures with a ton of problems, and just because one loves the genre conventions, it doesn't make the individual movie good. I've seen more of these things than I can count, and Hanging for Django is one of the best examples of this that I've seen in some time.
This time in the Spanish wilderness passing for Nogales, Arizona, we find a real jerk in Mr. Fargo (Riccardo Garrone, La Dolce Vita), a land developer who has another, more lucrative scheme on the side. He contracts thugs to go across the Mexico border, find people willing to work for peanuts, and charge the poor souls whatever they have to smuggle them into the States. If sailing is clear, then Mr. Fargo gets a bounty on each head who works. If any trouble is smelled, though, the thugs are instructed to murder the immigrants and leave them in a ditch. A pair of unconnected bounty hunters, Everett Murdock (William Berger, Keoma) in preacher garb and Johnny Brandon (Anthony Steffen, Django the Bastard) with vengeance on his mind, get word of this bad business and team up to stop the violence. The trouble is, one of them has another, more secretive motive.
Now that's an awesome premise. Given that and the way that Hanging for Django starts, I had very high hopes for it. Sadly, the story is really poorly told, with characters coming in that are made to look important, but they're given no story and leave the movie without any explanation. Mostly, the story beyond the premise makes absolutely no sense, such that when the big twist happens, it almost seems that there's a scene missing to explain why it might have occurred.
A lot of the problem just comes down to writer/director Sergio Garrone (SS Experiment Love Camp), whose history in exploitation might mean that he worked cheap, but it doesn't mean he worked well. Aside from a couple of sepia-tone flashback scenes (which come out of nowhere and are never resolved), there's basically no style at work in the movie. It's bland and boring, with below average performances in a genre not known for its acting.
There are some good points, though. There's more gunplay per minute than most movies and, while the violence might not be the most well-directed in the world, probably a good thirty souls are lost in this. The premise, with its immigration issues and sadistic lead villain, is pretty interesting, though it's too bad it's not explored more. The coolest part of the movie is Murdock's choice of weapon: a five-barreled rifle that he can fire in succession, leading to a ton of bloodshed. It might seem like someone's gun is a small thing to appreciate about a movie, but gimmicks like that are important to this genre. Otherwise, though, it's a pretty disappointing example of the genre that, while I'm not sorry I watched, does make me want to watch a better example, just to refresh my palette.
For whatever the relative merits of the movie, the Blu-ray of Hanging for Django is problematic, which is odd given how solid releases from Raro have been in the past. While it's claimed that the film has been mastered from the 35mm negative, I have doubts about that because of how inconsistent the coloring is from scene to scene. The image is very clean, though, and black levels are fairly deep, so it's not all bad. The more troubling thing is that this is an 1080i transfer, which is clear from the lack of detail in the image, and it's the first time in a while that I've seen an interlaced image on Blu-ray in some time. The sound, too, is troubling. No lossless mix here, both the English and the Italian are simple 2-channel mono Dolby mixes. It doesn't sound bad, necessarily, it just sounds like a regular old DVD sound mix.
There's only one significant extra on the disc: a fifteen minute featurette about the film, mostly concerning the director. It's interesting enough, I suppose, but it comes from an 2007 Italian DVD so, while it might be new to those of us on this side of the pond, is a recycled supplement. There's also a trailer but, again, given what Raro has presented in the past, this disc is very disappointing.
Hanging for Django is a tough call. There are things about it that I like quite a bit, not least of which is that awesome rifle, but the story is terribly obscure, with little explanation or coherent plotting. With a Blu-ray far below Raro's normal standards, it's worth a rental for fans of the genre, but most other viewers can skip it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated