Sunday, April 7, 2013


The Spaghetti Western era was a remarkable time in film history.  With the end of World War II, the quarantine of American films in once-Axis Europe was suddenly over, and a decade of movies poured in.  When Europeans wanted even more Westerns, first the Germans and then the Italians raced to fill the void, and in less than a decade produced more than 300 features set in the American West.  Timed to the home-video release of DJANGO UNCHAINED, Quentin Tarantino’s western, which has brought a main-stream awareness of the Euro Western phenomenon, Blue Underground will be releasing a quartet of their best Euro Westerns as a set under the title SPAGHETTI WESTERNS UNCHAINED.  The choices, the original DJANGO (1966); TEXAS, ADIOS (1966); DJANGO KILL…IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT!(1967); and KEOMA (1976), could not be better.  If you are a spaghetti western aficionado, or someone getting their first exposure to the genre, these films are a must see.  Just as compelling as the movies themselves, the special features are special indeed.

Tomas Milian stars in DJANGO KILL, but all the others star Franco Nero.   I’ve seen three or four other companies’ versions of DJANGO, but Blue Underground’s is undoubtedly the best – no surprise, considering that it’s taken from the original camera negative!  Though never theatrically released in the United States, Franco Nero is as great a Western icon in the rest of the world as Clint Eastwood is here, and this is the movie that made him that way.  One of Sergio Corbucci’s finest Westerns, few who’ve seen it will forget the enigmatic image of the stoic, mysterious Django walking from the desert into the muddy Mexican frontier town, dragging a coffin behind him like an albatross around his neck.  Unlike Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’, who also had no past, Django is haunted by his, and his new troubles begin when he spots a woman being abused by a pack of red-hooded apparent vigilantes, rescues her, and brings her to a town where neither of them is welcome.  He soon finds himself in the middle of a battle for control between the military, and a band of outlaws, all of them after gold. This is a physically beautiful film, making full use of the Almeria, Spain locations.  The score by Bruno Nicolai, including the haunting theme that DJANGO UNCHAINED fans will recognize, is stunning.  The plot is clever, the action very exciting and at times brutal.  In addition to the trailer, stills and talent biographies, there is also a fascinating documentary featuring Franco Nero’s and assistant director Ruggero Deodato’s memories of the making of the film, and their other work with Sergio Corbucci.

The same year that he starred in DJANGO, Franco Nero played lawman Burt Sullivan in TEXAS, ADIOS.  He brings his undisciplined kid brother with him south of the border, to track down their father’s killer, who died when they were children.  To their surprise, the murderer is now the most influential and respected man in his town.  Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, this movie seems at times more American than the others in this set.  With excellent plotting, action and production, this film has been rarely seen since its release, and is an unexpected pleasure.  Along with a trailer, there’s an informative interview with Franco Nero.

DJANGO KILL! is not a sequel to DJANGO.  With the success of the Franco Nero film, the name ‘Django’ was added to the titles of dozens of films.  Starting with the bizarre sight of Tomas Milian rising from the grave, he is rescued by a pair of desert-roaming Indians, and we learn via flashbacks that The Stranger (he’s only called Django on the poster) is the lone survivor of a falling-out among thieves who had slaughtered an Army troop that was transporting gold.  The gold and the Stranger reach the nearby town, where thieves and townies fight over the gold.  Directed by documentary filmmaker Guilio Questi, a former Italian Resistance-fighter, he had lived in a world of violence, and DJANGO KILL! is an astonishingly violent film, with oblique references to Italian facism, startling scenes of sadism and, implicitly, predatory homosexuality.  Shocked as American viewers were in 1967, they hadn’t seen it all: some of the roughest scenes, included here for the first time, are in Italian, with English titles, because they were cut before the film was dubbed into English.   Included in the special features are a trailer, posters and stills, and a terrific documentary featuring recent interviews with director Questi, star Milian, and actor Ray Lovelock. 

KEOMA came a full decade after DJANGO and A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, when the cycle was considered at an end, the ideas played out.  Yet KEOMA is one of the few, one of the last, masterpieces of the genre.  Franco Nero as Keoma comes back to the town of his birth, to see his father, and finds the town has descended into a Hellish mess, at least in part because of the behavior of his three half-brothers.    In an echo of DJANGO, the story begins with Keoma rescuing a woman from a group of thugs, and bringing her to town, and again, neither are welcomed.  But this time, she’s thought to be carrying the plague, and Keoma’s presence is a threat to his brothers.  In an echo of BROKEN LANCE and THE BIG VALLEY, Keoma is the half-breed bastard son, rescued by his father after all others in the Indian village were slaughtered.  He was raised with his half-brothers, despised by them as being the favorite.  Also prominent in the cast, with one of the best roles of his career, is Woody Strode, who was a servant at the father’s house, and an inspiration to young Keoma, but now he’s a drunkard and a broken man.  Directed by Enzo Castellari, the story and the structure are enthralling, with unusual use of flashbacks that often have adult Keoma walking through his own childhood.  It is Castellari’s favorite of all his films, and one of Nero’s as well.  My only major criticism is the music: while the melodies are fine, there is frequent use of a shrill and tone-deaf man and woman who screech out descriptions of actions you have already seen.  In addition to an interview with Nero, the disk includes wonderful audio commentary by director Castellari and journalist Waylon Wahl.  And in February, director Castellari announced that he will be making another western, BADLANDERS, with feature roles to be played by Franco Nero and Quentin Tarantino.  The 4-disk set will sell for $29.98.  You can learn more about it HERE. 


It’ll be a few weeks, but the folks at INSP have interviewed THE VIRGINIAN cast members to find their personal favorites among the 248 episodes, and will be sharing them on Saturday, April 27th.  In the meantime, here’s a nice short they put together, with James Drury discussing the original ‘Man With No Name.’ 


Ron Perlman in MAGNIFICENT 7

A new film production based on Owen Wister’s classic novel THE VIRGINIAN has been announced by Nasser Group, North Productions.  Set to star in the title role in singer Trace Adkins, currently on CELEBRITY APPRENTICE and recently seen in WYATT EARP’S REVENGE.  Ron Perlman, currently starring in SONS OF ANARCHY, and well remembered in THE MAGNIFICENT 7 vid-series, will take the Lee J. Cobb role of Judge Henry.  Also in the cast are Brendan Meyer, Brendan Penny and George Canyon.  Film is currently shooting in Canada, with AMERICA’S MOST WANTED director Thomas Makowski working from a screenplay by Bob Thiekle.   


Tickets are now on sale for the 90th season of the Ramona Pageant, at the Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre in Hemet.  Based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s fabulously popular novel, attending, and participating in this program has been a tradition for generations of Californians. It’s a remarkably colorful presentation, with about 350 participants, and only the two leads are usually professional actors. Some locals have taken part, in various roles and positions onstage and behind the scenes, for decades. Among the famous actors who have taken part are GONE WITH THE WIND villain Victor Jory, who played the lead early in his career, and was associated with the show for years, and Raquel Welch, who played Ramona in 1959. To learn more, and buy tickets, call 800-645-4465 or go HERE. 



Speaking of RAMONA, on Friday, April 19th, from 11 a.m. until 3p.m., in conjunction with the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, Rancho Camulos in Piru will be holding a fund-raising event, Californio Fiesta de Camulos Rancho!  This beautiful and fascinating rancho is known as the ‘Home of Ramona’ because it was here that author Helen Hunt Jackson, during a brief stay between trains, was inspired to write her novel, and set it there.  D.W. Griffith, when he filmed RAMONA a century ago, used Rancho Camulos as his studio.  You can read my story about Rancho Camulos HERE. 

And on Friday, April 19th you can enjoy a Southwest Vaquero buffet, music, and costumed docent-led tours as you step back in time. Entertainer extraordinaire and the last of the vaudeville cowboys, Sourdough Slim performs in the Will Roger's tradition.  All proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum's mission of historical preservation and education.  The price is $55 per ticket, and you can buy tickets HERE. 


I am glad to report that my spies are everywhere!  After I ran a story about HULU’s shoot four weeks shooting episodes of QUICK DRAW at Paramount Ranch (the story is HERE ) I heard from Don Bitz, Paramount Ranch Historian, who sent me pictures of how the sets were dressed for the shoot.  I’m showing them below, along with a couple of pictures from Mike Gaglio, and please remember that these are copyrighted photographs, and Mr. Bitz and Mr. Gaglio retain their rights to them.  Notice the two different jails -- Paramount's western street is being used to portray two different towns. 


Photo by Don Bitz
Photo by Mike Gaglio
Photo by Don Bitz
Photo by Don Betz
Photo by Don Betz
Photo by Mike Gaglio
Photo of Mike Gaglio




Deadline: Hollywood has announced that JANE GOT A GUN, the Natalie Portman western that got slammed when director Lynne Ramsay quit on the first day, has been shooting for two weeks.  Moreover, Jude Law, the villain of the piece, who quit when Ramsay walked, has just been replaced by recent Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper.  Cooper’s first western was 2003’s THE LAST COWBOY.  Yee-haw!


If you’re going to be in Los Angeles before the end of April, drop by the Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor building on Highland at Hollywood, and see the appropriately titled 100 Years of Glamour and Grace documenting the life and career of actress Loretta Young, who was so memorable opposite Clark Gable in THE CALL OF THE WILD.  The Museum is opened Wednesday through Sunday, and their other current displays spotlight the careers of Jean Harlow, Bob Hope, Sonja Henie and many others.  Adult tickets are $15; kids and seniors are less. 


Okay, you may think a Monster Show doesn’t relate to Westerns, but among the guests are Oscar-winner Martin Landau of NEVADA SMITH and THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL; Duncan Regher, TV’s later ZORRO; Danny Glover of LONESOME DOVE, SILVERADO and HANNAH’S LAW; Eric Roberts, currently in SIX GUN SAVIOR; Virginia Madsen of HELL ON WHEELS; and Linda Blair, who may never have been in a western, but is an excellent horsewoman.  It’s $20 a day, and all the stars charge for autographs, usually starting at $20.  To learn more, go HERE .


This event has moved recently, and stupidly, to the Westin Airport Hotel from the Marriott Burbank.  Among stars of Western interest are Angie Dickinson of RIO BRAVO; Earl Holliman of GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL and THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER; Johnny Crawford of THE RIFLEMAN; Bobby Crawford of LARAMIE; Charles Dierkop of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID; and Stella Stevens of THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE.  Tickets are $20 a day, and all the stars charge for autographs, usually starting at $20.  To learn more, go HERE

THAT’LL HAVE TO DO for this week.  Next week I’ll have info on the upcoming SANTA CLARITA COWBOY FESTIVAL, THE TCM FESTIVAL, and much more!  Have a great week!

Much obliged,







1 comment:

  1. You know I do just about anything to get in the Round-up! Thanks Henry!

    PS- may have to get you a new pair of spectacles- thems obviously a double barrel 50 cal.!

    You are the best, bud! thanks for the updates.
    See you at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival!