Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Django Kill ...If You Live, Shoot!

Django Kill… If You Live Shoot!
Original Title: Se sei vivo spara
Directed by: Giulio Questi
Italy / Spain, 1967
Spaghetti Western, 117min
Distributed by: Blue Underground

There are two main plot devices that make for a great Spaghetti Western: Greed and Vengeance. If you know how to use those ingredients the right way you will probably have made a movie that we still enjoy to this day.

Guido Questi’s Django Kill ...If You Live Shoot! is a very entertaining Spaghetti Western featuring the great Tomas Milian [Sergio Corbucci’s Compañeros 1970, Umberto Lenzi’s Almost Human 1974, and Stephen Soderberg’s Traffic 2000] as “the Stranger”. Note that he’s called the stranger in the movie and not Django, as the re-titling would have one believe. In fact this movie has nothing to do with Corbucci’s 1966 classic Django, (apart from being in the same genre), as it’s once again merely a distributors trick to cash in on the success of the previous movie. This is unfortunate and it’s understandable that Questi, dislikes the Django re-naming as his film is a completely different kind of movie even though it uses the same sort of plot devices. But Questi has a few tricks up his sleeve to push this one a bit further than the common Greed and Revenge motifs, and the main protagonist; Milian, has a change of character throughout the movie.

Through an eerie opening sequence, where two Indians find the Stranger clawing his way out of a grave, back story is explored in a series of rapid and forceful flashbacks as we are brought up to date with the stranger, now coming back to his health. We understand that the Stranger was double crossed by his one time partner Oakes [Piero LulliTonino Valerii’s My Dear Killer 1972, Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill! 1966] who massacred the half-breeds (Milian among them) and left them all in a shallow grave after a heated discussion about his reluctance to divide the stolen booty with them. So instead he kills them all and steals the bags of gold that they have swiped from a Welles Fargo Wagon. Back to now, the Indians heal the stranger and prepare his tools of vengeance, the few pieces of gold that the Stranger had on his person have now been molten down into Golden bullets – “It is your gold, the gold you died for!” “Gold bullets better than lead, go deeper!”– the Indians explain. All they want in exchange is that the Stranger tells them of the happy hunting grounds he has seen on the other side of the river of life. The dialogue is almost a religious text as their wisdom is spoken – The Stranger must use his knowledge of the other side wisely in his choices to come ahead.

At the same time Oakes and his band of outlaws ride into the town that the Indians call – the unhappy place, where the unfriendliness of the town is set through the use of a few small and subtle images; the two children fighting, a young boy being forced into submission under the boots of his “Uncle Max, the married couple fighting behind their windows… The men almost look scared as they enter the saloon, and damned right too as in only a matter of minutes saloon owner Bill Temblar [Milo QuesadaMario Bava’s initial Giallo, The Girl Who Knew Too Much 1963 and Jesus Franco’s Night of the Bloody Judge 1970] has noticed that Oakes is a wanted man and that they are holding a large amount of gold. After rallying up the towns folk the gang are all shot down and strung up to warn off other intruders. Oakes looks as if he’s going to get away, but then the Stranger and his two Indian companions arrive. The Stranger (who Oakes thinks is a ghost) shoots Oakes but doesn’t actually kill him; instead he meets a fate much worse. Mr. Sorro and his band, all dressed in black, arrive. He stops the townsfolk from stringing up Oakes, and orders the town doctor to get the bullets out of him, as he wants to know all about the gold. And when the old doc pulls out a bullet of pure gold from the groaning, wounded Oakes, they go crazy tearing him apart to get to the golden bullets.

It’s a sinister little sequence that not only introduces the two antagonists’ Temblar and Ackerman, but also establishes the subplot with the Mexican bandit Sorrow’s gang, who also want a piece of the gold. [Sorro played wonderfully by Roberto Camardiel] It’s also the scene where the young Ray Lovelock [Amando Crispino’s Autopsy 1975, Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie 1973, and Umberto Lenzi’s The Oasis of Fear 1971] is introduced into the movie as Evan, son of Bill Temblar. Further there once again is a reference to Milian having returned from the dead – “You’ve come back from hell! – Go On! Fire, you’re supposed to be Dead!”

Keeping Sorro out of the loop, the gold is now divided between the two companions, Temblar and Ackerman [Francisco Sanz – also seen in Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie 1973, Amando de Ossorio’s The Blind Dead 1971], the stranger left without his share. But this is a Spaghetti Western and greed soon raises its ugly head once again as Temblar and Ackerman argue over the gold. The gold is the tool that everyone in the own needs to get out and start all over again.

The movie takes an interesting turn here, as Milan is “played” by all parts, Templar wants to befriend him to get protection from Ackerman and Sorro, Ackerman offers up his house, and wife Elizabeth [Patrizia ValturiAntonio Margheriti’s Naked You Die 1968] in his request that the Stranger protect him from Templar and Sorro, and Sorro wants the Stranger to join his merry band and become one of his companeros so they can steal all the gold from Ackerman and Temblar.
Young Evan sees that his father’s new lady, Flory [Marilù Tolo also seen in Tonini Valerii’s My Dear Killer 1972, Sergio Martino’s Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery 1982, and good old Calvin Floyd’s The Sleep of Death 1981] is simply interested in his father because of his new found wealth (this will be shown several times during the rest of the movie) and punishes her by slashing her dresses. Expensive dresses that his father presumably bought her. He then begs Milan to take him with him, no matter where, just away from here. See, everyone wants’ out of this town.

Evan ends up being kidnapped by Sorrow’s gang in an attempt to extort his father out of the gold, but the Stranger steps in and saves Evan, for this time, and get’s an invitation to Sorrow’s ranch in the procedure. Milian later gambles with Sorrow and saves Evan yet again when Sorrow tells his men to shoot the kid after Temblar refuses to pay the ransom. But for some unknown reason, Evan steals a pistol from one of the bandits the next morning and takes his own life… Now at first it seems illogical, then you try to figure some sort of reason out, and it has been suggested that Evan is gangbanged by the bandits during the night and it is with the shame of this ordeal that Evan chooses to take his life. Sure there is enough to support such a claim, the looks Sorro’s men give Evan, and the way they play with Evans hair, but it’s still kind of far fetched. I opt for the answer that Evan refuses to be yet another pawn in his fathers games, to be a victim of his greed - and the simple fact that he’ll be returned to the one place he’s struggled so far to escape from.

Back in town Ackerman and Temblar fall out with each other, as Ackerman refuses to pay half the ransom demand for Temblar’s son. A ludicrous demand to make, which terminates the little friendship that was between the two men, as they both start plotting how to trick the other out of his share. Milian brings the body of Evan back to his father and gets into a fight with him – possibly because he’s so frustrated and angered that his father’s greed has led to the boy’s death - a boy who the Stranger saved several times previously. Instead, Ackerman, who offers up his wife in return for protection, houses the Stranger. And protection he gets’s as the Stranger fends off Sorro’s men who try to claim the gold later that night. After the Stranger get’s his rocks off with Elisabeth that is.

Flory still in lust for all the gold, even Ackerman’s share, convinces Temblar to hide his gold in Evans coffin to keep Sorro’s gang from finding it as they search his house. Ackerman’s final diabolical plan is set in motion. As Temblar returns from Evans funeral Ackerman shoots him in cold blood with the Stranger’s gold bullet pistol, framing him in the process. He then rallies the towns’ folk to find and kill the Stranger, who flees right into the arms of Sorro’s gang who wants to know where the gold is and sets about torturing the Stranger. But ironically it’s love that brings about the downfall of the vile Ackerman - Elisabeth devastated that her lover and possible rescue from the terrifying town – told you that everyone wants’ out didn’t I – sets herself alight with a box of matches resulting with the whole house going down in flames. As the townsfolk gather to watch, yeah watch there’s not to many trying to extinguish the fire, Ackerman tries to salvage the one thing he holds dearest, his gold. But it has all melted in the immense heat and instead of retrieving the bags of loot he if drenched in a pour of molten gold. It reminds me of the South American Indians pouring molten gold down the throats of the conquistadors to settle their thirst for gold.

There’s plenty of gritty violence in the flick, not perhaps as harsh as it would become over the years, but for a mid sixties Spaghetti Western it kind of takes the trophy; Mass execution, close range shots to the head, torso’s torn apart by human hands, scalping, torture by bats, iguanas and a mole and people burning to death. Heavy stuff to unleash on an audience accustomed to the old bang bang-fall down action of the genre. And it’s intriguing that Guesti seems to have a fetish for the transportation of dead bodies. There are plenty of scenes where dead people are moved from one location to another in scenes reminiscent of those seen in war journals where soldiers are moved to and from safety.

The characters are fiendish, holding no respect for anything but themselves. This is proven by the montage where Oakes gang walk into town, the way the town’s folk execute all of Oakes gang, the way they hang them up afterwards, the cynicism of Lori when Evan is kidnapped, Ackerman murder of Temblar, the way he pimps his sister on Milian, the way he manipulates the towns folk to go after the Stranger and his Indian helpers. The coldblooded remarks made by the town people as Ackerman and Elisabeth die in the flaming house. It’s all driven by egocentrism and greed that leaves a devastating wave of death and violence in its way. The Stranger escapes, terminates all the Mexican bandits in one bang, and rides into town just in time to witness Elisabeth die in the flames of the burning house. Instead of claiming his revenge, reclaiming the gold or getting the girl, the stranger rides out of town empty handed in a rather low key ending to this excellent classic Spaghetti Western.

The idea of Milian’s religious aura, like an after death Lazarus presence if you prefer, is evident throughout the movie, and I can’t really shake it off. And even though Questi denies it in every interview he gives about the movie, it’s in there. The religious symbolism can’t be denied. You can even go as far as claiming that Milian even looks like Jesus on the cross in his minimal loincloth, all oiled up for torture by Sorrow’s gang.

I mentioned that Milian's "the Stranger" has a change of character, well its partially true at least. After taking his revenge, without actually killing Oakes, he goes into a remorseful and very passive mood. He only shoot’s his gun a few times and there’s never a deadly shot released, well one, the one that kills Sorro, but considering that Sorro is the main antagonists, it’s only fair that the hero get’s to off the bad guy and his black shirted bandits. After all it’s Sorro who kept the town in fear and drove it’s inhabitants to be the dark characters that they where. The Black Shirted men are most likely political critique against the fascist paramilitary groups of Italy (camicie nere) that Questi fought against as a young anti-fascist partisan during the second world war, and probably what inspired some of the atrocities that take place in the film. This is why the passive character puts an end to the bandit gang in such a violent manner, being forced to put an end to the grip of fear Sorro holds over the town.

The movie has some extremely forceful editing by Franco Arcalli, [the masterful editor of such classics as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist 1970, Vittorio De Sica’s A Brief Vacation 1973 and Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter 1974] He really splices the heck out of this movie and in the more rapid sequences the images stay for only a four-five frames before blasting on to the next image. It’s ferocious and effective and brings frenzy with it. Many of the action sequences, like the Strangers explosive escape from Sorro’s prison are so violently edited that it’s almost impossible to see what we are being shown, but after a few sequences of rapid cuts the image is all to clear and it’s a innovative way of showing the carnage instead of just landing in shots of corpses and intestines. This is also how Arcalli brings the back story into the movie, with small almost incoherent glimpses that eventually come to reveal the necessary information. Now this isn’t just a postproduction gimmick that Arcalli came up with, as he also co-wrote a number of screenplays too. I can’t say how much he wrote on the movies, [Bernard Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris 1972, and 1900 1976 to name a few] but I wouldn’t be surprised if he during the writing hadn’t already started to edit an imaginary movie in his head. I’d also say it’s a fair bet that Donn Cambern had seen Arcalli’s style found here in Se sei vivo spara when he edited the transitions on Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider 1969.

Upon it’s premiere in ’67 the film did decently but then voices where starting to be heard about the violence and tone of the film, so down it went and after being submitted to the censors two of the most violent scenes – The townsfolk tearing out the gold from Oakes body, and the scalping of the Stranger’s Indian helper where snipped out. But don’t worry as they are reinserted for this Blue Underground release. Obviously cuts like this are the sort of cuts that don’t necessarily damage a movie’s narrative, but it does harm to the vision a director had, as he wanted those scenes in there. But at the same time cut scenes of violence help the film in a way as it creates a buzz about that removed stuff, which soon becomes like a holy grail of missing material. Much like the legendary piranha sequence from Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust 1980 – always rumoured to be missing, but eventually it was revealed that they never even shot the sequence. Remember Se sei vivo spara has been called the most violent western ever and perhaps that’s not the case, but the violence is sadistic to say the least.

Guilio Questi’s Se sei vivo spara is well worth checking out, it’s very interesting and almost has an arty approach to the classic Spaghetti Western formula that brings movies like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo 1970 to mind. Tomas Milian is an almost unique protagonist in this movie as he takes his passive approach to the actions in front of him, but when he needs to react he reacts big time – the dynamite attached to the horse that rides straight into Sorro’s gang is possibly the most aggressive put on screen. The movie also holds a strange aura due to that “after death” thing, and several scenes could have been found in a EuroGoth movie. Elisabeth with her pancake makeup and Ackerman’s demise certainly has a Edgar Allan Poe / Andre de Toth's House of Wax 1953 feeling to them to say the least. So do yourself a favour and check out this oddity, you may end up with a new favourite cult classic on your hands.

Widescreen 2.35:1 / Anamorphic 16x9

Dolby Digital 2.0 English or Italian Dialogue with English Subtitles Optional.

Theatrical Trailer, linear notes by William ConnollySpaghetti Cinema editor, Poster and stills gallery, and the 25min featurette Django, Tell! Where Questi, Lovelock and Milian talk about the movie.


Anonymous said...

The First Django film is better than this

Cult Posters said...

but then again this is originally called "If you live shoot"
and had not and never meant to have nothing to do with the Corbucci movie.
In the american market they added the Django name to cash in after the success of that movie.
So comparing it with Django actually makes no sense.

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