Viva Django! (1968)
Director: Ferdinando Baldi
Writers: Ferdinando Baldi and Franco Rossetti
Starring: Terence Hill, Horst Frank and George Eastman

The Plot: A mysterious gunfighter named Django is employed as a hangman by a crooked political figure in the old west. This evil political figure, named David Barry (played by German actor Horst Frank), is responsible for the deaths of numerous innocent men who are regularly framed and sentenced to hang. This is all a part of one massive goal for David Barry to own all of the land within this small Western town. Django, however, has a secret history with Barry, and he wants revenge against this tyrannical figure. As it turns out, Django isn’t killing the framed men who are placed under his noose. He only makes it appear that they are dying, but in reality he straps a harness to each man before the execution and saves their lives. After rescuing numerous men, Django intends to build his own army so that he can take revenge on Barry. Why so much hatred for this crooked politician? He is the man responsible for the death of Django’s family. Now the old west will run red with blood until Django has his vengeance.

The Review
In my review for Django Strikes Again, I discussed the relationship that this film had with both of the official titles within the “Django” franchise. Although I will discuss this area in further detail momentarily, I mainly want to point out how drastically different Viva Django! was from the immense number of “unofficial” Spaghetti Western sequels that were made during the sixties and seventies. These films, which often saw characters such as Django, Sartana, Sabata, and Ringo all taking on new adventures, were movies that were prone to borrowing names and ideas, but they rarely captured the magic that the official movies were able to provide. Similar to the Brucesploitation genre, where other actors would imitate Bruce Lee in various movies released after his death, occasionally these “unofficial sequels” were considered “sequels” only due to their name. Distributors and producers would often throw these popular names into their titles solely for the sake of promotion. There might be a lead character named Django or Sartana in such titles, but often the costumes would be “off” or the characters were done completely wrong. In the case of Viva Django!, this is an instance where the filmmakers somehow managed to do almost everything right. Although it is unofficial, the movie is so good that it seems like a welcome fit within the lineage of Django film titles.

If you view Viva Django! (aka Django, Prepare A Coffin) alongside the original film and its sequel (the previously mentioned Django Strikes Again), there becomes a strange tying bond between the three films. It becomes obvious why others might have seen this as a genuine sequel (or prequel, as appears to be the case with Viva Django!) to the original movie. There are small bits throughout, such as the death of Django’s wife, that seems as if it would later influence …Strikes Again. The grave-site that our leading man concocts for his wife, which simply reads “Django,” may very well have even been referenced in …Strikes Again. In that movie, when the name Django is brought up, there are several men who swear that Django must be dead because they saw a grave with his name on it. A small coincidence, for sure, but in the context of the three movies it does seem to create a strong tie between the movies. There is also the sequence that happens later on in the movie where Django finds himself digging a grave while being approached by an army of villains, but as he breaks into the grave the audience discovers that it holds his trusty machinegun. This is of course reflective of the first film, where Django carried around a coffin that held the same machinegun, but the scene seems as if it were nearly duplicated within …Strikes Again. Towards the back end of Viva Django it is revealed that our lead character, who by the official continuity of the series would later become a priest in seclusion, refused an offer by the evil David Barry (Horst Frank) because he wanted to settle down for a peaceful life and worship the lord. For more crazy tie-ins, in the original Django it appears that his wife (who in that movie was killed by Major Jackson) went by the name Mercedes, but in this movie the only “Mercedes” is an entirely different character who does not have a romantic relationship with Django. However, that does not exclude any chance of a romantic relationship in the future. There are, of course, numerous differences between the three films, and the continuity certainly doesn’t flow perfectly between the three movies, but it is still fairly fun to piece the them together while watching.

The story found in Viva Django! is actually a fairly interesting one. Django is set up not only as a man out for his own vengeance, but he provides an outlet for the audience to enjoy a pure dose of wish fulfillment. He acts as the catalyst for an army of men to have their own revenge, and the early portions of the movie are quite fun because of this fact. This early section surprisingly had me gripped as a viewer, and it encourages the audience to root along with our “heroes.” These innocent men, however, inevitably prove to have their very own issues, and they may not all be as honest or as good as we first think. This can be seen early in the movie during a sequence where the audience is introduced to the hatred of these “framed men.” When given free reign to raid those who had previously set them up, the actions of these men are closer to that of hooligans than the decent folks we at first understood them to be. As they go around beating their antagonists with whips, I personally felt the scenes seemed like they were a bit excessive at the time. Not knowing where the story was going, this entire segment comes across as a bit discombobulating. However, as the story progresses, we see different shades of every character involved. Despite my issues with these characters at the start, the scenes inevitably work because they establish our story with a sense of excitement and energy. This is the main selling point for Viva Django!. The movie packs excitement from the very start.

The biggest change within the Django universe, for this film at least, isn’t in the characterization. It is only in appearance. Terrence Hill steps in for Franco Nero with this feature, and he provides a very familiar and yet different portrayal of the man in black known as Django. Terrence Hill’s portrayal of the character brings something quite different than what Franco Nero, who played Django within the official movies, brought to the role. It is interesting that, from everything I have read, at one point Franco Nero was close to being attached to this project. For whatever reason, it seems that talks fell through and Baldi ended up casting Terrence Hill who has always been known to bear a striking resemblance to Nero. Although Hill certainly attempts to bring the quiet swagger that was found in the original movie, he is also a much more confident and cocky Django. This new version of the character certainly isn’t the sort of brash man-of-action that Hill became famous for playing after his popularity skyrocketed with the They Call Me Trinity series, but Hill is still very self assured in this role. If viewers have any lingering doubts about his ability to play things straight, the introductory scene where Django’s wife and friends are slaughtered in front of him should be enough to let them know that this is a very serious side of the often-comedic actor, and he does not fold under the pressure. Also along for the ride is another Eurocult staple and fan favorite, Mr. George Eastman. Best known as the writer of Antropophagus, where he also starred as the fetus-eating maniac in that movie, Eastman is great here in a role that doesn’t call for him to be deliriously over-the-top. For the most part, Eastman is very relaxed in his role and it makes him an even more terrifying villain.

If there are any negative issues with Viva Django!, they come in two particular areas. Although it may not be the most expected, the cinematography is actually one of the key issues I had with the movie. Granted, this is not a bad looking movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the cinematography was handled by Enzo Barboni who shot Corbucci’s original Django. Likewise, I often expect something a bit more than the average from director Ferdinando Baldi (Get Mean, Blind Man, and many others). Unfortunately, all style seems to have been sapped from Viva Django. While the movie makes good use of its excellent locations, the palette for the film is drained down and most of the camera setups seem to be quite generic for the most part. Equally as problematic is the pacing throughout the movie. Although I thoroughly enjoy the opening half, and the climax is utterly fantastic, there seem to be numerous sequences that tend to feel like “filler” throughout the movie. This is a problem because it tends to drag the movie down, despite the runtime being less than a full ninety minutes. Still, the movie manages to overcome these pitfalls and the audience is left with a very entertaining film at the end of the day.

The Conclusion
While Viva Django certainly has its problems, If the audience can stick with the movie they will find a fantastic spaghetti western that has flown a bit under the radar. Ferdinando Baldi is a director who remains underrated amongst the pantheon of great Italian cult-film directors, and this title may be one of his very best features. Definitely check it out if it crosses your path! I give it a four out of five, easily!