Entries in Franco Nero (3)

Monday
Feb252013

Franco February: DJANGO (1966) Review

As Franco February comes to a close, it’s about time to examine the film that started it all. The movie that made Franco so popular in the sixties and seventies and helped kick start the spaghetti western craze. Most people are familiar with its name due to a recent (and awesome) “reboot” of sorts (really not that at all). How do you introduce a movie like this? Of course, I can only be talking about…

DJANGO (1966) Review

In the 1800’s, a mysterious gunslinger only calling himself Django (Nero) walks into a desolate town pulling a coffin. He saves a young woman from being killed by a KKK-type band of outlaws led by the ruthless Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and discovers hatred between them and a gang of Mexican bandits. Django has a history with Jackson and is out to ruin him in every way he can, so he sides with the Mexicans and robs Jackson of a ton of gold. However, Django has an agenda of his own that may cost him his life…

Okay, Django may not have sparked the spaghetti western craze (Leon’s Dollars trilogy was probably responsible for that), but it did leave one hell of an impact. If you’ve heard of Django, you’ve no doubt heard of the huge amount of unrelated westerns taking the name while not really being sequels (ironically, the one “real” sequel from 1987 is more mediocre than most of the unofficial ones I’ve seen). In my personal opinion, the one true sequel is Django, Prepare A Coffin, but that’s another story for another time. We’re here to talk about the original. Nero is the one familiar face in the cast, and boy does he look young. Maybe it’s the lack of any serious facial hair. And even though nobody else really achieved fame, everyone did respectable jobs, which is hard to see past the awful dubbing. That’s really the movie’s weakness; choosing the wrong voice for each character. Worst of all is Django himself; Nero is a gruff-looking guy, and this voice seems more akin to a tour guide at a museum.

In my mind there are two kinds of Italian directors: the visionary ones and the ones interested in making a corny B-movie to get a paycheck. Sergio Corbucci is clearly the former. Right off the bat, Django holds your attention with one of the best title songs you’ll ever hear and the striking image of a figure trudging through a muddy wasteland dragging a coffin behind him. In most westerns, all of the action takes place in a sandy landscape, but not in Django. Everything in the beginning looks filthy, from Django’s ragged outfit to the people themselves. The mystery of what’s in the coffin holds your attention during the kind of slow beginning, and I’m not going to spoil what’s in it. It’s revealed like twenty minutes in, but the reveal itself is so awesomely done I’ll save that for your own viewing pleasure.

The plot is simplicity itself, so Django really relies on its stylistic elements to make it as great as it is. It’s Italian, so the camerawork is naturally really good, and the score is out of this world. Luis Bacalov, who’s probably best known for collaborating with Quentin Tarantino some, composed it and it’s perfection. Every piece of it fits each scene exceptionally well, especially the main theme. Another aspect that makes this movie stand out from others of its kind is the depth the main character has. Django isn’t the do-good cowboy of the ‘30s; he’s an antihero more than anything. He’s just a good guy who’s gotten screwed over by life so bad he attempts to only care for himself when there’s really much more to him. The fight scenes are choreographed very nicely, and this is one of the rare westerns where the fighting actually feels real (exaggerated sound effects intact, though). The climax is strong, but what I’ve found is the case with a lot of spaghetti westerns, the main villain(s) is vanquished too fast and too easily, but the final shot is a memorable one.

I really hate reviewing this movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love Django and I love talking about it, but the problem is I’m writing it for a website called Obscure Cinema 101. This movie really shouldn’t be obscure at all. This is one of the best westerns out there, and it’s one I would rank right up with Leon’s classics. Even with Tarantino’s Django Unchained gaining a lot of popularity, I still don’t think the original gets the attention it deserves. Aside from some questionable dubbing and a climax that should have been a little more, well, climactic. The characters, the action, the twists, the sets, the music, the cinematography are all present and are some of the best around. Blue Underground is on the ball yet again with both a DVD and a Blu-Ray of Django, and both look great. This is one you should really buy on Blu-Ray just for all the great aesthetics of it. The extras are great too, with interviews with Nero and assistant director Ruggero Deodato, a short film with Nero, a documentary on spaghetti westerns, and trailers. This comes as highly recommended from me. I’m giving it a 9/10 for its small problems, but every time I watch it, I feel inclined to boost it up to a 10, so take that for what you will.

The Verdict: Django is by far Franco Nero’s best film and one he hasn’t been able to top yet, despite his impressive catalogue. Even if you’re not a fan of westerns, check this one out, and you may find yourself watching more like it within a week.

Score: 9/10

Sunday
Feb032013

Franco February: THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

I’ve talked about nineties giallos a lot on here, but I’ve actually never talked about the real deal. So, to coincide with Franco February, I’ve chosen a somewhat well known giallo from the golden age of Italian murder mysteries, which just so happens to star Franco Nero! Based on a book by D.M. Devine, here we have a little spaghetti shocker originally called Giornata nera per l’ariete (which translates to The Black Night of the Ram), but was retitled to The Fifth Cord when given a US release. Is this one for the books, or is the presence of Nero not even enough to save it?

THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

Andrea Bild (Nero) is an alcoholic journalist who’s pretty much hit rock bottom. After attending a New Year’s Eve party, one of the guests is attacked with a pipe, leaving him in a neck brace and convinced it was a murder attempt. Soon after, members of that party begin getting killed by a mysterious madman, whose trace is only marked by a leather glove left at the scene with fingers of the glove cut off according to which victim it is. Bild finds that he’s the primary suspect, so to clear his name and stop the killings, he begins digging deep into the case and uncovers a web of sex, scandals, and murder. Can he catch the psycho before he himself becomes a victim?

My attempts to find a copy of the novel this film is based on were unsuccessful, so I really can’t say anything about how faithful this movie is to the book. Even without knowledge that this is based on a novel, it’s still apparent that there are some cuts made to the story. Plot points that should have probably been elaborated on further come and go faster than Bild’s dignity as the movie progresses, and a lot of it doesn’t have too much to do with the proceedings. The Fifth Cord is directed by Luigi Bazzoni, who also directed the mind-bending (and very rare) semi-giallo Footprints on the Moon. Alongside Nero is Edmund Purdom from Italian classics like Absurd and Pieces and giallo veteran Renato Romano from Argento’s debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

I guess the problem with The Fifth Cord is that it feels a little too summarized. In the end, everything makes sense, yet it still feels like there’s something missing. There’s some sort of subplot involving some characters involved in a pornography business, and when the killer is revealed, the motive doesn’t even involve it. And when looking back, a lot of the scenes in this movie are really uneventful. There are only four murders in the 90-minute runtime, and most of the dialogue pieces between them amount to nothing. Whereas in something like Deep Red, every scene between the murders builds on the clues before all the pieces come together and it’s awesome. Here, it’s Nero running around talking to red herrings until the killer is revealed. The murders aren’t very impressive either, and it isn’t helped by the near-absence of music (surprising, as Ennio Morricone was responsible, but the score here feels almost like an afterthought).

But that’s not to say this is a bad giallo. In fact, it’s quite good! The cinematography is as stunning as you’d expect it to be, maybe even more so. It’s not on Argento or Bava levels, but there are moments where I thought to myself, “That’s a really nice shot!” It’s a slow movie, but the talky scenes are enjoyable just for the visuals. I only wish the Morricone score could match it. Nero is as great as he’s ever been, and this is certainly more of an emotional role than I’m used to seeing him in. He’s a drunk, so he has a few mood swings and isn’t the most likable protagonist, but I found myself rooting for him by the end of it. Most of the other characters just serve as red herrings or cannon fodder, but that’s how it usually is. The Fifth Cord houses some really great suspense moments, like when a crippled woman is crawling on the floor in the dark and the entire time we’re just waiting for the killer to strike. Then when a child is being chased around his house by the murderer who actually attempts to strangle the kid! The coup de grace of awesomeness is the final five minutes when Nero is chasing down the killer. In a typical giallo, the killer is hunted down, unmasked, and stopped in a matter of about two minutes. But not here! Here, the two have it out in some wicked fistfights and an intense chase around a factory until the motive is revealed and the end comes.

For a movie released during the golden age of the giallo, The Fifth Cord could’ve been better. But I had fun watching it. It’s not Franco Nero’s finest hour either, but his presence and rugged charm give the movie a much-needed boost. It’s got all the trademarks of a great giallo, with striking camerawork, a good score, a surprising amount of suspense, an extraordinary finale, and Franco Nero! All the drivel in the plot gets to be a drag, though. Blue Underground put out a DVD complete with interviews with Nero and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. It’s also being re-released as part of BU’s Midnight Movies series on a triple-feature with fellow giallos Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and The Pyjama Girl Case. I haven’t seen those two yet, but if they’re as good as The Fifth Cord, it’s worth the money. It’s an average giallo, but even an average giallo is an above-average movie.

The Verdict: The Fifth Cord serves as a successful giallo venture that’s only marred by disposable dialogue sequences and some choppy storytelling.

Score: 7/10

Saturday
Feb022013

It's...FRANCO FEBRUARY!

It's time for OC101's first themed month! Hopefully this won't turn out like the colossal screw-up that was "A Very New World Year," but that was a terrible idea in the first place, so I don't think it will! This February, we honor one of the manliest men alive. If you looked up the word "badass" in the dictionary, you would find his name in its place. An exploitation god. Italian superstar. Born Francesco Sparanero, but most commonly known as...

Awwww yeeeeaaahh! It's Franco February suckers! Yes, for an entire month, I will focus on the works of Italian action star Franco Nero and review four (or more, if time allows) of his works spanning across different genres and subgenres. The man has been in lots of great (and not so great) exploitation flicks from the late-sixties to the eighties. And with those piercing blue eyes and that wicked facial hair, he really presents a striking film presence that you won't forget. And no, I will not be talking about Die Hard 2. This is OBSCURE Cinema 101 people.