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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#2,365. Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968)

Posted: 04 Jun 2017 02:00 AM PDT

Directed By: Ferdinando Baldi

Starring: Terence Hill, Horst Frank, George Eastman

Tagline: "Wanderer. Gunslinger. Executioner"

Trivia: The band Gnarls Barkley sampled the soundtrack from this film for their hit song "Crazy".

Sergio Corbucci's 1966 western Django was a box-office sensation, and for years afterwards a slew of films tried to capitalize on its success by putting "Django" in their title. Most (including Quentin Tarantino's excellent 2012 film Django Unchained) had no connection whatsoever to the original movie. One notable exception is 1968's Django, Prepare a Coffin, a prequel of sorts to Django that was co-written by Franco Rossetti (who also penned the original). Unfortunately, Franco Nero wasn't available (he was busy making Camelot in America), so this time out, the lead was played by Terence Hill, a charismatic actor who would shoot to superstardom a few years later as the title character in 1970's They Call Me Trinity.

This, plus the return of cinematographer Enzo Barboni (who did a masterful job shooting Django), was enough to ensure that Django, Prepare a Coffin would, at the very least, be a solid follow-up to Corbucci's 1966 classic.

While guarding a shipment of gold, Django (Hill) and his men are attacked by a group of bandits, and during the melee Django's wife (Angela Minervini), who was accompanying him on the journey, is shot and killed. As he crawls to safety, a wounded Django notices that the leader of the bandits is Lucas (George Eastman), the right-hand man of newly-elected senator David Barry (Horst Frank), a good friend of Django's who, a day earlier, invited him to join his organization.

Five years later, Lucas and Barry are still stealing gold from passing wagons, each time pinning the crime on an innocent man who, before he knows what's hit him, is sentenced to hang. What the two thieves don't realize is that Django himself is the local hangman! By attaching a harness to the back of each condemned prisoner, Django manages to save their lives (while, at the same time, convincing all onlookers that the accused is dead). It's Django's hope that those he's rescued from the gallows, including Garcia (José Torrès) and Johnathan Abbott (Guido Lollobrigida) will help him take his revenge on Lucas and Barry. But as Django will soon discover, not even saving a man's life is enough to guarantee his loyalty.

As with 1966's Django, Django, Prepare a Coffin boasts a handful of great scenes, chief among them the saloon stand-off where Django battles it out with Lucas; and the finale, which (like a similar sequence in Corbucci's film) takes place in a cemetery. In addition, Django, Prepare a Coffin has quite a bit in common with the original; aside from the lead's outfit (it is identical in both movies), this 1068 prequel features the murder of Django's wife, which is alluded to in Django (though the man responsible for her death is different this time around). As for the title song, "You'd Better Smile", performed by Nicola De Bari for Django, Prepare a Coffin, isn't as good as Rocky Roberts' main theme for Django, but it is kinda catchy.

And then there's Terence Hill, who, along with his striking resemblance to Franco Nero, does a fine job stepping into the iconic role. He may not bring the same intensity to the part that Nero did, but Hill's Django is nonetheless a far cry from the comedic characters he would play later in his career.

In the final scheme of things, Django, Prepare a Coffin isn't the masterpiece that Django is, but if you're a fan of Corbucci's original, then odds are you'll get a kick out this movie as well.

#2,364. Eagles Over London (1969)

Posted: 03 Jun 2017 04:54 PM PDT

Directed By: Enzo G. Castellari

Starring: Frederick Stafford, Van Johnson, Francisco Rabal

Tag line: "A true story written in flame and fury"

Trivia: When getting the directing job, Enzo and a writing partner took a week to rewrite the overlong script to make it more action orientated and less of a "soap opera"

As I was perusing my DVD collection, trying to find a movie to watch, I came across Eagles Over London, a 1969 World War II film, and two things about it caught my attention.

First, it was directed by Enzo Castellari, the man behind The Heroin Busters, 1990: The Bronx Warriors and the original Inglorious Bastards, all of which I enjoyed (he also helmed the excellent Keoma, my 2nd favorite Franco Nero spaghetti western after Django).

The second tidbit that piqued my interest was this quote on the back cover:

"A terrific film with one of my favorite storylines ever. You're in for a real treat!Quentin Tarantino"

I know Tarantino is a fan of Castellari's work (his own 2009 war movie is also titled Inglourious Basterds), but to see a quote like that from a cinephile of his caliber was enough for me.

I immediately popped the DVD into the player.

Eagles Over London begins with the mass evacuation at Dunkirk, which the British High Command ordered soon after the Nazis gained control of France. Capt. Stevens (Frederick Stafford) and Sgt. Mulligan (Renzo Palmer) are among the thousands of troops waiting at Dunkirk for the ships that will carry them home. But what they and the rest of the army don't know is that a team of German spies, disguised as English soldiers, has infiltrated their ranks. Led by a man named Martin (Francisco Rabel), these spies have orders to destroy the British military's new radar system, which will clear the way for Germany to launch a surprise attack from the air (history will call it the Battle of Britain).

Once in London, Capt. Stevens uncovers a series of clues that suggest there are Nazi agents operating in England, and he meets with Air Marshall George Taylor (Van Johnson) to warn him of the danger. Unfortunately, Stevens has no idea who the spies are, or what their ultimate target might be. Realizing that time is of the essence, he and his team work quickly to identify and capture the enemy agents, knowing full well that failure to do so could affect the outcome of the war.

Eagles Over London is a non-stop thrill show, with plenty of gunfights, explosions, and even some fisticuffs to keep you entertained. Hands-down, the best sequence is the evacuation at Dunkirk, which Castellari recreates on a grand scale, but there's also a battle scene late in the film, when the German agents attack a radar outpost, that impressed the hell out of me. As for the movie's depiction of the Battle of Britain, Castellari got a bit creative, relying more on studio-bound shots (of pilots in the cockpits of their planes) and stock footage to bring this famous skirmish to life (despite this economically-minded approach, it's still damned exciting).

Castellari does manage to throw a romantic entanglement into the mix (both Stevens and Air Marshall Taylor have the hots for Meg, played by Ida Galli, herself a soldier stationed at command headquarters), and there's even a little comedy relief courtesy of Renzo Palmer's hard-drinking, no-nonsense Sgt. Mulligan. But these elements are never more than a brief distraction, a momentary diversion to allow the audience to catch its breath. If you're a fan of action-packed war films, then Eagles Over London should be the very next movie you watch.

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