Sunday, June 25, 2017

#2,371. Personal Best (1982)

Directed By: Robert Towne

Starring: Mariel Hemingway, Scott Glenn, Patrice Donnelly

Tagline: "How do you compete with a body you've already surrenered to your opponent?"

Trivia: Actress Mariel Hemingway trained for more than a year in preparation for her role

Writer / director Robert Towne’s Personal Best is, in many ways, a sports movie; two Olympic hopefuls train for the 1980 games in Moscow, participating in a number of minor events along the way and pushing themselves as hard as they can to stay in tip-top physical shape. But more than anything, this 1982 film is a love story about two women who, though competitors, cannot shake the feelings they have for one another.

The year is 1976. Tory Skinner (Patrice Donnelly) is a champion Pentathlete, and during the Olympic trials she spots a teenage runner named Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway) who, despite losing her event, has great potential. The two strike up a friendship, and Tory convinces Chris to enroll at Cal-Poly, where, along with becoming her teammate (and roommate), she’ll be coached by Terry Tingloff (Scott Glenn), considered one of the best in Ladies Track and Field. But as Coach Tingloff will discover, Tory and Chris are more than good friends; they’re lovers, and their deep feelings for one another occasionally get in the way of their training. Personal Best follows the two women over the course of several years, detailing their personal struggles as they prepare for the Olympic Games, where (should they make the team) they will be competing against each other in the same events.

Though primarily a love story, Personal Best does, on occasion, put the focus squarely on Chris’s and Tory’s competitive nature; in an early scene, Tory tells Chris she lacks a “killer instinct”, at which point Chris, to prove her wrong, challenges Tory to an arm wrestling match. Using a series of close-ups, director Towne shows, quite effectively, the determination in each woman’s face as they strive to win, and takes what could have been a simple (perhaps even a humorous) contest and transforms it into something very revealing. There are many other sports-related scenes scattered throughout Personal Best that accomplish this same thing (with plenty of slow-motion to build the drama of each one).

But it’s the affair between Chris and Tory that takes center stage, and how their love for one another sometimes dulls their competitive edge. Realizing this is the case, Tingloff tries to drive a wedge between the two women (when Tory gets involved in Chris’s training, Tingloff drops some not-too-subtle hints that she’s actually offering bad advice, and trying to sabotage Chris’s performance). Yet his attempts usually end in failure. Chris and Tory also struggle with the effect their relationship is having on their training. Their minds and bodies are telling them to win at all costs, but they cannot ignore their hearts (after a lifetime of pushing themselves to achieve their dreams, they are suddenly in a position of caring more about someone else’s well-being than their own, and they don’t know how to handle it).

Hemingway and Donnelly are outstanding as the lovers trying to cope with a difficult situation, and Scott Glenn is also strong as Tingloff, a hard-nosed coach who cannot understand why two world-class athletes would allow their personal feelings to interfere with their Olympic dreams (in what may be Glenn’s best scene, Tingloff laments the fact he turned down a chance to be a men’s football coach for the less-rewarding job of ladies track and field. “I was coach of the year last year”, he says. “You know what that means when you're a women’s coach? Jack shit”). Also, kudos to writer / director Towne for taking what in the 1980’s was a taboo subject (lesbianism) and handling it with care; aside from a few crude remarks made by Tingloff (done primarily to ignite either Chris’s or Tory’s competitive fire), Personal Best does not draw attention to its same-sex relationship. It is a love story, plain and simple; the fact that the lovers are both women doesn’t matter one bit.

And it’s in exploring this love that the movie truly distinguishes itself; Personal Best is, without a doubt, a good sports film, but it’s an even better romance.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

#2,370. Thor the Conqueror (1983)

Directed By: Tonino Ricci

Starring: Bruno Minniti, Maria Romano, Malisa Longo

Tagline: "He Was The Ultimate Warrior"

Trivia: In the Philippines this movie was released as Beastmaster 2

“It was written in the stars, and in the dust of the dead, that from the seed of Ganz the Annihilator would come the greatest of all chieftains, Thor the Conqueror” 

As if on cue, the above bit of narration leads directly into a scene where we witness the birth of the individual who will become this movie’s main character. In it, Thor’s father, Ganz (Angelo Ragusa), and his wizard sidekick Etna (Luigi Mezzanotte) march through a field, while the woman pregnant with Ganz’s child (her name is never revealed) waddles behind, in labor and in extreme pain. After reaching a “sacred spot” (marked by a stone that represents one of the Gods), Ganz and Etna perform a brief ceremony, after which Ganz’s wife staggers into the woods to give birth. A few minutes later, a baby’s cry is heard, and a proud Ganz hoists the infant high into the air, as if to alert the heavens that his successor, Thor, has been born.

But the scene doesn’t end there. Several well-placed arrows interrupt this touching father / son moment, and Ganz is soon after attacked by the army of his arch-enemy, Gnut the Archer (Raf Baldassorre). Etna uses his magical powers to save himself and the infant, leaving Ganz (and, of course, Thor’s mother, who never really does much other than give birth) to fend for themselves.

Thus begins 1983’s Thor the Conqueror, a movie that desperately wants to be Conan the Barbarian, but in the end doesn’t even measure up to Ator, the Fighting Eagle

Watched over by Etna, Thor (Bruno Minniti) grows to manhood, and before long sets out on his own, intent on tracking down the sacred sword that belonged to his father (a weapon that, once he possesses it, will make him the supreme ruler of the land). But the journey won’t be easy: Thor battles many foes during his travels, one of which, a warrior virgin named Ina (Maria Romano), eventually becomes his bride. When his quest is near its end, Thor encounters his father’s old nemesis, Gnut, who uses every ounce of his evil power to ensure that Thor will never claim the throne that’s rightfully his.

So, where does Thor the Conqueror go wrong? For starters, its story is as trite as it is perplexing; Thor’s mission is a simple one (find the sword and become king), but the enemy tribes he encounters along the way will nonetheless have you scratching your head, wondering what the hell is happening (each new tribe looks exactly like the previous one, and often attack Thor without provocation or reason). What’s more, the film is incredibly misogynistic; Etna flat-out tells Thor that women are “stupid”, and good only for sex and bearing children. Thor takes his guardian’s advice to heart: after defeating Ina in battle, he rapes her, then immediately makes her his slave (she seems to like it, however, and at one point even saves Thor’s life). Also, much of the dialogue in Thor the Conqueror is ridiculous (“Many moons times ten have passed”, Etna says in his dual role as narrator, though we’re never sure if he’s actually narrating Thor’s tale or just talking to himself) and it looks as if the entire movie was shot in the same forest (practically every scene is set in the great outdoors).

More than anything, though, Thor the Conqueror is… well, weird! During a dream sequence, Thor is haunted by (among other things) a ghostly, floating chicken head and a giggling skeleton; and in an early scene, Etna helps Thor defeat some of his foes by magically launching a rock into the air (an effect so clunky that it made me laugh out loud).

One thing this movie is not, however, is dull; there is always something happening, whether it’s a battle or an unusual bit of magic. You may not have a clue what’s going on, and some scenes are so ludicrous that the guys from MST3K would have a field day lampooning them, but from start to finish, Thor the Conqueror is non-stop action. I’m not recommending you check it out (it is a very bad film), but if you do, I promise you won’t be bored for a minute.

You’ll be confused, and maybe even a little angry, but never bored.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#2,369. Intermission (2003)

Directed By: John Crowley

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Kelly Macdonald, Colin Farrell

Tag line: "Small town delinquents. Shady cops. Pretty good girls. And very, very, bad boys"

Trivia: Co-star Colin Farrell performs the song "I Fought The Law" that plays over the end credits

It starts innocently enough: Lehiff (Colin Farrell) is in a small café, situated smack-dab in the middle of a busy shopping center. He’s chatting to the pretty waitress (Kerry Condon) that works there, and based on their conversation, we get the distinct feeling that Lehiff fancies her. “Who knows where the sparks will lead?” he says to her, “And a fella like myself, a stranger, could just be a bit of fun in the sack, no more than that. Or… and it's not that crazy… your soul mate”. The waitress smiles; clearly, she’s as smitten with Lehiff as he seems to be with her.

But this exchange is not what it appears to be. Moments later, something quite unexpected happens, and things quickly spiral out of control.

With that, Intermission, a flashy, stylish film by first-time director John Crowley, is off and running.

Lehiff is but one of this crime / comedy’s many characters. We also meet John (Cillian Murphy), a clerk at the local grocery store who recently broke up with his longtime girlfriend Diedre (Kelly MacDonald). John felt they needed a break from each other, but after talking things over with his co-worker and best pal Oscar (David Wilmot), a guy who hasn’t had a date in months, John thinks he may have made a mistake.

But it’s too late; Diedre has already hooked up with Sam (Michael McElhatton), a bank manager considerably older than she is. Sam is so in love with Diedre, in fact, that he’s left Noeleen (Diedre O’Kane), his wife of 16 years, to move in with her. Diedre’s sister, Sally (Shirley Henderson), is still reeling from a disastrous relationship of her own, and is none too pleased that Diedre is committing “adultery” with a married man.

And then there’s Mick (Brian F. O’Byrne), a bus driver whose recent accident has cost him his job. Mick told his superiors what happened; that he lost control of the bus when an adolescent punk (Taylor Molloy) threw a rock through the windshield. Alas, nobody believes him.

Fortunately, not everyone in this Dublin neighborhood is having a bad day. Jerry Lynch (Colm Meaney), a gung-ho police inspector, has been approached by TV producer Ben (Tomás Ó Súilleabháin), who wants to make a hard-hitting documentary about the fight against crime, with Jerry as its star. The egotistical Jerry, whose no-nonsense attitude has pissed off a few small-time thugs (Lehiff included), is only too happy to oblige. In addition, Diedre’s mom, Maura (Ger Ryan), is now a local celebrity, praised by the media for her role in rescuing people from the wreckage of an overturned bus (the very crash that put poor Mick on the unemployment line).

Over the course of several days, the lives of all these individuals will intersect, culminating in an attempted robbery that’s sure to land a few of them in hot water!

With so many characters, you’d think the movie might get a bit confusing after a while. But thanks to Mark O’Rowe’s smart, profanity-laced script and the excellent performances of its cast, Intermission is anything but muddled. On the contrary: the characters are so well-realized that every single one of the film’s subplots or individual tales, regardless of how much time is dedicated to them, is thoroughly engaging. Add to this director John Crowley’s cinema-verite approach to the material (there’s plenty of handheld camerawork), some very explosive scenes, and heaps of witty dialogue, and you have a movie brimming with energy.

Yet what’s truly amazing is that, through all of the craziness that plays out on-screen, all the swearing and the sudden violence that hits us from out of the blue, Intermission is, at its heart, a love story (or should I say stories), with men and women looking for that special someone (and occasionally finding them). That, in my opinion, is the most endearing aspect of this underrated 2003 gem.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

#2,368. Hope and Glory (1987)

Directed By: John Boorman

Starring: Sarah Miles, David Hayman, Sebastian Rice-Edwards

Tag line: "The epic story of a world at war. And a boy at play"

Trivia: A 650 feet long suburban street set with seventeen semi-detached houses was constructed for this movie

John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, a 1987 film about a small family coping with the difficulties of living in London during World War II, played regularly on cable TV in the late ‘80s, and even though I never sat down and watched it from start to finish back then, there’s one moment from its trailer that always made me chuckle. 

Billy Rohan, a 10-year-old boy (and the movie’s central character), is on his way to school. When he arrives there, he finds the schoolhouse in ruins. Elated, Billy joins the other children, all of whom are shouting and celebrating. As the teachers try desperately to gain control of the situation, one of Billy’s friends runs up to him and shouts “Rohan! It was a stray bomb!” Then, looking up to the sky, his arms outstretched, the friend adds, “Thank you, Adolf!

It’s one of several funny moments to be found in Hope and Glory, a film that is also, at times, quite sad, and even a little romantic.

A semi-autobiographical account of director John Boorman’s own childhood, Hope and Glory opens in 1939, just as England has declared war on Nazi Germany. Young Billy Rohan (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) lives with his family in the suburbs of London. Billy’s father, Clive (David Hayman), promptly enlists in the army, and his mother, Grace (Sarah Miles), wants to send Billy and his younger sister Sue (Geraldine Muir) to live with relatives in Australia, where they’ll be safe from Nazi air raids. But Billy refuses to go; he’s excited by the prospect of a war being fought in his own backyard, and over the next few years he experiences quite a bit of what 20th century warfare has to offer. German bombs destroy several neighborhood houses, and planes battle in the skies above. In addition, Billy’s teenage sister, Dawn (Sammi Davis), falls in love with a Canadian soldier (played by Jean-Marc Barr) who is stationed nearby. 

But as Billy will eventually discover, war isn’t all fun and games. In fact, there are times when it can be downright heartbreaking.

The magic of Hope and Glory lies in how it views war through the eyes of a child, who thinks it’s kinda neat when his classes are interrupted by air raid sirens, or he finds a few shards of shrapnel lying in the road. At one point, Billy joins a gang of kids who spend their days in bombed-out houses, breaking anything that’s left standing. Billy isn’t alone in his fascination with World War II; one afternoon, a German plane is shot down, and the entire neighborhood gathers to gawk at the pilot (played by Boorman’s son, Charley), who parachuted into a nearby field.

Of course, war can also be tragic, and Hope and Glory doesn’t shy away from the chaos of late night air raid sirens or explosions that shatter glass and reduce dwellings to rubble. In conditions such as these, children are forced to face some harsh realities (one of Billy’s friends is orphaned when her mother is killed by a bomb), and even adults occasionally ponder the paths that their lives have taken. With Clive off fighting the war, Grace finds herself growing closer to Mac (Derrick O’Connor), Clive’s best friend (and the guy she once had a crush on). War undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on the soldiers who serve on the front lines, but as Hope and Glory demonstrates, it can be just as tough on those they’ve left behind.

Well-acted from top to bottom (Sebastian Rice-Edwards is especially fantastic in what is essentially the lead role), Hope and Glory is a funny, poignant, and often moving portrait of a family doing their best to deal with a difficult situation, and learning a bit about themselves in the process.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

#2,367. A Night to Remember (1958)

Directed By: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres

Tag line: "TITANIC... The greatest sea drama in living memory told as it really happened!"

Trivia: This is regarded as the largest British production of the 1950s. It was also the most expensive film made by the Rank Organization

With a budget of $200 million, James Cameron’s 1997 award-winning film Titanic recreated the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the British luxury liner that struck an iceberg in April of 1912 and carried some 1,500 souls down with it to its watery grave. It is a tragedy that continues to fascinate: a mammoth ship, the RMS Titanic was labeled “unsinkable” by its manufacturer, the White Star line, yet it never even completed its maiden voyage, and sits, to this day, at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Packed with drama, romance, and plenty of thrills, Cameron’s Titanic took in over a billion dollars worldwide, making it one of the biggest box-office successes in cinematic history.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, 1958’s A Night to Remember is another account of the Titanic tragedy. It was produced on a more modest budget (estimated to be around half a million British pounds) than the 1997 film, yet in the end is every bit as realistic, every bit as intense, and every bit as moving as Cameron’s epic undertaking.

While traveling from London to New York, the RMS Titanic, the largest liner ever constructed, sideswipes an iceberg in the North Atlantic. What seemed like a near-miss soon proves catastrophic, however, when the ship’s designer Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe) informs the crew that a gash in its side is flooding Titanic’s lower decks, and, in a few hours, the great vessel will sink to the bottom of the ocean. Knowing full well there aren’t enough life boats to save everyone on board, Captain Smith (Laurence Naismith) and his subordinates, including First officer Murdoch (Richard leech) and Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More), do what they can to get the women and children to safety, all the time hoping that a nearby ship will come to their rescue. Unfortunately, the only vessel to answer Titanic’s distress call is the RMS Carpathia, whose Captain, Arthur Rostron (Anthony Bushell), orders his crew to take whatever steps are necessary to get them to Titanic’s position as quickly as possible. But even at full-speed, the Carpathia is 4 hours away, which means a good many people will already be dead before help arrives.

Based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction book of the same name, A Night to Remember does take some time at the beginning to introduce its various characters, most notably Second Officer Lightoller, played quite well by top-billed star Kenneth More, who spends a few days with his wife (Jane Downs) before Titanic’s maiden voyage. That said, the majority of the movie is dedicated to what transpired after the ship hit the iceberg, with events playing out as quickly as they must have that fateful night in April of 1912. Upper-class passengers, most of whom have no idea of the danger they’re in, complain about the “inconvenience” of having to put on life jackets and gather on the frigid deck. A nearby ship, the Californian (no more than 10 miles away) is oblivious to Titanic’s situation, and ignores the ship’s various SOS signals (including the distress rockets sent up every five minutes). And then there’s the passengers on Titanic's lower decks, who are locked in until the first and second classes are safely aboard the lifeboats. After seeing A Night to Remember, those who survived the disaster praised the movie’s realism, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that they went to such lengths to depict that terrible night as accurately as they possibly could.

But A Night to Remember is far from a straightforward documentary; there’s plenty of drama as well. After a brief conversation with Thomas Andrews, first-class passenger Robbie Lucas (John Merivale), realizing how dire the situation is, calmly convinces his wife (Honor Blackman) to board one of the life boats with their three children, reassuring his family that he would follow on another boat but knowing that, in all likelihood, he would not survive. This is the first of several emotional scenes in which passengers must make that all-important decision: board the lifeboat, or stay behind (and, in all probability, die) with their loved ones.

In addition, A Night to remember shows us the individual acts of bravery performed by the ship’s crew. Wireless operator Jack Phillips (Kenneth Griffith) remained at his post as long as he could to send the distress signal; and the band continued to play right up to the end, doing their damnedest to bring an air of calm to the growing panic all around them. And then there are the ship’s final moments, and the screams that those on the lifeboats could hear in the darkness. Some, including the boat with American millionaire Molly Brown (Tucker McQuire) on-board, returned to pick up the survivors floating in the water. Alas, many did not return.

Though not as visually impressive as what Cameron and his team accomplished with 1997’s Titanic (the miniature shots in A Night to Remember of the ship at sea were lifted from a 1943 Nazi propaganda film produced by Joseph Goebbels), the story as depicted in A Night to Remember is just as powerful, and just as likely move you to tears.

Monday, June 5, 2017

#2,366. Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

Directed By: James William Guercio

Starring: Robert Blake, Billy Green Bush, Mitchell Ryan

Tag line: "He's A Good Cop. On A Big Bike. On A Bad Road"

Trivia: The rough cut of this picture ran for around three and a half hours

During his introduction for the Electra Glide in Blue DVD, James William Guercio, the director of this 1973 film, tells of how he spent his childhood in a movie theater that employed several members of his family. Apparently, the owner of this particular theater was a John Ford fan, and as a result, Guercio said he saw films like The Quiet Man and The Searchersabout 200 times”.

This left a lasting impression on the first-time director, and sure enough, Ford’s influence is evident early on in Electra Glide in Blue; a camera, perched in the middle of a desert road in Monument Valley, stares off into the distance. The picture is in black and white to start, then slowly changes to sepia-toned, and eventually full-blown color just as a minivan speeds past. It’s a gorgeous shot, and the picturesque panorama was captured brilliantly by the great Conrad Hall (who served as the director of photography). Along with establishing the central location, this brief scene lets us know that Electra Glide in Blue, like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers before it, is going to play out like a western.

But while the movie’s look and feel may owe a lot to John Ford, its story has more in common with Easy Rider and Vanishing Point, both released a few years earlier (1969 and 1971, respectively). In the west that John Ford explored in films such as Wagon Master and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, America was still growing, and those who dared the westward expansion had a fighting chance to make a better life for themselves. In Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, and Electra Glide In Blue, however, (a trio of movies that, for want of a stronger term, I refer to as the “Motorized West Trilogy”), the main characters went looking for the American dream, only to discover it wasn’t all they imagined it would be.

Motorcycle cop (and Vietnam Veteran) John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) roams the long stretches of highway that cut through the Arizona desert, dreaming of the day when he’ll be promoted to Detective. He finally gets a chance to prove himself during the investigation of an apparent suicide. The coroner (Royal Dano) insists the deceased man, a longtime resident of the area, took his own life, but Wintergreen believes he was the victim of foul play. Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan), the detective assigned to the case, admires Wintergreen’s “go-getter” attitude, and orders an autopsy. Sure enough, the suicide was staged to cover up a murder, and all at once, Wintergreen is promoted. But as the ambitious lawman will soon learn, the life of a homicide detective isn’t as glamorous as he hoped.

Robert Blake delivers an excellent performance as the proud yet naïve Wintergreen; during the opening credits, we see how seriously the character takes his job just by the way he puts his uniform on in the morning (making sure everything is just right before he walks out the door). Later, we tag along with Wintergreen as he flags down a couple of vehicles and writes them a ticket (the first is driven by an LA cop on vacation, who can’t believe a fellow officer won’t give him a break). Wintergreen’s partner in these early scenes is Zipper (Billy Green Bush), who is his opposite in every way. Zipper spends most of the day resting in the shade, and plants drugs on a young hippie they pull over (played by David J. Wolinski) simply because he didn’t like the way he looked. When he’s promoted to detective, Wintergreen is elated, in part because he can finally leave Zipper and his corrupt conduct behind him.

Unfortunately, his new colleague, Harve Poole, isn’t as honest and upright as Wintergreen initially thought. Sure, Harve talks a big game, bragging about his exploits and pausing occasionally to offer Wintergreen some advice. But Wintergreen’s eyes are opened during the murder investigation when the duo, looking for a possible suspect, drive to an abandoned farm that doubles as a biker’s hangout. The bikers are less than helpful, which causes an impatient Harve to turn violent (in an attempt to show he means business, Harve beats several bikers into submission). The two detectives do obtain the desired information, but Wintergreen does not approve of Harve’s tactics, and his disappointment with his new partner grows even stronger when he and Harve have a falling out over a waitress (Jeannine Riley) that they’ve both been dating.

Blake is, indeed, the star of Electra Glide in Blue, and as such he does a great job conveying his character’s early enthusiasm and eventual disenchantment. The second star, however, is undoubtedly Conrad Hall, whose camerawork, at times, gives Electra Glide in Blue an almost fantasy-like feel. While the outdoor scenes are clearly an homage to John Ford (who shot a good many films in Monument Valley), the indoor sequences are every bit as stylish, thanks in large part to the manner in which Hall utilizes shadows and back-lighting (the opening segment, a series of close-ups in which the murder/suicide plays itself out, is especially intriguing).

As with Electra Glide in Blue, the remaining two movies that make up the “Motorized West Trilogy” feature the work of top-notch cinematographers; Easy Rider was shot by László Kovács (Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon), while John A. Alonzo (Sounder, Chinatown) handled the camerawork for Vanishing Point. As a result, all three have their share of amazing imagery. And while the protagonists themselves may be different (Easy Rider’s Wyatt and Billy are drug dealers; Kowalski in Vanishing Point is a former cop turned lawbreaker; and Electra Glide in Blue’s Wintergreen is a by-the-books policeman), the central theme explored by all three, namely their character’s disillusionment with the America they encounter on their journeys, is just as powerful today as it was during the Vietnam War era, and this particular aspect of their stories is what will stay with you long after the movies have ended.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

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

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.