Released in 1969, DJANGO IL BASTARDO was a Italian produced western. Directed by Sergio Garrone who wrote the films storyline/screenplay. The movie focuses upon a stranger who seems to just turn up out of nowhere, and begins to take a terrible revenge upon former confederate officers who during the Civil War betrayed the Southern States and were responsible for the massacre of their own troops because of their dealings with the army of the North. But the stranger survived the massacre and has returned to avenge his comrades. The story was co-written by the movies star Anthony Steffen (under the alias of Anthony Teffen) and released outside of Italy under the titles of DJANGO THE AVENGER and THE STRANGERS GUNDOWN.
After Sergio Leone’s epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the spaghetti western seemed to change direction slightly, and the levels of violence etc within the genre became less but, DJANGO THE BASTARD was one of the very few Spaghetti westerns that came after Leone’s masterpiece that retained the style and also the feel of the Italian made western pre-ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. By this I mean it had to it an earthy and raw appearance and retained the violent persona that we now associate with Spaghetti westerns from 1964 through to 1968 such as the original incarnation of the DJANGO character in the 1966 Sergio Corbucci movie. Many films in the genre that were released after 1969, were more subdued in this department and restricted the body count CALIFORNIA for example. On first looking at the film one is hard pressed to differentiate from many other westerns that were produced in Italy during the 1960.s. However, to dismiss this film as another clone or imitation of the original Leone Trilogy would be unjustified and be do the movie a great disservice. The plot does revolve around a mysterious stranger, but this can be said for many other Spaghetti westerns, the attraction of this production and probably the elements that separate it from other examples of Italian produced sagebrush sagas, is the Gothic mysticism elements that are present within it. It is at times difficult to understand how the central figure just simply slips away into the shadows and is concealed from his victims, it is as if he could be a creature of the night as in a vampire or a phantom, and may be this is where the concept for later movies such as HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER came from?
This element of the movie is something that maybe the audience think more about as the plot develops and the storyline proceeds, and even at the end of the movie when we see briefly that the stranger could just be human like us, there is an air of the supernatural attached to his character.
When we as fans of the spaghetti western genre look at key works within it, there is a common denominator amongst many of them, and that is the opening sequence, which is an important part of the film, because it is normally at this point that we become aware of the hero or in the case of the Spaghetti western the anti-hero of the piece, the villains are to identified as are the weaker and more submissive character within the forthcoming story. With DJANGO THE BASTARD we see what looks like a deserted town, a ghost town if you like, until after a while the camera pans up and we see a lone figure in the main street, who is carrying a cross which he plants firmly into the freshly rain dampened ground that is the towns central avenue. The cross bears the name of Sam Hawkins and that day’s date. November 13th, 1881. This act stirs up a group of men who are somewhat worse for wear due to excess whisky that are recovering from their drinking in the saloon, one of them is the Sam Hawkins whose name is on the cross. They then proceed to go out into the street to face the stranger and thus it begins. The normal five against one odd’s as the men face the stranger, but it is the stranger who walks away from the gunfight leaving five bodies on the ground. Like so many other films within the genre this is a Revenge western, and for the most part is acted and directed wonderfully and like other examples makes effective use of a number of flash backs to inform the audience of what has happened before and shape and build the storyline, which are tinted and given an echo on the dialogue to add atmosphere and also ensure that the audience are aware that this is something the central character is thinking of, mostly these scenes are underscored sparsely at one point just via a snare drum tapping out an urgent martial beat.
The musical score too plays an integral part of the story and supports and adds depth and atmosphere to the proceedings. Again on first listen one would think that the music is a homage or a direct imitation of the style created by Maestro Ennio Morricone for the Leone Dollars trilogy, but when listening more intently and in depth when the music is separated from the film there is so much more to this film soundtrack. The music is by Elsio Mancuso and Vasili Kojucharov, under the names of VASCO AND MANCUSO. It is one of the many spaghetti western soundtracks that have been crying out for a release, and thanks to the BEAT record label in Rome, at last we have it on compact disc.
The style of the music is more akin to the sound achieved by Maestro Francesco De Masi, Michela Lacerenza or maybe at times Gianni Ferrio when he produced less jazz orientated works. Vasco and Mancuso fashion an effective work, that is supporting of the movies storyline, and at times when they utilise fuzzy guitar solos there is a style and execution present that evokes some of the stock sounds of the spaghetti western heard in films such as GUN MEN OF THE AVE MARIA and THEY CALL ME TRINITY by Roberto Pregadio and Franco Micalizzi. There is also a great deal of inventive sounding percussive sound utilised to create tense and apprehensive moods within the score. These components are also supportive of the mystery element of the score, with the composer utilising organ and muted brass with woods and again subdued fuzzy sounding guitar to purvey the mystical persona of the films central character. Female voice also plays a part in evoke a mysterious aura, used in a similar wat that maybe the theremin was in those sci-horror B movies that Hollywood produced in the 1950’s.
The soundtrack also contains a Dixieland band style cue for the Dynamite throwing scene for example, but this is only in the movie and is not represented on the CD release and there is a softer and delicate sounding piece employed at certain points in which the composers make affecting and engaging use of harpsichord and solo female voice. Plus we are treated to a theme that can I think be identified as more of an easy listening piece rather than the more traditional western movie sound which we associate with the genre, a laid back guitar and light backing being the order of the day. The main theme which opens and closes the movie is an impressive one, racing percussion and strings act as a background to subtle guitar and a female voice gasping the word DJANGO, add to this a soaring trumpet solo and flyaway sounding woods and then an even higher soaring female voice and what we have here is text book spaghetti western music.
The theme or at least snippets of it that are orchestrated differently are heard throughout the movie and enhance the various sequences. The orchestration was carried out by Kojucharov who also conducted the score.
Composer Vasco Vassil Kojucharov was born in Bulgaria, in 1940, the composer not only worked on westerns, but all genres and his score for IL PLENILUNIO DELLE VERGINI is one that many fans and critics alike regard and interesting to say the least. This Hammer style Gothic tale was released in 1973, at times called THE DEVILS WEDDING NIGHT or FULL MOON OF THE VIRGINS it was directed by Luigi Batzella who the composer collaborated with on a number of occasions with sections of the movie being overseen by filmmaker Joe D’Amato. It starred Mark Damon and Rosalba Nen. Between 1966 and 1969 the composer scored a dozen westerns in his own right and also began to collaborate with fellow composer Elsio Mancuso on several others which included DJANGO IL BASTARDO. Mancuso is also known for film scores in his own right, these include THE GOLDEN CHAMELEON in 1967, and collaborated with other composers such as Berto Pisano, most notably on THE BIG BUST OUT in 1972.
A few years ago, BEAT records in Rome embarked on a series dedicated to the film scores of Kojucharov, and already have a number of compact discs available, it is a series I recommend that you check out as the film music of this unsung hero of the silver screen score is something to be treasured and savoured. Maybe begin with DJANGO IL BASTARDO because as soon as you hear this soundtrack you will I know be craving more of this composer’s music from all genres of film. This is in my opinion an important release, and also one that collectors will be more than pleased about, and hopefully there will be more to come in the future, the 26 track compact disc has superb sound quality which was re-mastered by Enrico De Gemini, the release is presented well with attractive art work designed by Danielle De Gemini and the disc comes in a jewel case that has a 12 page booklet that contains informative sleeve notes by Allessandro Bratus. Thank you BEAT this has been well worth waiting for, Whats next?