Django Kill , if you live shoot! (1967) is a rather bizarre Euro- western, bordering on the unhinged to be honest, it’s a movie in the genre that is unlike any other that I have seen as is probably more akin to El Topo than anything else. It was a Spanish Italian co-production and starred Tomas Milian, who plays a stranger that has been double crossed and left for dead in a shallow mass grave in the desert, until he is saved by two Indians. His saviours make him bullets out of gold, so that he may have his revenge on the men who left him for dead in the desert. And this is just in the first ten minutes or so of the movie. So, let’s look at the plot more closely.
A pair of Indian medicine men encounter a wounded bandit, (the Stranger), who is crawling out from a mass grave; they nurse him back to health and during his recovery, he begins to recall whilst having flashbacks a robbery on a Wells Fargo covered wagon guarded by US Army troops. The Stranger, (Tomas Milian) his partner Oaks, and their gang kill the troops as they are caught unawares whilst swimming in a river, and steal a strongbox containing bags of powdered gold from the wagon. However, Oaks and the white members of the gang betray the Stranger and the Mexican bandits involved in the robbery and force them to dig their grave before gunning them down. The two Indians inform the Stranger that they have smelted his share of the gold into bullets, and that they wish to be his companions so that he can tell them about the happy hunting ground, because they are convinced he has been there whilst being buried.
Oaks and his gang arrive in a nearby town which is called The Unhappy Place by the indians, where they attempt to buy horses and food with their gold. Bill Templer, the saloon owner, recognises Oaks from a Wanted poster. Templer and Alderman, the town pastor, lead an armed mob and hang all of the bandits except for Oaks, who barricades himself in a store. The Stranger arrives and shoots the frightened Oaks. Wounded, Oaks is operated on in the saloon, but in a rather horrific scene is killed when the townspeople try to pull the gold bullets from the Strangers gun from his body. The Stranger spends the night in the saloon, haunted by what has transpired. Templer and Alderman argue over what shares of the bandits’ gold they should receive; Flory who is Templer’s mistress, becomes aroused as she watches the proceedings. Templar’s unstable son, Evan, destroys some of Flory’s clothes in anger after seeing her watch the argument. Sorrow, an eccentric gay rancher, orders Templer to surrender the gold.
When the Stranger and the Indians cut down the hanging corpses of the bandits to bury them, they are ordered to leave town. While horse-hunting, the Stranger witnesses Evan being kidnapped and held hostage by Sorrow’s friends. They return to Sorrow’s ranch, where he offers the Stranger work, throws a party and sends a messenger to town to inform Templer of the kidnapping. Templer lies and insists that Alderman has the gold. Sorrow orders Evan killed, but the Stranger saves his life via an unusual drunken shooting game, and Sorrow allows him to live. Whiskey-sodden, the Stranger is unable to help Evan as he is surrounded by amorous cowboys. The next morning, while Sorrow, the Stranger and the other men sleep, Evan takes a gun and commits suicide.
The Stranger returns to town with Evan’s body. Enraged by his death, he gets into a savage brawl with Templer and several locals. Knowing that Sorrow will have their saloon searched, Flory and Templer hide the gold in Evan’s coffin. Alderman invites the Stranger to live with him, and encourages him to have an affair with Elizabeth, his half-mad wife who is kept locked up in her bedroom. As the Stranger and Elizabeth become attracted to each other, Alderman kills Templer with the Stranger’s pistol, placing the blame on him. Flory, witnessing the murder, flees and tells the Stranger what has happened, and that the gold is now in the graveyard due to Evan’s burial. Alderman leads the townspeople in a search for the Stranger, during which one of the Indians is brutally scalped and Flory is shot dead by Alderman. Sorrow’s men capture the Stranger, crucify him and torture him with vampire bats; he confesses that the gold is in the cemetery. Sorrow’s gang then dig up the graveyard, but find that Alderman beaten them to it. The surviving Indian frees the Stranger, who kills Sorrow’s men using a horse laden with dynamite, and shoots Sorrow in his boudoir.
The Stranger returns to town, where he finds that Alderman’s house has been set on fire by a distraught Elizabeth. Alderman opens a cabinet to retrieve his gold; having turned molten, it smothers his hands and face. The Stranger and the townspeople watch as Elizabeth and Alderman, covered in boiling gold, die in the flames. Alone, the Stranger rides out of town, where he passes by two children using strings to distort their faces. So not your normal Spaghetti Western, the title Django Kill, is really just a tag line to cash in on the success of the Sergio Corbucci movie from 1966 and has nothing what so ever to do with the movie, its plot of its central character.
This is a weird hybrid production that is filled with action, horror, comedy and drama. It’s a film that confused me rather than anything else, but it’s one of those movies that does eventually grow on you if you watch it enough times that is. It is a rather novel and unconventional addition to the genre, which I must admit has its low points where the story seems to drag and become complicated, the acting too can be kind of hit and miss, with at times long pauses in the dialogue and rather unlikely scenarios materialising out of nowhere, but this is a spaghetti western.
Milian’s character is also somewhat out of place, and it seems as if he is just along for the ride most of the time. There is an unbalanced and peculiar atmosphere present throughout, that includes that torture scene with bats, frenzied and brutal violence that is graphic and shocking, the extracting of the gold bullets and the scalping scene comes to mind straight away. Director Guilio Questi, delivers a western but a western that is filled with melodrama, greed and corruption, that integrates religion and retribution into the already overflowing and busy storyline all tinged with a dark sense of humour and underlined with a homoerotic edge.
There are some striking scenes undoubtably, the director impressing with shots of hanging corpses, and including some uncharacteristically (for a spaghetti) underwhelming gunfight scenes, but he does take his time telling the story, along the way introducing contemptable villains, such as Oaks (Piero Lulli), Hagerman (Francisco Sanz), Sorrow (Roberto Camardiel), and Bill Templer (Milo Quesada). And two easy on the eye young actress’s Patrizia Valturri and Marilu Tolo, as well as a gang of homosexual cowboys, the result is something that is more or less agreeable.
The catchy and totally fitting musical score is by composer Ivan Vandor, in which he pays homage to the style of Morricone. This was the only Spaghetti western he scored but did work on a dozen or more films within other genres from 1962 through till 1984. These included Death on the Run and Black Jesus. Vandor was born in Hungary in 1932, he moved to Rome in 1938.
At the age of six Vandor began to study violin and at two years later added piano and composition to his studies. In his teenage years the composer became a professional Jazz Sax player. In 1959 he graduated in Composition with the great Goffredo Petrassi at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory of Music in Rome. The following year he studied in Paris with Max Deutsch. And later back in Italy he attended the post-graduate courses taught by Goffredo Petrassi at the Santa Cecilia Academy of Music. In 1961 he was awarded the first prize of the International Competition of the SIMC – the first of many other important international recognitions.
A decade later in 1971 he earned his Master Degree in Ethnomusicology at the University of California in Los Angeles, followed up with a research in the Himalaya regions on the music of the Tibetan Buddhism. He was also a member/performer in the Improvisation Group of Nuova Consonanza and Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) together with Frederick Rzewski and Alvin Curran among others. He succeeded Alain Danielou as Chair of the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies of Berlin, staying in charge until 1983, taking over the “Scuola Interculturale di Musica” in Venice. Vice-president of the Italian Society of Ethnomusicology; visiting Professor in Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Furthermore, he has held many conferences and seminars; been a member of several international Juries, including the Kyoto Prize. Author of the book “La Musique du Bouddhisme Tibétain” (Paris, Buchet/Chastel, 1977); his articles and compositions are edited by BMG Ariola, Edipan, Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni and Ricordi. He died on November 15th, 2020.