In spite of whatever the title may lead you to believe, 'Hanging for Django' actually has nothing to do with the recurring character of several Italian westerns or his cinematic mythos. Then again, very few of those stylized, almost surreal westerns using the name have to do with the actual character himself. They simply followed a similar plotline about greed, the cruelty of men, and the passionate fixation for revenge. The title was changed in the hopes of attracting American audiences after the success of Sergio Corbucci's 1966 classic. It was originally called 'Una lunga fila di croci,' which roughly translates to 'A Long Row of Crosses' and is honestly far-better sounding — more dramatic and darker.
Although this particular story, written and directed by Sergio Garrone, does comes with plenty of violent betrayals, underhanded pacts and the quest for vengeance, missing is that single, mysterious character obsessed with rectifying the painful wrongs committed against him personally. It's a common thread between many films of this genre, to be sure — and arguably, the reason for its downfall — but the fun is in watching how a director brings it all to a head in a gorgeous shootout at the end. For the most part, Garrone delivers spectacularly on that end where our two protagonists, each proficient and skilled bounty hunters in their own right, finally come to blows over who will keep the loot.
Where it all pretty much goes wrong is also due to Garrone. The plot features two excellent and very cool gunslingers who hunt outlaws for a living, and they're both known for being highly capable at it. One is dressed like a preacher, wearing mostly black and a hat with a wide brim, called Everett Murdock (William Berger). He travels with a six-barrel rifle, which is both hilarious and pretty awesome. The other is the familiar stock character made popular by Clint Eastwood and Franco Nero, the silent type with intense eyes that stare directly into the soul of a person. His name is Johnny Brandon (Anthony Steffen). The problem lays in it all feeling somewhat conventional, more so in Brandon than in Murdock.
The two men join forces to capture and bring down an abusive, murdering gang that smuggles Mexican peasants across the border (quite the topical subject matter). The goal is to apprehend — dead or alive, of course — each member until the leader of the gang, Fargo (Riccardo Garrone), reveals himself. And he does, which then sets the two gunslingers' get-rich-quick scheme into motion. Amid all this, the narrative introduces a subplot having to do with a benevolent woman named Maya (Nicoletta Machiavelli). Sadly, her involvement to the main story is more by happenstance and a forced necessity to intensify the drama by making her into a damsel in distress. In the end, she serves little purpose.
Frankly, the whole thing is a great concept for a western, one I would love to have seen in a more competent and effective film. But Garrone, credited as Willy S. Regan and only on his third motion picture as director, brings it to the screen in a rather mundane and somewhat slow-moving fashion. The shootouts are decently entertaining, yet so fake and orchestrated that they ultimately feel shallow, almost comical. Garrone has the visual flair for the genre, but the camerawork mostly comes off like an imitation of other Italian westerns. It makes for a passable entry, but it lags in some parts and never truly engages audiences.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Raro Video brings 'Hanging for Django' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a blue, eco-lite keepcase. Along with a cardboard slipcover, the package includes an 8-page booklet with a short essay and a biography on Sergio Garrone. At startup, the disc goes straight to a main menu with full-motion clips and music.
Django hangs himself on Blu-ray with a terribly disappointing AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in 1080i/60 video, which is a real surprise to discover. The presentation comes with several instances of minor aliasing and jaggies around the edges of objects while telecine judder, combing and mild ghosting during various times of the runtime is a constant nagging issue. Contrast is dull and flat, giving the picture an unattractive grayish, cloudy overtone. The palette is noticeably affected by this, as colors mostly look sluggish and lifeless although primaries are decently bold. Flesh tones appear sickly and unnatural with nary moment of accuracy. Fine object and textural details are also passable, yet much of the transfer seems to be the result of general dose of digital noise reduction, giving a few close-ups an ultra-smooth waxy appearance. On a positive note, black levels are strong and nicely saturated with good shadow delineation. Still, the 2.35:1 image is a sore disappointment.
The film also arrives with a mostly dissatisfying Dolby Digital mono soundtrack that feels limited and restrained. The ADR work and Foley effects are severely distracting and although much of it can be chalked up as the fault of the original design and production, several moments come with a strange, just audible echo sound which could be the result of using a legacy codec. Voices and a few action sequences display hissing and mild distortion while the mid-range is narrow and tightly uniformed in the center. There are no low frequency effects to mention as well. Ultimately, the mix is pretty boring, unfulfilling and generally hollow sounding.
Having nothing to do with the cinematic mythos of the Django character, Sergio Garrone's 'Hanging for Django' stands alone as a conventional Italian western. Although it passes as a decently entertaining entry in the genre, the film is sadly mundane, with directing that mostly feels like an imitation of better movies. The Blu-ray from RaroVideo unfortunately arrives with an incredibly disappointing and troubled audio and video presentation. One lone supplement is not enough to make this worth collecting. This can be easily skipped.