Django, Prepare a Coffin

| April 28, 2017

Sergio Corbucci’s Django was one of the most successful and influential “spaghetti westerns” produced in the wake of Sergio Leone’s legendary “Man with No Name” trilogy that kicked off with A Fistful of Dollars in 1964. Franco Nero’s iconic performance as the coffin-dragging badass is one of the most recognizable characters in the Euro-western pantheon, and true to form it spawned a legion of unofficial “sequels” and knock-offs. Most of these were not even tenuously related to Corbucci’s film, and instead just happened to have a blonde guy who international distributors could happily dub “Django” and cross their fingers people wouldn’t notice until they made their money back. Out of all these films, though, there was one originally planned as an official sequel to Django and set to star Nero reprising the role. Fate intervened when he was offered the chance to star in Camelot alongside Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, so the producers of Preparati La Bara! (Get the Coffin Ready) hired Terence Hill to fill Django’s boots. The resulting production was a worthy sequel to Corbucci’s classic, which is finally getting its due in a new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.

At the beginning of Django, Prepare a Coffin, the titular character appears to be a sort of bodyguard for hire for amoral politician David Barry (Horst Frank). When Django bids farewell to Barry, he lets slip that his next assignment is moving a shipment of gold. Barry seizes the opportunity and hires outlaw Lucas (George Eastman) to ambush Django’s caravan and steal the gold. The attack results in the death of Django’s wife, and the gang leaves Django for dead. Five years later, Django is working as a freelance hangman as part of an elaborate plan to avenge his wife and bring Barry down. Instead of hanging the alleged criminals–all of whom have been framed by Barry and Lucas to cover up their own crimes–Django is faking their executions and burials, sending them to gather as an “army of phantoms” to wait for the next phase of his plan. Things go awry when Django’s conscience catches up with him and he has to miss out on a key action of his plan to save Mercedes (Barbara Simon), the wife of one of his “phantoms,” who has herself been sentenced to hang. Her husband Garcia (José Torres) leads the “phantoms” on a mission to steal a shipment of gold from Barry and Lucas, leading to Django’s capture by Lucas and his men. Now Django has to improvise to escape the clutches of his sworn enemies and bring his friends to justice, but how can one man stand up to an army?

Anyone who has seen Django will have a pretty good idea about how that question is answered. It’s not clear whether Django, Prepare a Coffin is a sequel or prequel to Corbucci’s film–Django himself is a little less morose, although the story of his wife’s death here is different from the one in Django. The tone here is definitely a few shades lighter thanks both to Terence Hill’s slightly more easygoing take on the character and a consistently hilarious comic relief in the form of the old telegraph operator Horace (Pinuccio Ardia). Horace has a menagerie of mouthy birds (at least one of which appears to be an alcoholic) and is happy to pick up a gun in service of helping out his friends. The pace of Django, Prepare a Coffin is brisk, and with its fantastic cast of familiar faces it’s a great, fun film in its own right. It’s certainly leagues better than the vast majority of the low-budget Django knock-offs that flooded the market in the late 60s. It really doesn’t even need the “Django” branding, but it’s not a big problem considering how loose these films tended to be even among official franchises.

Director Ferdinando Baldi directed a number of interesting spaghetti westerns including the Greek tragedy in Western drag Forgotten Pistolero, Blindman featuring Ringo Starr, and the wild, ridiculous 3-D epic Comin’ At Ya! among many others. Django, Prepare a Coffin is a great example of his work in the genre, and while it has been released before on DVD, Arrow has given it a stunning new 2K transfer for this new release. As far as special features go, this is pretty light by Arrow’s standards: there’s a theatrical trailer (which looks like it was transferred from a VHS tape) and a fun 8-minute talk about the film by Kevin Grant, author of the encyclopedic Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns. The package has Arrow’s standard reversible cover art and includes a booklet with a new essay by Howard Hughes, author of Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult and Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers’ Guide to Spaghetti Westerns. While it would have been great to have more in the way of special features, this is still absolutely a worthy upgrade to all previous releases of the film and well worth picking up for fans of Euro-westerns.

Arrow Video released Django, Prepare a Coffin on Blu-ray/DVD on 25 April 2017.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD
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