Friday, March 25, 2011

Lee Broughton's DVD Reviews

Beginning today I’ll begin posting DVD Reviews by Lee Broughton, Assistant Editor of Westerns... All’Italiana! Fanzine.

Hunt Powers Double Feature. Wild East, USA. Widescreen (1.85:1 anamorphic). Format: NTSC Region 0. Directed by Miles Deem.

Although this release is primarily marketed as being a Hunt Powers double bill it is also a Miles Deem (Demofilo Fidani) double bill too. While Fidani has his fans, the director's numerous Spaghetti Westerns tend to be written off as ultra-low budget and rushed-looking time-wasters. The honest folks at Wild East have been completely upfront about the slightly shaky technical and aesthetic qualities of the films featured on this DVD -- Charles Ambler's back sleeve notes duly point out the shortcomings that many genre fans associate with Fidani's work. However, this DVD is a worthy release on two counts. Firstly, Django Meets Sartana is perhaps Fidani's best film and its quite novel storyline should appeal to most genre fans. Secondly, the DVD features a really superb forty minute interview with Hunt Powers (AKA Jack Betts).

One Damned Day at Dawn ... Django Meets Sartana. 83 minutes. 1970.

It's been five years since the luckless citizens of Black City had a sheriff to protect them and two vicious outlaw gangs -- led by Bud Wheeler (Dean Stratford) and Sanchez (Dennis Colt) -- have formed a criminal alliance that has effectively allowed them to take over the town. When Ronson (Fabio Testi) unexpectedly arrives in Black City and declares that he's the new sheriff, the locals are hopeful that law and order will finally be restored. However, when an angry Wheeler visits town he intimidates and belittles Ronson and it seems that the pensive lawman might be out of his depth. Maybe the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Hunt Powers) will upset Wheeler's plans and restore Ronson's confidence?

Given the terrible reputation that Fidani enjoys in some quarters, it has to be said that Django Meets Sartana is a decent little film that features some good narrative hooks and enigmas. Why has Ronson suddenly appeared in town? Is he really as nervous as he appears to be? Who is the mysterious stranger? What's he doing in town and whose side will he take? All is revealed in a satisfying manner though the last minute revelation that two of the characters featured in the film are in fact the legendary Django and Sartana comes across as a forced (but fun) marketing strategy too far. There's plenty of action to be had here and most of it is executed in a reasonably competent way. The film's two major gunfights are standout scenes which sport decent cinematography and good soundtrack music. The quality of the acting on display here is generally decent too -- Fabio Testi and Hunt Powers both provide suitably gritty and convincing performances -- and the show's production values suggest that Fidani might have had the benefit of a slightly bigger budget than usual. Given the film's rarity and low budget origins, the picture and sound quality of this presentation are both fine.

Extras: Hunt Powers interview, theatrical trailer and an image gallery.

Dead Men Don't Make Shadows. 92 minutes. 1970.

Lazar (Hunt Powers) is a notorious bounty killer who only goes after villains who are carrying stolen gold. Needless to say, the illicit gold winds up in Lazar's coffers along with the reward money. It initially seems that Lazar might have a rival since the Stranger (Chet Davis) appears to be tailing him and taking note of the bounties that he collects. However, when the pair both turn up at a Mexican village that is controlled by a villainous mine owner (Ettore Manni) and his righthand man Medina (Dennis Colt), it becomes clear that the Stranger has more than bounty killing on his mind.

This revenge-driven show is based on a reasonably good story idea. Unfortunately that idea was not fully fleshed out and so the film features much in the way of padding (chiefly in the form of the main characters being shown riding here, there and everywhere during the first third of the film and an inordinate amount of incidental coverage when the citizens of the Mexican village are introduced). However, the final third of the film boasts some decent enough plot twists and some reasonably well-staged action. The show's main players tend to acquit themselves well but the quality of much of the acting found here is a little on the shaky side when compared to that of Django Meets Sartana. Similarly, this film's production values look fairly shoddy when compared to those of the earlier feature. All that said, this is a rare title and genre fans will no doubt celebrate the fact that it has finally been granted a DVD release (fans of WAI! favourite Gordon Mitchell should get a kick out of his manic guest spot here). Given the film's rarity and low budget origins, the picture and sound quality of this presentation are both fine.

Extras: Theatrical trailer and an image gallery.

© 2011 Copyright Lee Broughton.

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