Django (Terence Hill), the wandering gunslinger, is hired as executioner to a corrupt local politician, who is framing innocent men and sending them to hang in an evil scheme to take hold of their land. But Django has other ideas and, cleverly faking the deaths of the condemned men, he assembles them into a loyal gang, who’ll help him take down the boss – a man who had a hand in the death of Django’s wife years before. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Among the possibly hundreds of European westerns to carry the name “Django” in their title in some capacity (many films were retitled to imply they featured the popular character for German and Asian releases, in particular), there were at least 30 that claimed to be a sequel to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film. Within that pool, only one, Ted Archer’s Django Strikes Again (Italian: Django 2 – Il grande ritorno, 1987), counts in any official capacity. Most filmmakers barely made an effort to connect their plotlines to the original, which itself owes a lot to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, 1961). Ferdinando Baldi’s Django Prepare a Coffin (Italian: Preparati la bara! and aka: Viva Django!, 1968) is one of very few exceptions that actually works as an extension of Corbucci’s film’s narrative, though it’s a prequel rather than a sequel. Prepare a Coffin was developed by Django producer Manolo Bolognini and written by Django co-writer Franco Rossetti. It was even intended as part of a three film deal Django star Franco Nero had with Bolognini. Nero did end up making Texas, Adios (Italian: Texas, addio, 1966) with both Baldi and Bolognini, but a brief stint in Hollywood (John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning…, 1966, and Joshua Logan’s Camelot, 1967) would cut his contract short (he and Bolognini hooked up again in 1975 for Luigi Bazzoni’s underrated giallo, The Fifth Cord/ Giornata nera per l'ariete, and finished their western trilogy in 1976, when Nero starred in Enzo G. Castellari’s Keoma).
Because it wasn’t politically-charged or particularly innovative, Prepare a Coffin hasn’t garnered the same retrospective praise as other spaghetti westerns. While it’s true that Baldi and original Django co-writer Franco Rossetti recycled prevalent genre themes, such as master/apprentice relationships and elaborate revenge scenarios, they also developed one of the stronger plots in the spaghetti canon. In addition, Baldi’s direction isn’t as stylish as Corbucci’s (or most of his more famous spaghetti western counterparts, really), but his talents had never resided in flashy imagery. Even the more ostentatious westerns he made with Tony Anthony (Get Mean, 1976, and Comin’ At Ya!, 1981) are utilitarian affairs, in which the filmmaking serves the story and characters. His films also tended to look more expensive than they actually were. This comparatively plot-driven and action-oriented approach makes Prepare a Coffin feel a bit more like a B-Hollywood western than an Italian-made spaghetti western. Thankfully, unlike similarly American-esque productions (Tonino Valerii’s A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die, 1972, or the aforementioned Comin’ At Ya!, for example), it doesn’t get bogged down in repetitive action sequences. In fact, the core narrative of Rossetti’s story, in which Django recruits the condemned men he pretends to kill as the town’s hangman for an elaborate revenge scheme, would make an interesting basis for a sequel to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, should the director ever consider making one (just replace political prisoners with runaway slaves and voila).
When Nero was unavailable, he was replaced by Terence Hill, aka: Mario Girotti. Hill was a minor star during the historical drama/peplum era who had made an impact with leading roles in Giuseppe Colizzi’s serious Italio-western God Forgives...I Don’t (Italian: Dio perdona... Io no!, 1967) and Ferdinando Badlo’s Rita of the West (Italian: Little Rita nel West, 1967) – a musical western vehicle for pop star Rita Pavone. Hill beared a passing resemblance to Nero and was decked out in an almost identical Yankee grave digger costume. Soon after, Hill became (arguably) even more famous than Nero following a string of comedic westerns, culminating in Enzo Barboni’s Trinity series – They Call Me Trinity ( (Italian: Lo chiamavano Trinità…, 1970) and Trinity is Still My Name (Italian: ...continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità, 1971). This was followed by a number of pairings – western and otherwise – with Trinity co-star Bud Spencer. His dramatic performance in Prepare a Coffin is different from Nero’s in Django, but he’s still convincingly cool and tragic when the story calls for it. At any rate, it’s good that he doesn’t try to impersonate Nero, since they’re fundamentally different actors. In turn, Prepare a Coffin was reissued, retitled, and somewhat re-edited years later, along with God Forgives...I Don't, a Hill and Spencer-starring, non-comedic semi-sequels Ace High (Italian: I quattro dell'Ave Maria, 1968) and Boot Hill (Italian: La collina delgi stivali (1969), in an effort to cash-in on the comedy western trend, thereby turning an unofficial Django prequel into an unofficial Trinity sequel.
German spaghetti western fans appear to outnumber American and UK fans, because just about every ‘important’ title has been released on DVD and Blu-ray in the region. Django Prepare a Coffin is no exception. E-M-S Video released the first DVD version, followed by an early DVD from Arrow in the UK under the studio’s now defunct Arrowdrome line. What’s more interesting, however, is that 3L Vertriebs released two completely different versions of the film in Germany, on separate Blu-rays in 2013. One featured the original cut and the other featured the post-Trinity, re-dubbed comedic “Joe Cut.” Arrow’s Blu-ray, which contains only the original cut, also premiered in 2013, but had been a UK exclusive until now. Arrow’s 1.66:1, 1080p transfer was taken from a 2K scan of the original 35mm interpositive that was conducted at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy. The footage was then restored, color-corrected, and cleaned-up the print damage.
The results are mixed, but generally quite good. On the positive side of things, there are no major signs of CRT or compression noise (both major issues for other Italian scans) and, while the overall look is slightly over-smoothed, DNR has not entirely flattened out the film grain. Details are tight, textures sharp, and elemental separation is impressive. On the other hand, the folks at Arrow really pressed the brightness levels, to the point that some of the highlights bloom and eat-up detail, as well as boosted shadows that appear grey, instead of black. Also, like the recent The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Get Mean remasters, the color timing leans quite yellow. This leads to artificially warm neutral hues (flesh tones, wooden set-pieces, the dirt/sand surrounding the outdoor sets) and some tealish blues. A quick look at the Vertriebs disc, care of Caps-a-holic.com, reveals the same detail/texture levels, but a more even-handed approach to color-timing and gamma balance. The ‘perfect’ transfer probably lies somewhere between the two discs.
The original English and Italian mono dubs were transferred from the original negatives and digitized using a Chance Optical Sound Processor. As per my usual schtick, I will now remind readers that the vast majority of spaghetti westerns (as well as most Italian films from the era) were shot without sound and dubbed into multiple languages for international releases. It appears that most of Prepare a Coffin’s actors are speaking English during their performances, but few, if any, have dubbed their own performances. A comparison of the LPCM 1.0 English and Italian tracks comes down to taste, rather than ‘accuracy,’ because lip-sync is off in either case. That said, there are some major differences in tone. The English track has better fidelity when it comes to dialogue, but otherwise sounds muffled when compared to the Italian track, which has superior dynamic range and a number of sound effects that are either missing from the English dub or too quiet to discern. Prepare a Coffin’s score was composed by Gianfranco & Giampiero Reverberi. While the music clearly owes a debt to Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, and Bruno Nicolai’s more famous western motifs, it is still a memorable and rousing affair. Interestingly, the tone of the music is different enough between the two dubs that the actual melodies are about a half-step higher in Italian.
Fans of modern pop music may recognize the title theme, “You’d Better Smile,” performed by Nicola Di Bari, as the sample basis for Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy":
Django Explained (8:33, HD) – Spaghetti Western expert and author of Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-westerns (2011) Kevin Grant explains the popularity of Corbucci’s original film and its many rip-offs and unofficial sequels. He marks Django Prepare a Coffin, Romolo Guerrier’s Ten Thousand Dollars for a Massacre (Italian: 10.000 dollari per un massacro, 1967), Sergio Garrone’s Django the Bastard (Italian: Django il bastardo; aka: The Stranger's Gundown, 1969), and Giulio Questi’s superior Django Kill...If You Live Shoot! (Italian: Se sei vivo spara, 1967) as the closest to official sequels from the era and points out that Nero was almost cast as Trinity, himself.
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