Tag Archives: westerns

DJANGO: OPERA VERSION OF THE 1966 MOVIE

HAPPY FRONTIERADO! As this edition of the holiday winds down, here’s one last seasonal post.

Franco Nero as DjangoDJANGO: AN OPERA – Here at Balladeer’s Blog I love sharing my enthusiasms. My blog posts where I provide contemporary slants to Ancient Greek Comedies to make them more accessible have been big hits over the years, so now I’m trying it with operas. A little while back I wrote about how Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator could be done as an opera. This time I’m addressing the 1966 original version of the Spaghetti Western titled Django.

IF YOU HATE OPERAS AND YOU’D RATHER JUST READ MY MOVIE REVIEW OF THE 1966 DJANGO, CLICK HERE 

DJANGO

Original Django posterLANGUAGE: Spanish. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that most of my fellow English-speakers find English-language operas to be silly. The prosaic nature of the forced rhymes in a language we are well-versed in does seem to rob opera of its mystique and its grandeur. 

I fall into that trap myself. I’ve noticed I can never lose myself in a Gilbert & Sullivan work like I can with La Forza del Destino or Tales of Hoffmann or any other opera sung in a less familiar language. At any rate, I’ve chosen Spanish for this opera because so much of the story takes place in Mexico during the war to dethrone Emperor Maximilian.

SINGERS: A Tenor, 2 Baritones, a Soprano, 3 Basses and a Mezzo-Soprano

For Django, I’m making it a two-act opera as opposed to the three-act format I used for Gladiator.

ACT ONE: MARCH 1867. A STRETCH OF BARREN DESERT ALONG THE US/ MEXICO BORDER. 

Django and coffinScene One: The opera would open with a stage version of one of the most iconic visuals from the 1966 film. Our title character, DJANGO, clad in his long blue jacket with his well-worn Union Army uniform underneath it, slowly, wearily drags a coffin behind him as he walks along singing his mournful song. He pulls the coffin via a rope slung across one shoulder.

The coffin symbolizes the burden of grief that Django has carried with him ever since his wife was killed during the U.S. Civil War by Confederate MAJOR JACKSON. Django has pursued his ideological and personal enemy across the west and now to this battle-scarred border town.

The vile Major Jackson and his former Confederate soldiers have turned into outright Klansmen. Jackson and his men are among the former Confederate military men who took up Emperor Maximilian’s offer of land and citizenship in Mexico (where slavery was still legal). In exchange they had to fight to help Maximilian retain his throne. Continue reading

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TOP THREE FRONTIERADO MOVIES

gunslinger costumeAnd with many people home from work for the day the 2020 Frontierado Holiday Weekend has started! The actual holiday is tomorrow, August 7th, but many of you have indicated that you’ve taken to getting started on the Thursday night before, or “Frontierado Eve” I guess we could call it.

So with the big outdoor meals scheduled for tomorrow, let’s kick off this three-day weekend tonight with some Tumbleweed Pizzas and a variety of drinks. For the mixed-drink fans there are Cactus Jacks and Deuces Wilds (both red and black).

Devils River BourbonOr if you prefer your drinks with no mixers there’s plenty of the OFFICIAL bourbons of Frontierado – Devils River Whiskey and Horse Soldier Bourbon. Barrel strength (117 proof) is my personal preference but your tastes may vary.

Anyway, for tonight’s movies, here at Frontierado Headquarters we’re doing a mini-marathon of the Top Three films for the holiday. Below are my reviews of those three:

NUMBER ONE

Top Frontierado Movie

Top Frontierado Movie

SILVERADO (1985) – I’ve never made any secret about how Silverado is, to me, THE official movie of the Frontierado holiday. The film has all the high spirits and family appeal of Star Wars plus the well-choreographed action scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. On top of that Silverado features all the  highly stylized gunplay of the best Spaghetti Westerns but NOT the mud, blood, sweat and brutality of that genre.

This movie is pure escapism and features the kind of preternaturally accurate gunslingers that I jokingly  describe as “Jedi Knights in the Olllld West”. These guys (as well as most of the villains) can literally shoot the needles off a cactus, simultaneously draw and shoot with pin-point accuracy and can just “sense” when some low-down hombre might be pulling a gun on them, even with their backs turned and from half a room away.   Continue reading

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MAVERICK (1994) – MOVIE REVIEW

Mascot new lookFRONTIERADO IS COMING UP ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 7th! As always the Frontierado holiday (now celebrated on 6 continents) is about the myth of the Wild West, not the grinding reality. It’s just like the way medieval festivals celebrate the era’s romantic aspects, not “the violence inherent in the system” (for my fellow Monty Python fans). Here’s another Balladeer’s Blog review of a seasonal movie. 

MaverickMAVERICK (1994) – Richard Donner directed and Mel Gibson starred in this excellent tribute to the 1950s and 1980s Maverick television series. The original series starred James Garner as slick-talking gambler/ gunslinger Bret Maverick AND, in old-age makeup, as “Pappy” Beauregard Maverick, the gambler and con-man patriarch of that family of rogues.  (No relation to the real-life Maverick family of Texas, for whom “maverick” cattle were named.)

Maverick was just as often comedic as dramatic and nicely anticipated the many deconstructions of Old West mythology that were to come in the decades ahead. Sometimes the program was daringly farcical as in episodes like Gun-Shy, a spoof of Gunsmoke, and Three Queens Full, a Bonanza parody set on the Sub-Rosa Ranch (as opposed to Bonanza‘s PONDErosa). The storyline featured Maverick encountering a Ben Cartwright-styled rancher and his three less-than-straight sons, hence the episode’s title.

The original series centered on Garner’s Bret Maverick (and later other Maverick family members) vying in cardplaying and con-games with assorted rival gamblers, gunslingers and con-men. Efrem Zimbalist Jr – in his pre-FBI years – played Dandy Jim, one of the recurring members of Maverick’s Rogue’s Gallery of foes. 

Elaborate schemes and multiple double-crosses often kept viewers guessing who would come out on top til the very end, since Bret sometimes ended up on the losing side. 

The constant betrayals and double-crosses were part of the charm of the television series and were perfectly captured by the 1994 big-screen adaptation of Maverick. This thoroughly enjoyable film is often dismissed as just another of the pointless movie adaptations of tv shows that began to flood theaters back then, but that is far from the truth.

Maverick 2Mel Gibson portrays Bret Maverick since by 1994 James Garner was too old for the role. Jodie Foster co-stars as rival gambler Annabelle Bransford and the iconic James Garner provides memorable support as a lawman. 

NECESSARY SPOILER: Many people that I’ve discussed this movie with said they avoided it or stopped watching it once they realized Garner was not portraying a member of the Maverick family. In reality – as we learn near the very end – he IS. He may have been too old to play Bret this time around but he reprised his role of Pappy Beauregard from the original series. Pappy is just POSING as a lawman and his son Bret obligingly plays along without blowing his Pappy’s cover. Continue reading

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INCIDENT AT PHANTOM HILL (1966): MOVIE REVIEW

Incident at Phantom HillINCIDENT AT PHANTOM HILL (1966) – With the massive Frontierado Holiday just a few months away let’s start getting in the mood with a review of this 1966 western directed by Earl Bellamy.

In the closing days of the U.S. Civil War the Union Army was transporting a million dollars in gold through northern Texas only to have it stolen from them by Confederate forces at Phantom Hill. The gold was not recovered.

Barely two months after the end of the war a former Confederate named Joe Barlow claims to have been part of the southern unit which hijacked the gold shipment AND claims to know where it is buried. In exchange for a pardon for his many pre-war crimes Barlow agrees to lead a U.S. Army detachment to the fortune in gold.

Incident at Phantom Hill 2A major complication: The desert region where the bullion is buried is located in the Staked Plains, which were recently ceded to the Comanche Indians in the latest treaty. If uniformed troops are spotted poking around in the area a fresh Comanche war could break out. 

An undercover Army detachment is sent in plain-clothes to recover the gold with the shifty Barlow as their guide. And so the stage is set for this underrated second-tier western that I like to call Beau West due to its entertaining blend of French Foreign Legion desert epic appeal with traditional western grittiness.  Continue reading

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TWENTY DJANGO MOVIES

The best Django, Franco Nero, played the gunslinger in Django, Django Strikes Again and (wink) Django’s Grand Return

Like Tarzan, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes the melancholy bounty hunter Django has been presented in various incarnations and with wildly differing continuity. And like soccer the Django movies have been an enormous success almost everywhere except the U.S. 

The great Franco Nero created the role in 1966 in a film so popular in Europe (but banned in the UK for its still- controversial violence) that it spawned a legion of sequels. Some sequels starred Franco Nero or others in the role of Django, while others were just unrelated westerns whose distributors simply  attached a phony Django title to them, sometimes redoing the dubbing to have the lead character referred to as Django, other times not bothering.

Original Django poster Balladeer’s Blog presents a look at twenty of the films featuring (legitimately or not) the most durable Eurowestern hero of them all. And, yes, if you’re wondering, the western bounty hunter Django was indeed the reason George Lucas named that outer space bounty hunter Jango Fett.

DJANGO (1966) – In 1867 Mexico Django, a veteran of the Union army in the Civil War, seeks revenge on Major Jackson, the Confederate officer behind his wife’s death. Jackson and his still-loyal troops, now turned  outright Klansmen, are, like so many other fleeing Confederates,  fighting for the Mexican Emperor Maximilian in the war to keep his throne.  

Django battles Jackson’s hooded thugs, even ambushing dozens with the Gatling Gun he keeps concealed in a coffin. When he’s out of men Major Jackson calls on Maximilian’s Imperial troopers for reinforcements and prepares to face Django and the Mexican rebel troops he’s fallen in with. For a detailed review of this unforgettable film click here: https://glitternight.com/2012/08/08/the-original-django-and-two-blaxploitation-westerns-a-primer-for-django-unchained/

DJANGO SHOOTS FIRST (1966) – AKA He Who Shoots First. Django comes into an enormous inheritance from his murdered father, an inheritance he learns he must share with his late father’s unscrupulous business partner, Mr Cluster. Django starts blowing away a host of bad guys as he tries to piece together who is responsible for his father’s death.

DJANGO, A BULLET FOR YOU (1966) – Django uses his guns to protect a group of downtrodden farmers from the villainous, land-grabbing town boss of Wagon Valley. He gets more than he bargained for when it turns out the town boss is conspiring with a railroad tycoon who has lots of money and lots of  gunmen to throw at him.

 $10,000 for a massacre$10,000.00 BLOOD MONEY (1966) – AKA $10,000.00 for a Massacre. A wealthy land baron hires Django to recover his kidnapped daughter and kill the gang of Mexican bandits who snatched her.

Django tries to manipulate the situation so he can get the land baron’s fee AND the bounties offered on the bandits. Continue reading

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GET MEAN (1975): MOVIE REVIEW

Just a few more days until the Frontierado Holiday this Friday, August 2nd.

Get MeanGET MEAN (1975)- One of the weirdest Spaghetti Westerns ever made and that’s saying something! Get Mean stars Tony Anthony and was also released under the title The Stranger Gets Mean, making it the final movie in Anthony’s series of Italo-Westerns as the enigmatic gunslinger known only as the Stranger.

Another alternate title the movie was released under was Beat A Dead Horse, reflecting the view of Anthony and his production company that Spaghetti Westerns really were beating that dead horse of a subgenre for everything they could squeeze out of it by this point. Emphasizing that point was the way Get Mean features its heroic gunfighter clashing with anachronistic Vikings, Moors and an evil hunchback who loves quoting Shakespeare (for obvious reasons).

The film starts out with Tony Anthony’s character being dragged into a ghost town in a box canyon by a horse he’s been tied to. We glimpse Tony through a small orb like the kind used by Gypsy fortune-tellers. Many viewers use that orb to support their argument that Anthony’s gunslinger will be magically traveling through time and that THAT’S why he battles out of date Vikings and Moors.

It still wouldn’t explain why they speak Spanish and/or English or any of the dozens of OTHER problems that would result from a time-travel explanation. My view is to just enjoy it as weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Think of it like Six-String Samurai but without the actual meaning behind that film’s metaphors. Continue reading

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GANG OF ROSES (2003): SPAGHETTI WESTERN FANS TAKE NOTE

Gang of Roses 2003GANG OF ROSES (2003) – The annual Frontierado Holiday, coming August 2nd this year, is about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality. So is the movie Gang of Roses, which is why I cannot believe the merciless reviews this fun, harmless, escapist movie has gotten. I find it far better than the similar Bad Girls

I eat, sleep and breathe Bad Movies, and this was a case where I settled in happily expecting to see an all-time disaster based on the reviews that Gang of Roses gets and its 2.3 rating at IMDb. Instead I saw a movie that I think deserves AT WORST a 5 or 6 rating. Maybe a 7 if you’re into Spaghetti Westerns.

Years ago I gave a glowing review to Posse (1993) starring Mario Van Peebles and, significantly Gang of Roses features a cameo by Van Peebles – dressed as Jesse Lee from Posse – giving an assist to the all-female title gang. He then says “Good luck, ladies” and rides off. (For obvious legal and financial reasons he’s listed in the credits simply as “Cameo” instead of Jesse Lee.)

I mention this because many Western fans told me they would have liked Posse if not for the underlying political message. Well, in Gang of Roses you get all the fun action of Posse with NO politics at all.

Gang of Roses groupLet me give a quick synopsis, then take a look at the main characters, following which I will state my counter-arguments to the most frequent criticisms leveled at this female-led Western:

The gunslinging gang of the title is made up of four black women and one Asian woman. We’re told that after robbing a few dozen banks the gang split up and its members went their separate ways. When the sister of the Roses’ leader gets murdered during an outlaw gang’s crime spree that leader gets the band together again to seek vengeance and a hidden fortune in gold and jewels.

The main characters:  Continue reading

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BREAKHEART PASS (1975)

Breakheart PassBREAKHEART PASS (1975) – (Frontierado is coming up August 2nd and, as always, it’s about the myth of the Old West, not the grinding reality.) Alistair MacLean may be more closely associated with espionage and crime thrillers like When Eight Bells Toll, The Eagle Has Landed and Puppet on a Chain but his lone Western, Breakheart Pass, is a very solid story which transfers MacLean’s usual themes to the American West.

Charles Bronson stars as Deakin, a former man of medicine turned gambler, con-man and gunslinger. Needless to say his wife Jill Ireland is along for the ride, this time playing a woman being wooed by oily Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna). Ben Johnson portrays Marshal Pearce, Ed Lauter IS Major Claremont and Bill McKinney takes on the role of Reverend Peabody.

Breakheart Pass 2Some critics bash this above-average film because they apparently thought Alistair MacLean’s name on the script meant it would be an over-the-top Western Spy actioner along the lines of Robert Conrad’s old Wild Wild West television series crossed with Where Eagles Dare. Instead, Breakheart Pass comes closer to grittiness than slickness and is all the more enjoyable for that. Continue reading

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KID RUSSELL: EPISODE THREE

For Episode One plus background information click HERE  For a look at the Kid Russell legend click HERE 

William Smith good Kid Russell 4

William Smith would have made a good Kid Russell long ago.

KID RUSSELL

EPISODE THREE

Title: The Judith Basin Cattle Roundup

The Year: 1883

Synopsis: This episode will open up with Kid Russell (Charles Marion Russell) among the five or six players in a poker game at one of the saloons in Helena, MT. His regular saloon gal Dutch Leina is hovering nearby. Accusations of cheating eventually erupt and, while the Kid’s friend Charlie Bowlegs gets shot down, Russell himself manages to blow away the attacker. (The Kid’s real-life friend Charlie Bowlegs really did get shot to death in saloon card-game violence.)

William Smith good Kid Russell 5After a few days in jail, Kid Russell’s case comes up and he is found not guilty on self-defense grounds and released. While cooling his heels in stir the Kid got to talking to some cowhands getting ready for the upcoming Judith Basin Cattle Roundup, an annual event which was, even then, achieving legendary status.

Russell, always a romantic, can’t shake a desire to once again try the cowboy lifestyle he once aspired to. After his initial run at a sheep ranch getting leaned on by the Cattlemen (Episode One) and his two years guiding tycoons and European Blue-Bloods on big-game hunts with Lucky Boy Hoover (Episode Two), Charley finds himself itching for a change. Continue reading

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KID RUSSELL: EPISODE TWO

For Episode One plus background information click HERE

William Smith Kid Russell 2

William Smith would have made a good Kid Russell in the 60s.

KID RUSSELL

EPISODE TWO

Title: LUCKY BOY

The Year: 1882

Synopsis: We move on to the period in which future artist Kid Russell was working for the famed Jake “Lucky Boy” Hoover. Lucky Boy was a former prospector turned trapper, guide and professional big game hunter. After having been fired by his previous employer in 1881 (see Episode One), Russell struck up a friendship with Hoover.

William Smith good Kid Russell 2During the two years that Kid Russell worked for Lucky Boy, he learned all about trapping and hunting, though he never fully warmed up to either trade, however, since he preferred painting wildlife to blood-sports. He took much more enthusiastically to learning the survival lore that went hand-in-hand with them.

Charley’s favorite of all the businesses he and Lucky Boy pursued was serving as guides for wealthy Easterners as well as European and Russian Nobility and tycoons, many of whom flocked to the Montana area in the 1880s. These magnates and blue-bloods loved vacationing in the already romantic Wild West and enjoyed the scenery plus the big-game hunting. (See the Euro-Western Shalako as well as The Hunting Party for the kind of dangers such expeditions could encounter.)  Continue reading

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