Three Obscuro Action Movie Classics
Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968)
This is the unofficial prequel to Django (1966). But instead of Django’s Franco Nero, this one stars Terence Hill, who went on to make the Trinity series of Westerns and many action-buffo films with the unforgettable Bud Spencer.
In this prequel, Django is working as a hangman. But he’s actually not hanging men, he’s rescuing them. He surreptitiously saves them and takes them to a secret hideout. Once Django assembles a small army, he asks them to do him a favor – help him get revenge on the man who had ruined his career and killed his wife.
The script is tight. The movie gets right down to business, beginning with suspense and action in the first few seconds. The way Django prevents the hangings from killing the victims is ingenious. The hangings look as real as any other movie hangings.
The Reverberi brothers score is jaunty, romantic and wistful at the same time. I was humming it to myself the rest of the evening.
This was recommended by a writer-friend of mine, Paul Bishop, who had previously reviewed the book. The best version of the film I could find was a blurry pan-and-scan copy on Youtube. It’s from Lyndon Mallet’s 1980 novel, which belongs to the nourish English genre known as “Brit Grit.” In terms of movies, think Get Carter (the 1971 Michael Caine version) or The Long Good Friday (1980) or Sexy Beast (2001).
Mark Taffin (Pierce Brosnan) is an unofficial debt collector in a picturesque coastal town south of Dublin. When developers start to build a chemical plant on the waterfront, townspeople ask Taffin to stop the project. Taffin tells them not to ask how he’s going to do it. There is one hilarious and unexpected moment when Taffin and Brosnan simply lose it. Taffin’s girlfriend
This is a willowy pre-Bond Brosnan in his 1980s TV era, around the time of Remington Steele and Noble House. Even roughed-up with shaggy hair and a five-o’clock shadow, Brosnan’s way too toffish and pretty to be Taffin. Author Mallet had envisioned Taffin to look more like the bloke on the book cover below. Except of course for the unexpected, un-Brosnanian moment when Taffin (and perhaps Brosnan) simply loses it.
TAFFIN: What goes on in this town is none of your business.
CHARLOTTE: As long as I’m living here, it is.
TAFFIN: Then maybe you shouldn’t be LIVING HERE!!
CHARLOTTE (cool and unfazed): Well, that’s easily fixed.
So I had to make some allowances. But in the end, I really appreciated this quiet, thoughtful, moderate-budget thriller with Irish location shooting and no CGI. It’s a thriller with heart.
According to his blog, Lyndon Mallet has a new Taffin book in the works, Taffin on Balance. I look forward to it!
Beyond the Law (1968)
Giving hairy-chested décolletage throughout most of the movie, Lee Van Cleef plays a bad guy who becomes good. He starts out as a stagecoach bandit stealing payroll shipments from the local silver mine. But he comes to see the plight of the miners. He even morphs into the town sheriff, much to the disgust of his bandit partners.
The cast is fascinating. Besides Lee Van Cleef, there’s Bud Spenser without a beard (Flatfoot in Hong Kong and many films with Terence Hill), as well as the veteran character actor Lionel Stander (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Steven Spielberg’s 1941, and Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York), the über evil-looking Gordon Mitchell (Fellini Satyricon), ex-boxer Al Hoosman (Jack of Diamonds), and Italian exploitation star Antonio Sabàto Sr. (Barbarella, Gang War in Milan).
It was co-written by Fernando Di Leo, who worked on the script for Fistful of Dollars, and Warren Kiefer, author of The Pontius Pilate Papers. Score by the prolific Riz Ortolani (Day of Anger, McKenzie Break, Valachi Papers).
This is one of the more memorable non-Leone Spaghetti Westerns.