Amongst the ideas you may have never expected to be turned into a movie, Enzo G. Castellari is proud to present you Johnny Hamlet, Shakespeare’s famous play served with an Italian western sauce.
If not anything else, it’s definitely quite different. But is it any good?
The idea was penned by Sergio Corbucci, director of a.o. Django and The Great Silence.
Preoccupied with directing too many movies himself, Corbucci couldn’t find enough time to make this idea into a movie. And that’s where Castellari stepped in.
Before we can discuss the movie further, let’s have a look at the various names of this film: the original title is Quella Sporca Storia Nel West.
The English title mixes the names of the main character and the character’s source and so we end up with Johnny Hamlet.
The German version is called Django – Die Totengräber warten schon. Never mind that this film isn’t related to Django or that there’s only one gravedigger in the film (and that he isn’t exactly waiting). You have to understand that in Germany it was apparently mandatory by law for every Italian western to be released as Django.
Django was of course a popular character and even the Italian producers tried to stick the name in as many westerns as possible: take Pochi Dollari per Django.
Castellari claims he was hired as a second-hand director for Pochi Dollari per Django (Some Dollars for Django), a Django rip-off that was going to be realized by Leon Klimovsky. Castellari’s description of Klimovsky says it all: “A real gentleman, but I couldn’t see him turn out a great movie.”
Castellari helped the man and – as westerns were so popular at the time there were at least 300 made per year – did good enough a job for him to asked as a director for a western: Vado… l’ammazzo e torno (Any Gun Can Play). Soon afterwards he heard about Corbucci’s idea to turn Hamlet into a western… when Corbucci backed out Castellari stepped in.
Though the travelling circus company begin the movie with “To be or not to be”, Johnny Hamlet isn’t a faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Hamlet is called Johnny, for instance and Ophelia is not Hamlet’s girlfriend (Ophelia is part of the circus, Hamlet’s girlfriend is called Emily). However, certain names have made the transition: Hamlet’s uncle Claudius became Claude, there’s Horaz (Horatio) and Hamlet’s mother is Gertie, an acceptable abbreviation of Gertrude.
That not everything is strictly followed is a good thing: the basic idea (Claudius killing his brother, Hamlet avenging his father) is kept, but other plotlines have been changed. The effect is that you can’t always guess what’ll happen next and who will kill who.
Castellari can be a good director and you can see Johnny Hamlet was early in his career: you see the director’s enthusiasm in a lot of scenes. The camera swings nicely, sets are colourfully decorated… Castellari wanted to show the world he wanted to become a good director.
Of course, adapting Shakespeare is also a bit problematic: most people know the original and will have to agree that, if they kept a bit more of the original play, the movie could’ve been even better. Now it ends up at 7 out of 10 and it’s an entertaining spaghetti western, with a few nods to Hamlet.
But it is an beautifully made and entertaining film, so you won’t be disappointed when you choose to spend your evening watching Quella Sporca Storia Nel West.
How do I look?
Koch Media have done a nice job with this film: visually the movie looks quite stunning, especially if you compare the images to those of the trailers. A lot of work has gone into this and we’re more than happy to forgive the release the occasional visual line or crack in the audio. You’d have a tough time finding more than a handful, anyway.
The DVD release itself looks nice: its yellow draws immediate attention and I was almost able to find this DVD in the dark. If you take the DVD out of the cardboard box you’ll find the DVD presented as a book, with the film’s title on the cover and a Shakespeare quote on the back. “Sein oder Nichtsein, das ist hier die Frage: Ob’s edler in Gemüt, die Pfeil und Schleudern des wütenden Geschicks zu dulden oder, …” and then another 20 lines of Hamlet in German.
Language options, the more the merrier
You can choose between watching this movie in German or the original Italian track.
The German track is incomplete as the movie used to be cut. The scenes that were cut before are presented in Italian with German subtitles.
If you select the Italian track you can opt between German and English subtitles. A recent visit to Xploited Cinema told me that there were no English subs despite what it says on the box. Weirdly enough, the DVD I own does have English subs but doesn’t mention it on the cover. I don’t know if there’s a new version (not likely though) or if Xploited made an error here. Anyway, I’ve just seen the film and with English subtitles.
Any extras on the side?
Which brings us to the extras: the most interesting extra is a 34 minute long documentary, Strange Stories from the West. It’s mainly an interview with director Castellari and it sheds some light on the man’s career. Castellari’s interview is interrupted for an interview with Francesco de Masi (who’s responsible for the soundtrack). Afterwards, Mr Django himself, Franco Nero, comes to tell us why he wasn’t in this movie.
A nice release can’t do without the original trailer and we find two here: a German and the original Italian. Not understanding a benign word of Italian, I can’t tell you what the Italian blurb was, but I can tell you someone let his child loose on the trailer. Almost every scene presented in this 3 minute long trailer has been coloured in by a hyperactive toddler without taste. Never did drugs, but would like to know what a bad trip feels like? The Italian trailer will help you out!
The German trailer shows the same scenes, but without the insane colour schemes. Though it does draw a bit too much attention to the German title Django – Die Totengräber Warten Schon. Best line: “Though there are many Django movies there’s only a few by Corbucci and only one Django – Die Totengräber Warten Schon.” Hey, it wasn’t our idea you’d rename every Italian film Django, my German friends, so don’t blame us!
Wolfgang Luley wrote a 4-page booklet for the release. Actually, that’s one page for the cover, one page for a giant picture and only two pages of text in German, but it’s a bit informative, so we won’t make too much of a fuss about it.
And finally, a selection of 149 pictures (stills, covers and artwork) close the extras section.
Koch Media have done a nice job on this release. There’s enough extras to make you happy and most of them were relevant and don’t feel like they’re dragged out of some vault as filler material. And, unless you’re allergic to the colour yellow, the release looks nice too.
FILM – 7/10
EXTRAS – 9/10
Quella Sporca Storia Nel West (Johnny Hamlet / Django – Die Totengräber Warten Schon)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Based on an idea by Sergio Corbucci
Cast: Andrea Giordana (Johnny), Gilbert Roland (Dazio aka Horaz), Horst Frank (Claudio aka Claude), Manuel Serrano (Santana), Françoise Prévost (Gertie), Ennio Girolami (Ross), Ignazo Spalla (Guild), Gabriella Grimaldi (Emily / Ophelia)
The DVD has been released by Koch Media (Germany) and is a Region 2 release.