Sergio Corbucci's Django revolutionised the Spaghetti Western genre in many ways. The low-budget retelling of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars – itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo – ramped up the violence, the amorality, the bloodletting and the insanity factor to an unprecedented scale, spawning a glut of rip-offs, cash-ins and unofficial sequels of varying degrees of quality. It also, quite unintentionally, began a trend for titular heroes whose names ended in the letter 'o' and when said quickly enough could possibly be mistaken for Django.
There was Anthony Steffen - the Spaghetti Western standard-bearer, himself no stranger to playing Django - starring as the main man in both Garringo and Shango. 'Sword and Sandal' star Brad Harris as the fast gun in Durango is Coming, Pay or Die. Montgomery Clark (Dante Posani) as the gambling gunslinger in Djurado and Ivan Rassimov in this, 1967's Cjamango.
Edoardo Mulargia's (Shango, A Man Called Django) film begins on a winning streak, which is brought to an abrupt and violent end when the saddle bags of gold Cjamango wins in a hand of poker are quickly lost to the combined gangs of Don Pablo (Livio Lorenzon) and Tiger (Spaghetti stalwart Pierro Lulli, who boasts thirty-four titles to his name) in a saloon massacre, of which our hero is the sole survivor. Well it wouldn't be much of a film if Cjamango pegged out before the opening credits.
What follows is Cjamango's hunt to reclaim the gold he thinks is his. Helped and hindered in equal measures along the way by an old drunk, an irritating boy, the obligatory sultry siren (Helene Chanel) and a mysterious stranger (Jayne Mansfield's other half and ex-Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay), Cjamango is clear in his own mind that it's the gold and the gold alone that he's interested in. Just as any spaghetti western (anti) hero should be. Ruthless privateering is the name of the game and there's never room for morality. Unless, of course, a decidedly nasty piece of work cut from the same cloth as villainous gang leader Tiger, sees fit to strap a bundle of dynamite to the chest of said irritating boy. When innocent children were dragged into the proceedings it would more often than not prick the conscience of even the most mercenary of bounty hunter/ gunslinger types, particularly if it was their name playing a key part in the film's title.
That's why the spaghetti west is no place for children. This isn't Shane or a multitude of other American westerns that tugged at the viewer's heart-stings with a kid as clean-cut as he was nauseating. Just take a look at God's Gun for another prime example of a horrible child (Leif Garrett) encroaching on what is essentially the territory of hardened, embittered men; their moral compasses shattered by a lifetime of killing or a soul-devouring desire for either vengeance or dollars.
Actually don't look at God's Gun. Besides featuring Lee Van Cleef in one of cinema's worst wigs, the film is awful, but it enforces the argument that the only place for children in Spaghetti Westerns is sprawled across the floor, riddled with lead. Leone had the right idea with the iconic Henry Fonda massacre of the McBain family in Once Upon a Time in the West.
But I digress. Cjamango has its faults but viewed as an entire package, it delivers the goods. Plot holes and inconsistencies such as why Tiger allows Cjamango to free the boy from his less than subtle dynamite death-trap before finding out where he's hidden his reclaimed gold are easily forgiven amidst the brutality and wanton killing that follows, setting things up nicely for the final three-on-one gundown in the sun-parched town Don Pablo has claimed for himself.
Obviously budget constraints mean we're not treated to a ten minute build-up to this denouement, as in the case of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, one of the greatest examples of this much-maligned cinematic genre, but the fact that out of the entire cast it's only Cjamango, the mysterious stranger Clinton, the boy Manuel (unfortunately), and the barman Sancho (now severely lacking trade) who survive, should make up for any shortfalls on that count.
Indeed, Cjamango is comparable to a stripped down version of De Palma's Scarface when thumbing through the wafer-thin list of survivors. The fact that the main man ends up with nothing to show for his troubles apart from a whining brat, who one hopes is quickly dispatched from the back of his horse with a discreet elbow as soon as the end credits have rolled, highlights the downbeat nature of the Spaghetti Western. A place where it's not uncommon for the leading man to end up with nothing more than a face full of dust and a bellyfull of regret – or in some cases hot lead.
Never quite catching the public imagination in the way that the characters of Django or Sartana did, it spawned one unofficial sequel, Adios Cjamango (1969) featuring Mike Rivers (Miguel de la Riva) in the title role.
Cjamango certainly features at the higher end of the Spaghetti Western spectrum, nestled on the shelf alongside the likes of Johnny Yuma, Find a Place to Die, California and I Want Him Dead, without troubling the exclusive reaches reserved for certain films by the triumvirate of Sergios: Leone (Anything except My Name is Nobody), Corbucci (The Great Silence, Django) and Sollima (The Big Gundown, Face to Face), as well as Damiani (A Bullet For the General), Petroni (Death Rides a Horse), Parolini (If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death) and the man behind the original Inglorious Bastards, Enzo G. Castellari (Keoma).
But Cjamango makes no claims to these enviable heights. Instead, it delivers an entertaining 90 minutes of no-brainer spaghetti action, keeping well within the traditions of the genre and knocking out a respectable body count to boot.
The widescreen print from the Wild East Spaghetti Western Collection is perhaps the best this film will ever be seen in and well worth seeking out and paying the extra for, over the previous grubby 'grey market' pan and scan versions that can be picked up on the cheap.