Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Django (1966) Review

Django (1966)
Dir. Sergio Corbucci
Starring: Franco Nero

A man dragging a coffin walks into town with a score to settle.

This month Western Wednesday is going to be looking at some of the films that feature the character Django, so why not start with the first one?

Django is an interesting film. It’s held up as one of the greatest spaghetti westerns ever made, and it deserves that title. But it’s also a film that spawned over thirty knock off films and imitators. Its weird watching it in retrospect and trying to figure out what it was about the film that caused over 20 films to be made using the same character in the four years after its release. But the answer is one reason: Money. Django was a bigger hit in Italy than A Fistful of Dollars. This seems odd since they both have the same basic story (both are unofficial remakes of Yojimbo). Most of the film’s success can be attributed to Franco Nero’s performance as Django. He comes across as a cool badass, from the great opening image of Django dragging his coffin through the town, and the scene with him gunning down Major Jackson’s men with the machine gun. There’s a reason why the movie has continued to have influence on som many things from music videos, characters in anime like Trigun and Gungrave, and live action films like Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi films and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. There is even talks about another film being made in the near future with Franco Nero once again reprising the role of Django, and hopefully the results will be better than the disastrous 1987s Django Rides Again.

This is a movie where all the right pieces fell together in a way that just worked. Corbucci wanted another actor for Django, but a scheduling conflict caused Franco Nero to step into the role that made him a star. The weather conditions at the time of filming caused the set to be covered in mud, but it gives the film a different look form other spaghetti westerns, depicting an awful town that no one would actually want to go to. The film speeds along at a quick pace, and there isn’t any scenes that feel unnecessary. There’s a great section in the middle that features Django teaming up with some Mexican bandits to steal some gold from a fort that at first feels detached from the rest of the film, but at the same time the actions of Django in these scenes lead to some consequences that affect him in the end of the film.

The film was originally criticized for its violence, but most of it seems rather tame by modern standards. Characters are thinly drawn but at the same time they are interesting and fun to watch. On the surface the scene where Django guns down Jackson’s men in the streets seems to be the largest act of violence in the film, but the ear cutting scene** is probably the most disturbing scene in the film, and one that caused the film to be banned in Sweden after Corbucci “forgot” to remove it at the request of the censors. The scene where Django has is hands broken, first by the butt of a rifle and then by horse hoofs was the one that seemed to most brutal to me. But it does make things more interesting for his final confrontation with Jackson, crippling his hands makes it harder for him to use a pistol, and adds some similarity to the man he was named after, jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who overcame a severe hand injury and went on to be considered one of the greatest guitar players of all time.

This film is the perfect example of what a good spaghetti western is, something made on a low budget but with enough style and a charismatic lead to make up for it. The film sets out to do one thing, tell a good story, and it does it extremely well. This movie is one that needs to be seen by anyone that has interest in the genre, and it deserves to be called a classic.

* This also happened with Dawn of the Dead, which after being released as Zombie in Italy spawned a series of unrelated sequels.

** This had to be an inspiration on Reservoir Dogs.

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