“ Genre: War & Western - Western / Theatrical Release: 1966 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Sergio Corbucci / Actors: Franco Nero, José Bódalo, Loredana Nusciak, Ángel Álvarez, Gino Pernice ... / DVD released 2008-09-01 at Argent Films Ltd / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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Directed by the expert Spaghetti Western director Sergio Corbucci in 1966, DJANGO has long been upheld as one of the classics of the genre. Starring Franco Nero as the title character, the film tells the story of a lone gunslinger who walks into a small town dragging a coffin, who gets involved in a struggle between two groups warring for control of the town.
This is a very violent western for the time it was made, although the levels of violence are nothing compared to movies such as the recent remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES or the most recent RAMBO movie. Nero is perfectly cast as Django, with his good looks and sneer casting some memorable images on the screen. The music on the soundtrack is great, with the title song being particularly catchy.
The film was so successful that it went on to spawn numerous sequels, although only one was official. There are many other Spaghetti Westerns which use the Django name to cash-in on its success.
If you can get past the graphic violence and you enjoy spaghetti westerns, then I would definitely recommend that you get hold of the DVD of this classic film.
Like for many Italian filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo proved to be considerably influential, and its simple yet brutal storyline was something that was particularly popular to deal with in the newly coming western genre. The most famous example of these, of course, was Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, which was essentially a carbon copy of that Japanese film, but beyond that most well-known film there was another one that essentially featured the same base story and which, just like Fistful before it, quickly became one of the most popular and enduring icons of the entire Italian western genre: Django. Written by the Corbucci brothers Sergio and Bruno, with the former also directing, from the very outset Django sets out to be a very brutal exercise in sadism and violence. The main story of a mysterious man with a past coming to a town over-run by two feuding factions, one headed by the white-supremacist major Jackson, and the other by the Mexican general Hugo Rodriguez, the basic set up doesn't really differ too much from either Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars. But it is very much more in the details and the almost pleasurable violence that holds a lot of the uniqueness of Django, and which helped make this film one of the most enduring specimens of its kind ever. The very opening main title shots are ripe to be regarded as some of the most iconic imagery ever put on celluloid: Django, the camera trailing behind him, walking alone in a muddy, raining field dragging a ragged coffin behind him, while the title song sings of the man, and how his love has gone away forever. It's really legendary stuff and about as surreal as you can get. In the very next scenes you pretty much get to know the general flavour of a lot of the film that is to follow as a bunch of Mexican bandits whip a woman named Maria (Loredana Nusciak) as punishment for attempting to run away from them, and seemingly enjoying every last bit of it. All these men are then gunned down by Major Jackson's men who then in their turn plan to burn Maria on a cross (poor woman). And then comes Django, who guns down all of Jackson's men and takes the unfortunate woman back to town.
This kind of no-nonsense brutality and remorseless violence is ripe with Django, and stays fairly consistent throughout the film. It is this type of immorality and lapping on of more and more spectacular acts of violence and sadism that truly makes the film stand far away from its most immediate counterparts it bases its story on and provides the credentials of Sergio Corbucci, who's films often were to feature similar traits and a generally very cynical feel even past what the more spectacle-hungry Leone ever did. In fact, when comparing both Corbucci and Leone as directors, the two couldn't have been farther apart. Whereas Leone's films were essentially carefully constructed and often psychologically deep spectacles of mythic proportions, Corbucci was more of a B-grade director who didn't care if he every once and again made a dud here or there, and rather tended toward quantity. After all, some of them most certainly should end up being better than some of the others. Also he loved black humour, which made his films usually exceptionally bleak and completely divorced from trying to hide the complete irreverence to life. Django has an incredibly high body count and to drive the point home even better, there are a few isolated moments where the sadistic actions are made even more terrifying, such as cutting one man's ear off and then feeding it to him, after which he gets shot in the back anyway; or when Django ends up being brutally tortured and then has several horses walk over his hands. It is this type of overt sense of violence that the characters seem to enjoy with no remorse which got the film banned in several countries... and which of course only made the whole thing gather cult notoriety as a result.
Today, when one watches Django, it may not actually feel all that gruesome anymore due to how this kind of violence has become almost every day in popular culture, the Saw films being prime examples of this. And despite people being mowed down in the tens by gatling guns and pistols and shotguns, it still may come across rather tame today. The violence is so overt that it borders on being satirical. The fact that you never really see any blood, and even the little that is staged looks like jam splashed on people's faces, doesn't necessarily make it seem very horrible. Also the actors "die" in so ridiculous and over-the-top ways, that it's hard to keep a straight face in some of these instances. In a way, Django is best to take within the limits of budget and the implication of what you are supposed to be seeing, and forget how fake it all looks. But besides this, the general bleakness and hopelessness of the story is very well translated to the general design of the film. Carlo Simi's production designing is dreary and ugly, with the town all of this is placed at being dirty, rotten and the streets are disgustingly muddy. The characters that inhabit this place are mostly vapid prostitutes living in a bar ran by a non-committal barkeep, all just hoping to be able to stay alive in the strife of the Ku Klux Klan-like, hood-wearing men of Jackson who like to use Mexican peasants for target shooting, and the desperado-like Mexican general's drunken robber actions.
The acting performances are not really that wildly fantastic rather than adequate, with the emphasis in the film ending up being more on the general atmosphere of the story itself. Franco Nero as Django has great presence and makes for quite an imposing anti-hero, a bit more on the darker side than what Clint Eastwood was, but he doesn't end up really doing so much with the part acting wise. Neither does Eduardo Fajardo's Major Jackson or José Bódalo's General Rodriguez inspire that much specific malevolence. Interestingly both remain rather aloof from one another, as if both bad guys are playing parts in a different film. When Jackson is the focus, Rodriguez is nowhere to be seen, and vice versa. Only a couple of times are there any crossing between the two, but as to the question which is the bad guy of the film, it's hard to decide which is more so than the other. They just don't seem to exist in the same film for any long stretches at any time, and making one question if one is worse than the other in some way, and not really being able to reach a conclusion on the matter. The main female character Maria is rather more for just looks than anything else, a puppet nobody really seems to care all too much about, and the other side characters make for nice portraits of different character types, but don't really add much in regards of the story (except for a rather pointless, but hot mud wrestling scene with a couple of the prostitutes). The music of Luis Enrique Bacalov is also functional, and has some good themes in it (the opening song is rather kick ass), but doesn't really come out on the same level as say a Morricone score usually did. And finally the English dubbing could certainly be a lot better, and at times it's even a bit distracting, but on the whole it suffices.
So, Django may not excel when it comes to judging it as an individual film in regards of craftsmanship, acting or depth the way Leone's more carefully built films did, but then again, on its own terms, it does gain a lot by its nihilistic and bleak vision, its epic iconography, and its unforgiving nature. The final scene is a wonderful example of how Corbucci could be very good if he wanted to by carefully having Django struggle to set up for a final confrontation, attempting to modify and set up a gun on a cross with both hands broken, the painstakingness (and tortured hurt) of the operation coming across quite brilliantly, even if the very end does feel a bit flat and unfinished. Otherwise Corbucci's direction is good, but not fantastic, and it does lack a certain sense of tension when it's needed, but it does make a lot up with its atmosphere and intent. The film proved to be a huge success when it came out in 1966, making Corbucci famous and which consequently sprang out over 30 unofficial sequels over the next few years, most usually just using the name Django with no other connection to Corbucci's original film. Also the iconic images of the hero dragging a coffin around housing a machine gun, or the name itself of Django, has been seen in many a song, video game or other film. Even Quentin Tarantino referenced the film in his Reservoir Dogs' ear cutting scene, and Takashi Miike's 2007 film Sukiyaki Western Django is filled with homages to Corbucci's film. Django may not be a perfect film - heck, maybe not even a particularly good film - but it still does stand as a great Corbucci film, a film that despite its flaws makes one feel the story idea and basic execution were still of a higher caliber than usual. A cult classic if ever there was one, and as a result still remaining a favourite among spaghetti western fans. And Django DOES kick ass, there's no question about that.
© berlioz, 2009