Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Western Wednesday: Django (1966)

I figured if I'm going to start a weekly feature on the western genre, I might as well kick it off with one of the best. Django is among the finest spaghetti westerns that doesn't have Leone's name on it. I was also disappointed that last Monday's midnight movie (The Visitor) didn't have more Franco Nero in it, so here's to rectifying that problem. (I have a feeling a lot of the movies in this feature are going to have Nero, Lee Van Cleef, and/or a director named Sergio.)


The story of Django opens with the gunslinger himself (Nero) dragging a coffin through all manner of mud. Later, when he finally makes it to a saloon, someone asks him if there's a body in the box. Django replies, "Yeah. His name is Django."

I won't spoil who's actually in Django's coffin, but you'll find out for yourself less than a third of the way into the movie. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.


Seconds after the opening credits, Django happens upon a gruesome scene: a gang of bandits are preparing to bludgeon a prostitute to death. You expect Django to intervene, but he doesn't. Instead, he watches from afar as a second gang swoops in and lays waste to the first. You think the prostitute's life has been spared until you realize the men are only untying her to retie her to a cross, which they intend to torch. "Burnin's a lot better than getting beaten to death," they assure her.

You get the feeling Django has been praying he doesn't have to get involved with this bullshit. By then it's clear it's no longer his decision to make. He's operating on autopilot when he approaches the men and says in his surreal, dubbed voice, "If I bothered you, would you accept my apology?" A split second later his pistol comes out, blazing hell-fire, and drops the five men in the blink of an eye.

Eduardo Fajardo as Major Jackson

It sounds a lot more clichéd than it is. Django's the real deal—a character of such popularity and charm he's kind of been portrayed by a dozen different actors in dozens of movies (although a lot of those movies just slapped "Django" onto their titles for commercial reasons). Like a lot of legends, the details change depending on who's telling it, but overall the important stuff remains the same if not outright ripped off.

No, Django doesn't merely have clichés, but employs them to leverage the action forward. Director Sergio Corbucci is well aware his audience already knows everything we need to know about saloons, hookers, and bandits, so there's no time wasted on introductions. Besides, the character himself is a consolidation of only the finest elements that gave the clichés staying power in the first place. 

Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and General Hugo (José Bódalo)

After saving the prostitute's life, Django takes her to town, finds a room, and meets the leader of the local Klan, Major Jackson. Jackson gets his rocks off on hunting innocent Mexicans for sport. After gunning down over forty of Jackson's men, Django finds himself at the center of a war between Jackson's gang and General Hugo Rodriguez's bandits. Hugo's an old friend of Django's, so the two of them team up.

Everything I've described is enough to fill a routine western to the brim, but in Django all this happens in the first third of the movie. Sure, it's mostly style over substance, but Django is tragic, shamelessly entertaining, and absurdly violent. If you've never seen it before, be prepared to get amped.

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