Thursday, December 6, 2012

Django Month: Django (1966)

Right let's start at the very beginning. Django came out in 1966 and was a breakout success for both its Italian director Sergio Corbucci and star Franco Nero. The film had an enormous impact on the Spaghetti western scene with tons of directors attempted to capture its look and feel for the next ten years. Django was also something of a watershed moment for cinematic violence with its ridiculously high body count and graphic gore (it was actually banned in the UK right up until 1993!). If you're a fan of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino you need to see this film because both filmmakers owe a great deal of debt to it.

The film's
plot sees Franco Nero play Django, a mysterious cowboy drifter who we initially meet trudging through a bleak, muddy landscape, dragging a coffin behind him. What's in the coffin? If you don't know, I'll leave it as a surprise (here's a hint, it's not a body). Anyway at the beginning of the film he rescues a prostitute called Maria from a group of bandits and escorts her to a nearby town. He finds the place is controlled by two warring factions. On the one side is the sadistic Major Jackson and his band of red masked former Yankee soldiers while on the other side is the equally sadistic General Hugo and his group of Mexican bandits. As Django wants revenge against Jackson he sides with Hugo and his men and helps them steal a large quantity of gold from Jackson. However it turns out Hugo has no intention of giving him his cut so Django decides to team up with Maria to steal his share. Will they get away it? Will Django get revenge on Jackson? What's in the coffin?

Even watching this 46 years after it was made you can tell it's something special. Django is such a fantastic protagonist - morally questionable, unpredictable  full of mystery - and he's played with perfect precision by Nero and his steely blue eyes! I really enjoyed the fact that Corbucci starts the film off by making Django seem to be an indestuctible figure only to slowly strip him back until, by the end, he's a shell of a man. I mean it's a tradition of story writing to give your protagonist a difficult final fight but Django's is one of the bleakest, most hopeless ones I've ever seen. A lot of people try and compare him to Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name because they both are taciturn anti-heroes but arguably Django's a far more tragic figure and much more morally unbalanced.

Corbucci's film also has a very unique atmosphere. The muddy landscape is highly evocative and stands in stark contrast to the traditional dusty vistas of American westerns. That first shot of Django really sets the tone for the rest of the film. He's literally dragging death into town with him. There's also a great bit later on where someone asks him what's in the coffin and he replies, with no hint of irony, "Django". Corbucci portrays a very cynical and revisionist view of the Wild West. There's no hint of "manifest destiny" or "the land of opportunity" only a lawless place populated by selfish characters who are obsessed with money and wealth. It's hard to see it as anything less than a critique of American capitalism.

The film is also rife with 
religious imagery which, given that Italy is a heavily Catholic country, shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Throughout the film there's a fixation on crucifixes that culminates in the final shootout in a cemetery; the character of Django on his knees, hiding behind a tiny wooden gravestone while Jackson mockingly suggests that he should start praying. Also earlier in the film, in it's most infamous sequence, General Hugo discovers the town priest is a spy and cuts off his ear and sadistically feeds it to him as punishment. I can't help but feel these scenes are trying to either say God has abandoned these people or, perhaps more controversially, religion is a falsehood that we shouldn't try to hide behind. I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Well, that's
enough philosophical analysis for one post. Overall Django is a fantastic movie. Okay, it's a little more cartoonish and more rough around the edges than Leone's westerns but it's just as riverting to watch and still feels surprisingly fresh. If you've never considered yourself a fan of westerns I strongly recommend checking this film out.



  1. Loved this one, I'm not a huge fan of westerns, but when they are good, they are good, and this one is extremely memorable. I think I read somewhere that its being re-released on dvd in conjunction with Tarantino's Django Unchained, looking forward to adding it to my collection.

  2. Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to find westerns so dull as a kid but this was awesome. Looking forward to checking out more of Nero's films.

    There's a whole bunch of Django "sequels" getting re-released soon will definitely be picked some of the good ones.

  3. Great Django write-ups!

    Keep up the great work and Happy Holidays!