While many people are probably familiar with the “Man with No Name” trilogy of spaghetti westerns by Sergio Leone, Django (1966) is a little more obscure. It is a fun little western, directed by the second of three notable Sergios, Sergio Corbucci, and stars a blue eyed Franco Nero of Die Hard 2 fame. With a body count in the hundreds, it has earned itself the dubious honour of being one of the most violent films ever produced up to that point.
Popular culture has referenced this film (and its 30+ spin-offs, follow-ups and sequels) quite a bit. Rob Zombie, Glenn Danzig, and Rancid all reference the character in their lyrics or videos. George Lucas is said to have named Boba Fett’s “father” after him and of course the genre king himself, Quentin Tarantino, could not be out done. The ear severing scene from Reservoir Dogs is a parallel to a scene from Django where a tattletale priest gets his own ear sawed off and force fed to him. This film is certainly admired by some heavy hitters, so let’s get on with the review.
The film begins with Django dragging a coffin through a bleak landscape. It seems ridiculous, but he pulls it behind himself with a rope. He comes across a gang of Mexican banditos whipping the stuffing out of a beautiful young woman. He stands by watching while these thugs are suddenly set upon by some masked men. This second gang, clad in crimson hoods, also has a bone to pick with the half-naked temptress. Before they can burn her to death, Django springs into action and shoots them all dead. The red haired beauty is named Maria (played by a sombre Loredana Nusciak) and has nowhere left to run. Django lets her follow him back to town.
The town is as bleak as shit. The only people that seem to live there are four ugly whores and the grizzled proprietor of a saloon. Django sets up shop in the saloon and installs Maria in the room of one of the prostitutes. Maria offers he thanks and Django takes his payment by drinking greedily from her chalice (if you know what I mean).
Thus the stage is set. Two rival gangs. The first, a group of KKK pretenders lead by a masochistic southern gentleman named Major Jackson who just can’t get his head around the fact that the Confederacy lost the war. The second, a band of stinky drunken Mexican expatriates lead by one General Hugo. You would think that this would play out like Fistful of Dollars or Yojimbo where the hero plays both gangs off against each other but Django throws us a curve ball. He whips out a machine gun from his coffin (it is a fictional gun but modeled after a French mitrailleuse) and guns down all 48 of Major Jackson’s men. He finishes off his gambit by double crossing the Mexicans, loading all their gold into his coffin, and rolling on dubs with his confused woman.
The film ends with Django pulling a butterfingers and dropping his coffin in some alarming fast quicksand. Hugo’s men catch up with him and toss him a beating like you wouldn’t believe. They crush his hands, shoot Maria, and leave him for dead. While Django is discouraged a little, he battles back in the final scene when Major Jackson and his men corner our hero in an old graveyard. Django rips off the trigger guard of his Colt SA Army revolver with his teeth so he can manipulate the trigger with his mangled claws and cowboys up something fierce for the final gun battle.
All said and done, if you consider the context of the film, it was pretty violent. By today’s standards it is pretty tame. While I can tip my hat to the film as a whole, I have to say I didn’t really like the character of Django. He was just a putz. Why he was honoured with so bloody many imitations and sequels escapes me. The coffin metaphor is not lost on me, but I found myself bewildered by his emotional reactions to some situations, and lack of reaction in others. Perhaps some of the character’s nuance was lost in translation. Oh well, it is still worth a watch if you want to get in to the genre.