Screenplay : Bruno Corbucci and Sergio Corbucci (in collaboration with José Gutiérrez Maesso, Franco Rossetti, and Piero Vivarelli)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1966
Stars : Franco Nero (Django), José Bódalo (Rodriguez), Eduardo Fajardo (General Jackson), Loredana Nusciak (Maria)
From the start, it is clear that "Django" is not a traditional Western. The film opens with long shots of the titular character moving across a rugged Western landscape while the soundtrack is filled with a heroic ballad. However, Django is not riding on a horse, as we might expect from most Western heroes. Instead, he is slogging through mud on foot, head down, dragging beyond him a wooden coffin.
In many ways, "Django" is nothing more than an exercise in exploding Hollywood Western mythology and working against audience expectations. The title character, Django (pronounced Jango, with a silent "D") is an antihero, and even at the end of the film it is hard to get a solid grasp on who he is and what he is about. He is both heroic and treacherous, upright and back-stabbing. However, he is at all times an individual, a mysterious loner who takes on almost mystical proportions
"Django" was an Italian-Spanish co-production made in 1966, two years after Italian director Sergio Leone had found great success making the original spaghetti Western "A Fistful of Dollars" with Clint Eastwood. "Django" is something like an ugly cousin to the Leone Westerns. It maintains many of the same thematic elements, even borrowing the structure of its plotline from Akira Kurosawa's samurai epic "Yojimbo" (1955). However, "Django" is significantly darker, dirtier, and more violent than the Leone films, and it is for this reason that it achieved a cult status and was followed by some 50 unofficial sequels.
The plot of "Django" follows the title character (played with gruff intensity by Franco Nero) as he enters a small Texas border town that is torn between two competing gangs.
One is a group of red-hooded soldiers led by the sadistic General Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo); the other is a band of roving Mexicans led by Rodriguez (José Bódalo). The film offers a number of surprises, most of them involving Django's loyalty (or lack thereof). There is also a romantic subplot involving a prostitute (Loredana Nusciak) who is wanted dead by both gangs.
Of course, the plot of "Django" is highly irrelevant. This is a film that is all about style and attitude. Director Sergio Corbucci does an excellent job of creating a gritty, grimy Western world that is characterized by mud, blood, and gray skies. Several of his compositions, especially those involving the small clapboard town where most of the action takes place, appear to have been an inspiration for Robert Altman's celebrated mis en scene in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971).
"Django" is also quite violent for its time, but the gore (restrained by today's standards) fits well with the film's overall tone. Some of the violence borders on the comical, such as when Django finally reveals what he has been carrying in his coffin when he pulls out a Gattling gun and proceeds to mow down Jackson's army in a decidedly un-Hollywood-Western moment (it plays as an almost perfect parody of the cliche one-on-one showdowns). Other moments are more unsettling, such as a stomach-churning sequence near the end that shows Django's hands being beaten into bloody pulp with the butt of a rifle.
If "Django" has a weakness, it is a weakness common to foreign films imported into the United States: overdubbed voices. Simply put, the dubbed American voices in "Django" are positively ludicrous. Franco Nero has fantastic screen presence as the grimly serious antihero—until he opens his mouth. Nero's own voice is deep and heavy, thick with a throaty Italian accent. In other words, it's perfect for a character like Django. However, watching the movie, we are forced to endure the irritating incongruity of Nero's gruff, handsome features and penetrating blue eyes being saddled with a cheesy American voice that sounds like a weak Clint Eastwood impression.
But, as I mentioned before, "Django" isn't about plot, and it certainly isn't about dialogue. It's the kind of movie with such vibrant tone in its visuals that it can almost be treated as a silent film. If the badly dubbed voices get to you, just turn off the volume. This is a film that can stand on its own visually.
About the Video:
"Django" was recently released in a special video edition from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The video features a new digital transfer in the original theatrical aspect ration of 1.66:1. The video also features the original theatrical trailer and an interview with star Franco Nero.
©1999 James Kendrick