“He was pitiless in revenge, quick to decide, a master of every weapon… a man everyone would like to have seen dead!”
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Starring: Franco Nero, Loredana Nusciak, José Bódalo, Ángel Álvarez, Eduardo Fajardo
In a Nutshell:
This pulpy, hyper-violent action thriller is like a 12-year-old boy saw Leone’s Dollars trilogy, thought it was for pussies, and decided to make his own spaghetti western. All the tropes of the sub-genre are cranked all the way up and the body count is absolutely ridiculous. Quentin Tarantino, who paid homage to the movie with the Reservoir Dogs ear slicing scene and Django Unchained must have spaffed in his jockeys when he first saw this one.
Django (Nero), a former Union soldier in the American civil war, rolls up on the Mexican border dragging a coffin behind him. He sees a gang of Mexicans whipping a prostitute, Maria (Nusciak). After they’re taken out by the racist gang of Major Jackson (Fajardo), they prepare to crucify her on a burning cross instead. That’s when our man Django steps in, kills the goons and offers Maria protection.
They arrive in a mud-caked ghost town, which is allegedly a neutral zone solely populated by a bartender and a gaggle of prostitutes. After Django dispatches with another group of Jackson’s henchmen, who try to extort the bartender, Jackson rocks up with his whole posse of badasses. That’s when we find out what Django has in his coffin…
Much like A Fistful of Dollars, Django spends a little time trying to play both ends against the middle, helping the Mexicans with a violent heist, but in reality he basically goes to war against both gangs. Promised a stash of gold by Hugo (Bódalo), the Mexican revolutionary leader, Django sees a shot at redemption with Maria. Yet Hugo and Jackson both stand in his way…
Nero is obviously trying to out-Eastwood Clint Eastwood in the taciturn badass stakes. The trouble is, he’s a bit too pretty for that, and he certainly doesn’t have Eastwood’s ironic sense of detachment he brought to his “Man with No Name” roles for Leone. For the first half of the movie, Nero does little but peek out blankly from under the brim of his hat to little effect.
Then the hat comes off, and he’s suddenly a different actor. Nero looks like he is positively enjoying himself in the second half, especially during the gold heist with Hugo’s gang. Django becomes more charismatic and all too human, setting up the nerve-wracking finale in the graveyard vs Jackson and his remaining goons.
Nusciak looks gorgeous as Maria but doesn’t really have much to do. Her performance almost matches Nero’s first half output for woodenness.
Fajardo and Bodalo are fairly rote bad guys for a spaghetti western. Sure, they have some dastardly moments but unfortunately Corbucci wasn’t blessed with actors like Lee van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Gian Maria Volonté, Klaus Kinski and the rest of Leone’s cackling, sweaty rogue’s gallery.
Luis Bacalov’s score pales in comparison to Ennio Morricone’s OTT operatics… but then again, what doesn’t? Tarantino fans will enjoy picking out pieces from the soundtrack lifted for Django Unchained, as well as the gloriously hokey main theme.
Sex and Violence:
Not a huge amount of sex, but the kill count in this movie is off the charts! There isn’t a huge amount of blood and guts, but once Django cuts loose with his little friend, bodies really start piling up. Various kill counts clock in around the 180 mark, with our protagonist notching up a big chunk of those deaths. The most gruesome scene sees some poor schmuck get his ear carved off and fed to him, before getting shot in the back. Even more disturbing is when Jackson’s racists shoot some Mexican peasants for sport.
Django feels like it rips off Sergio Leone’s influential spaghetti westerns while simultaneously putting a rather large, oozing cherry on top (I know, I know, who puts cherries on top of spaghetti? It just doesn’t make sense…) Corbucci takes just about every western trope and cranks it up to the max, typified by the ghost town’s streets. They’re not just dusty and dirty, the town is about knee-deep in mud.
He does have an eye for some striking images, too, starting with the brilliant idea of a dangerous drifter dragging his own coffin around. We’re so used to western heroes riding into town on a horse, giving him mobility, that following a guy who is so physically burdened by his method of killing feels really mythic.
As mentioned above, Corbucci isn’t particularly well served by his actors, which does make the bits in between all the crazy killing drag a little. They’re just not good enough to hold the screen the way those faces in Leone movies do, and the dialogue seems ripped straight out of a bad western comic book.
Despite its faults, Django still has enough moments of outlandish craziness to make it well worth a look.