Django (1966) directed by Sergio Corbucci
Quick! Name a spaghetti western not directed by Sergio Leone or starring Clint Eastwood. Can't do it, huh? Unless you're a movie buff or really into westerns, the only ones you probably know are Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and for good reason. Those movies are legitimate classics which would ultimately become associated with the entire genre, which would be a blessing and and curse for the rest of the bunch. The odd style and techniques used to make spaghetti westerns that were initially derided by critics would eventually become their most endearing features; the morally ambiguous antihero, the stylized and excessive violence, and dirtier grittier feel. Unfortunately for the rest of the bunch, any spaghetti western henceforth would inevitably draw comparisons to Leone's No Name trilogy, an unfair and impossible expectation to live up to. There were, of course, other stalwarts in the genre that would build their own reputations, one of the most notable being Sergio Corbucci's Django. Admittedly, I had not even heard of the movie as of a couple days ago, but during a quick perusing of Quentin Tarantino on the internet, I stumbled upon it. (Tarantino's latest project is titled 'Django Unchained', which reminded me of the excellent Japanese spaghetti western homage Sukiyaki Western Django. I simply assumed Django was a Japanese word, but it got me thinking, so I wiki'd 'Django' and low and behold, found this movie.)
Django opens with the customary shot of the hero wandering the countryside alone in typical drifter fashion, but with one notable difference; he's dragging a coffin behind him. Immediately you begin to wonder what's he got in there and if there's any significance to it being a coffin and not something much simpler like a cart, for example. Within the first five minutes, Django rescues a damsel in distress from two separate set of bad guys, the Mexicans and what can only be described as a quasi-KKK, the two apparently at war with each other. The hero and the damsel head into town and set up base at the local brothel.
The rest of the plot is simple. The town is overrun by two separate gangs, the KKK, complete with red hoods and burning crosses, led by the overly cruel General Jackson and the opposing Mexicans, led by General Hugo. Before you think Yojimbo or Fistful of Dollars, Django doesn't seem to want to play both sides. He has an agenda of his own and it involves bodies. Lots of bodies.
While Django will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Fistful of Dollars for its basic premise and for being a spaghetti western, it shouldn't because they are distinctly different. While Clint Eastwood's drifter, mysterious and of questionable morals, ends up being a good guy to the town in the end, Django has little time for moral posturing. He's there for one purpose and that is to kill some bad guys. While both are inhumanly fast with the single pistol, Django's ultimate method of destruction is almost comical and feels cheap and dirty. There are no style points in war, just kill or be killed.
Sergio Leone's No Name trilogy was renowned for it's stunning cinematography, gorgeous shots of the landscape and picturesque sunsets. Django's world is cold, dark, and dirty. The little town is drab with muted colors and an excessive amount of wet sloppy mud. (There's even a scene with silly girl on girl mud wrestling.) That isn't to say that Django necessarily looks bad, it simply goes for a different vibe.
The movie moves along briskly, running at 97 minutes, and before you know it we're at the final showdown. But one can't help but wish Corbucci slowed it down a little to give more a little more depth to our hero or at least give the viewer a little more time to marinate and let everything sink in. Even by the inevitable final showdown between Django and General Jackson, we still don't even have a full grasp of Django's vendetta or have time to fully root for him. I'm not sure General Jackson even knows the real reason why he's in Django's crosshairs as barely any time is given for the backstory. The final showdown feels all too hasty and unsatisfying for both Django and the viewer.
My biggest complaint, however, is the dubbing, which sounds ridiculous. It's not just the syncing that looks totally off (it's like watching those old kung fu flicks), but the voices are just totally wrong. Franco Nero, who plays Django, has a rough and rugged look in the vain of Clint Eastwood, but the dubbed voice sounds like a boy scout leader. Many of the other voices are miscast as well, making the entire movie just sound incredibly odd.
Despite its misgivings, Django is still an enjoyable, albeit flawed, film and it's easy to see where it gets its cult following from. (Apparently, it has such a following that it has spawned over 50 unofficial sequels.) The film is pretty violent, though by today's standards seems pretty tame and almost comical, but it did help pave the way for a more violent and grittier world of cinema. The mysterious coffin/ mysterious object angle has been copied many times over. The ear cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs can trace its roots to this movie, which would not at all be surprising given how Quentin Tarantino operates. While it is a fun and entertaining movie, I still have to call a spade a spade and Django is a mediocre cult hit which could have been so much more.