Now this is what I’m talking about. This is the kind of movie I’m looking for when I’m digging in the Streaming Basements and Cellars. Often considered one of the best Spaghetti Westerns, Django is beloved by Quentin Tarantino and unseen by me until now. It’s an ultra-violent inspiration for many Tarantino films, especially Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. It stars Franco Nero, the titular ninja from Enter The Ninja. And the IMDB trivia for the movie states that in one scene, Nero fires eight shots from a six-shooter without re-loading. So it’s the kind of movie where the laws of reality are broken in order to cram in even more violence. So let’s check this out, shall we?
Django is much better known in Italy where it’s spawned over 30 sequels and rip-offs, including one announced for 2019 written by John Sayles! In America, I’m guessing it’s only known because Tarantino borrowed the name of the main character for Django Unchained and because Django famously spends the movie dragging a coffin halfway across Italy… I mean, the American South. It features all of the strengths and weaknesses of the Spaghetti Westerns. It has casual racism, misogyny, and nihilism. It’s got epic Technicolored gore, indifferently dubbed in English dialogue, and lots and lots of shoot-outs.
The plot is both convoluted and minimalist. It mostly takes place in one interior, a whorehouse, and one muddy street outside, and the big shoot-out at the end takes place in a cemetery, of course. In the opening scene, Django rescues a former hooker from being tortured and worse from a group of red-scarved ex-Confederate thugs. Django takes the rescued Maria and hides out in a whorehouse. Then he shoots some more Red-Scarves, and when we discover that he’s been toting around a whole cache of guns in his coffin, one of them being a Gatling style repeating rifle, and he uses it to shoot about a hundred more red-hooded thugs. Only then does the real plot kick in where Django helps the Mexican Army rob millions of dollars from a different Mexican Army fort.
So in the 90 minute run-time, Django kills more dudes than the population of Arizona at the time. That’s economical violence. Some of the movie’s charms include a catfight featuring the brightly outfitted prostitutes wrestling in the muddy street, the various gunfights where Django guns down eight dudes with his six-shooter, and in one amusing scene, for no reason he uses his Gatling gun to kill all the bottles in the whorehouse bar. I also enjoyed a scene where Django sets up his Gatling gun to shoot by itself as he makes his getaway with the gold. Despite heavy automatic fire coming through a door, three Mexican soldiers break the door down and get machine-gunned. But the punchline to the scene is the fourth soldier who runs in AFTER the other three guys and predictably joins his fellow amigos in Hell. What was he hoping to accomplish, exactly? I got a good laugh from that one.
Franco Nero is essentially the C-Grade Italian Clint Eastwood. He seems cast for his blonde hair and squinty blue eyes, and definitely not for his acting skills. When it was time to dub his voice, the filmmakers definitely dipped into the Clint Eastwood-sounding vocal talent pool. He even has some Eastwoodian one-liners and bad-ass proclamations (like patting his coffin and declaring, “This is the only friend I need.”) Nero has 222 credits on IMDB with about 30 in various stages of development and post-production. Let me just say that I’ve seen him in Enter The Ninja about 20 years after Django and his acting hasn’t improved, nor has the voice-dubbing. But his movies are fairly ridiculous and his lack of talent doesn’t really matter. He’s a somewhat charismatic lead who convincingly takes a beating and, more importantly, shoots people really well.
Django is directed by the other Italian Western Auteur named Sergio, Corbucci. It’s fairly stylish and violent enough so that it never gets boring. It’s more cartoonish and exploitative than Sergio Leone’s movies, but also less self-serious. In one scene, the violent Mexican army we’re supposed to side with cuts off a hypocritical priest’s ear and feeds it to him, and only THEN shoots him in the back. That’s just cold-blooded, man. I’m guessing Quentin was a big fan of that scene.
Allegedly taking plot inspiration from Yojimbo, Corbucci isn’t really concerned with subtext or symbolism, just a whole lot of shootin’. The music even invokes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But the main problem with the movie is that, in true Spaghetti Western fashion, there’s no real “Good” guy, as everyone is mostly some shade of Bad or Ugly, including Django himself who’s motivation is just stealing the gold. Oh, and cold, hard revenge.
There are many problems with the film however. This being an Italian Western, all the women are prostitutes or reformed prostitutes, and all the men are sweaty and filthy and are Italians pretending to be dark-skinned Mexicans. So it’s got casual sexism and racism in equal shares. The women are usually abused and slapped around. In one scene, Django has a prostitute strip down as a distraction for the horny soldiers while he escapes with his coffin out the back door. This is at least a clever scene, if a bit offensive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Filled with barroom brawls and ceaseless gunfights, the movie is violent and ugly but never dull. Django was clearly made as a quickie rip-off of the Clint Eastwood movies, but also inspired a generation of exploitation films and filmmakers that came after. I’d say check it out for historic value and because, despite being shot in 1966, it’s vastly more entertaining than most of the low-budget streaming films I’ve seen lately and has its own charms and personality, which are both lacking in the latest direct-to-video fare. Worth an enjoyable 90 minutes of your time.