It may not be as good as Leone, but Judge Paul Corupe wouldn't dare tell that to the killer dragging a coffin.
"You can clean up the mess, but don't touch my coffin."-Django (Franco Nero)
Although it didn't create much of a sensation when it was released in North America, Django is one of the quintessential spaghetti westerns, a huge international hit that defined the anti-hero for the entire genre. It also established director Sergio Corbucci as the second biggest talent in the spaghetti western game behind his compatriot and friend, Sergio Leone. Packed with violence, thrills, and enigmatic motives, Django has proved to be just as influential as Leone's classic A Fistful of Dollars, although it is still best known for creating one of the most iconic images of the spaghetti western—a darkly-clad stranger dragging a coffin behind him.
Facts of the Case
The casket-towing, pistol-slinging Django (Franco Nero, Die Hard 2) steadily makes his way toward a dead town wiped out by clashes between the Mexicans and a racist group of Civil War stragglers. On the way, he rescues Maria (Loredana Nusciak), a prostitute being tortured by a group of the red-hooded Confederates. Django takes her back to the only building still inhabited, the local saloon, where he begins to seek out Confederate leader Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo, Nightmare City). Also helping in Django's mission is a band of Mexican revolutionaries under General Hugo Rodriguez (José Bódalo, Compañeros), who want to put an end to Jackson's hobby of shooting defenseless Mexicans for sport. But where exactly do Django's allegiances lie? And more importantly, who—or what—is in his makeshift pine box?
Like Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, Django is a loose remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, combining standard revenge elements with a subplot involving a gold heist. Corbucci had several Euro-horror and sword and sandal epics under his belt before jumping on the profitable western bandwagon, and Django is certainly more informed by the exploitation film tradition than Leone's often artistically self-conscious films. Still, there is no shortage of memorable scenes in Django, which emphasizes quick action, gory violence, and a strongly characterized protagonist.
Django is almost entirely carried on Franco Nero's performance, which is letter perfect as the vengeful killer who boasts the darkest of existentialist perspectives. With a dangerous resolve that rivals Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name, Django is a hard-boiled anti-hero who only appears to do the "right" thing when his personal interests coincide with any imagined code of ethics. The film keeps the viewer guessing at Django's motivations until almost the final scene, and even then we aren't entirely sure what to make him; is he in this for money, revenge, Maria, or all three? It was a role that launched a thousand imitators (Jango Fett, anyone?), not to mention more than 50 unofficial sequels, with re-release titles like A Few Dollars for Django, Django's Cut Price Corpses, and even Nude Django. Nero has complained that in Germany, even his non-westerns were re-titled to suggest they were sequels to his most famous role!
The overall look of the film is also quite different than the Dollars trilogy. While Leone looked back to American westerns for harsh, sun-beaten desert vistas, Django's setting is a muddy, dirty ghost town overseen by an uncompromisingly gray sky. Death permeates everything, from ossified tree stumps lying in the streets to saloon prostitutes coughing with vile sicknesses. It's a claustrophobic setting that mirrors Django's interior world, a psychological landscape that produces a very different effect than most traditional spaghetti westerns.
Of course, you can't talk about Django without some mention of the brutal violence. This films has an extremely high body count, almost approaching Rambo-like proportions, as countless banditos and soldiers throw their guns in the air, grab their chests, and slump over adobe walls. The most shocking scene is one that was riffed on in Reservoir Dogs—cornered by General Rodriguez, Major Jackson's Confederate spy has his ear sliced off and shoved into his mouth before being shot repeatedly in the back. It's an absolutely unforgettable scene that was undoubtedly the reason Django was banned in the UK for over 25 years.
All the elements are here for a top-notch spaghetti western, and Sergio Corbucci once again defies a miniscule budget to put together one of the b-classics of the genre. Based on the success of Django, Corbucci went on to create many more great Euro-westerns including Compañeros, Navajo Joe, and The Great Silence. Also deserving of mention is Django's excellent music by Luis Bacalov. It's one of the finest non-Morricone spaghetti western scores, featuring a remarkable title song sung by Rocky Roberts in a fittingly melodramatic style.
Before I get into the technical aspects of this release, first let me say that this is the exact same release of Django that used to be "exclusive" to Blue Underground's recent The Spaghetti Western Collection box set, with one slight addition. Previously, Anchor Bay also released a version of Django, paired with the monotonous "official" sequel Django Strikes Back.
This Blue Underground disc is in every way an improvement on the earlier Anchor Bay release, even tacking on just over a minute of additional footage. There are some distracting age-related artifacts to be found, but they're a small price to pay for this otherwise beautiful transfer that runs circles around Anchor Bay's grainy, faded print. For sound, all that was found on the Anchor Bay Django was a Dolby 5.1 track of the film's original English dub. That same track is included here in Dolby 2.0, but this time viewers have the option of selecting the original stereo Italian soundtrack and English subtitles. The original sound is an immeasurable improvement over the poorly dubbed English version, even though the quality may not be quite as rich or full.
There are a few extras here, all worth your while. After skimming through the text-based "Talent Bios," check out Django's badly narrated trailer, and an interesting poster and still gallery. "Django: The One and Only" is a relatively brief documentary cobbled together from interviews with Franco Nero and assistant director Ruggero Deodato. The sole extra not previously included with Django's release in The Spaghetti Western Collection is located on a second mini-disc included in this package—it's a short film made a few years ago called "The Last Pistolero," with Nero reprising his Django persona in a tribute to the Euro-western genre. It's a fun inclusion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Django ranks as one of the better spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, but those going into the film for the first time with the hope that it will even approach the level of Leone's masterpieces will be sorely disappointed. Django is nowhere near as pretty to look at, has a much smaller budget, and even strays a bit in the middle during the unexciting heist sequence. This is at heart a b-action movie, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Django is only very good at being what it sets out to be, nothing more.
There's a good reason why Django didn't do well in North America—the English dubbed version of this film is terrible, one of the worst dubs I have ever heard. The voice acting is so horrendous that it actually changes the essential nature of Nero's portrayal of Django, playing down his darker side. Under no circumstances should you select the English track over the Italian, since it is seriously detrimental to your enjoyment of the film.
If you picked up Blue Underground's The Spaghetti Western Collection, the extra short film is not enough to justify an upgrade. However, if you're still hanging on to the Anchor Bay version, you need to update with this new version immediately, if only to experience Django in the superior original Italian version. A must-see spaghetti western.
The English dub of Django is sentenced to be hogtied, shot execution-style, and buried in an unmarked grave, while Blue Underground is hereby deputized to release more spaghetti westerns in their original language. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• "Django: The One and Only" Interviews
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