Today I watched Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966)
While pretty much everyone knows about Sergio Leone, you really don’t know spaghetti westerns until you have seen some Corbucci films. Here he teams with actor Franco Nero who plays our titular protagonist, a soft spoken but hard eyed badass gunfighter who drags a coffin behind him and wears the coat of a Union officer. As he travels to a small town on the Mexican border he comes across a number of outlaws wearing red scarves who are beating a woman because she is half Mexican. Of course Django kills them first and continues into town where he learns that these crimson clad klansmen are fighting a gang war against a gang of Mexican revolutionaries and are lead by a man named Jackson. After he kills a few more klansmen in the town whorehouse Jackson decides to bring all his manpower against him. But Django is prepared and when they come he opens his coffin to reveal a machine gun which he uses to mow down the klan. Jackson get’s away and we learn that Django has a history with him, Jackson killed his lover Mercedes Zaro some years ago. But now the Mexicans roll into town, their leader seems friendly with Django and the two decide to raid a Mexican fort of a large quantity of gold. After they succeed in stealing the gold though, Django betrays them to take all the gold for himself. This goes very poorly for Django though so now he has to set things right, even if his hands, the fastest hands in the west, get crushed while doing it.
While this plot superficially resembles A Fistful of Dollars, which in turn was based on Yojimbo which in turn was based on Dashiell Hammett stories, it is not the real draw of the film. The real draw here is the character of Django himself and Nero’s brilliant portrayal of him. He is a textbook antihero and this is a perfect example of how to write that style of character. First it sets up that he is incredibly badass, a gunfighter without compare, then the film allows him to make mistakes, something modern action films need to learn. From there it shows him fighting to improve himself morally, overcoming the horror of his past to be a hero in his present. Really the biggest threat to Django is Django himself, his own greed and lack of love brought on by the horrors he has witnessed and the terror he has been put through throughout his life. Franco Nero’s performance of this complex character is iconic for all the B-movie connoisseurs out there, spawning a legion of unofficial sequels, spinoffs, and homages, most famous being Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
While Leone paints the wild west with a sense of grandeur and epic scale, Corbucci is much more into the down and dirty grit of the genre. His west is a place of grim villainy and pragmatic antiheroism. This means that his sense of cinematography is not nearly as breathtaking as the most famous spaghetti westerns, but it is no less evocative. And that all makes this a true classic, whether it is celebrated by the mainstream as much as it should be or not. Even in a genre overshadowed by one director’s mastery of the cinematic language, this piece of gritty action still stands out as a powerful archetype which filmmakers from Tarantino to Miike have been inspired by. This is a must watch for any fans of the western genre out there, especially if you dig the moral ambiguity and harsh brutality of the spaghetti end of things. 5/5