Django (1966)

django1I’m not one for spaghetti westerns- other than this one, I don’t think I’ve seen any that hadn’t been directed by Sergio Leone. The only thing I really knew about Django is that it was presumably the inspiration for Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). Django apparently was the subject of some notoriety due to its excessive violence, which horrified people at the time, although today its cartoony theatrics seem dated and almost quaint. It was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who would afterwards direct another spaghetti western –The Great Silence (1968) – which was known to me through its Ennio Morricone soundtrack which I bought on CD back when I was having a binge on Morricone albums a few years ago. Curiously I have that film’s Blu-ray release through Master of Cinema on pre-order for a November release, so when I noticed the connection seeing Django pop up on my Amazon Prime recommendations list, I gave it a shot, thinking it might indicate what kind of film The Great Silence might be. 

Well, it was sort-of a pleasant surprise. The dubbing is typically atrocious, the dialogue is dire, the story is so paper-thin it doesn’t really make any sense (its some vague revenge plot) and the acting isn’t any great shakes either: so on that front, the film was no surprise whatsoever. But there was something appealing about it. I thought the production design was impressive; I mean, its clearly cheap but there’s something arresting about the wind-torn, muddy streets of a desolate town that seems to be literally sinking into the mud. Its like the end of the world as much as the end of the West.

Corbucci’s direction is no-nonsense and straight forward with no ambition towards the mythic, operatic qualities of Leone’s work, although Django (Franco Nero) could be seen as an Angel of Death in some corner of Hell. The cartoony violence prefigures that of the Rambo films that followed Stallone’s First Blood (Django despatches dozens of bad guys with a machine-gun hidden in a coffin that he drags around through the film, and hilariously the ammo-belt feeding the gun never moves). I presume it was this body-count that infuriated everyone back in the day, and its quite funny watching the various stuntmen/extras flailing around in exaggerated death throes generally minus any blood squibs going off or anything- for a film decried for its violence its not particularly graphic. Today a film like this would get a pass for its violence but would be roundly condemned for its treatment of women characters, all depicted as whores, subjected to being beaten by male characters (or whipped, even) and an indulgent,  lengthy sequence in which three of them are caught in a mud fight that serves nothing but the pleasure of male viewers. Its literally a film from some other age and makes any of Leone’s excesses seem quite tame (Leone of course came under fire for his own treatment of women in his films, particularly Once Upon A Time in America).

4 thoughts on “Django (1966)

  1. The spaghetti western was in many ways the end of the western; it’s perhaps best to think of it as subgenre at best and maybe even an entirely different genre.
    Some people will tell tell you film noir is cineamtic nihilism, but that’s not really so in my opinion, it’s a more of a surreptitious glimpse at the dark underbelly of the human psyche rather than a celebration of meaningless violence. That’s what the spaghetti western sets its sights on though. Where the classic western is at heart a genre based on and anchored by postitivity, on an unshakeable faith in the ultimate triumph of the huan spirit, the spaghettis eschew all that for the sake of cheap kills and thrills made cheaper by a blunt refusal to countenance the effects and consequences of their violence. Leone understood the difference and that is why his works tower above all other efforts in the genre, why they touch art and therefore touch the viewer.

    1. I hadn’t considered it that way Colin but yes, I agree completely. Its clearly why Leone’s films stand apart, and an illuminating view of what Spaghetti westerns generally are. On a related note, did anyone ever make a genuine b&w noir western in Hollywood? Would have thought someone would have had a go at a Dark City gunslinger. Or would Eastwood’s classic film Unforgiven, say, qualify as a neo-noir?

  2. Anthony Mann’s The Furies can be considered noir but some might feel it’s more of a psychological melodrama – FWIW, I’m not sure that distinction matters much.

    Raoul Walsh’s Pursued falls into a similar category, and there’s a strong case to be made for the same director’s Colorado Territory, which is a remake (and I think a superior one at that) of his own High Sierra.

    Robert Wise’s Blood on the Moon is often cited as western noir as well. There are actually a fair number of at least marginal efforts in that crossover genre.

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