Join us as we delve into the glory that is the “Spaghetti Western.”
Before Gran Torino, Letters to Iwo Jima, Unforgiven, or even Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood helped put Italy on the map with a 1964 film called A Fistful of Dollars directed by Sergio Leone. In the film, Eastwood played the Man with No Name, a quiet guy with a slightly warped moral code. The movie was a huge success in its Italian home, and internationally, launching a new genre in Italy that the press dubbed “Spaghetti Western.” Basically that meant that following the success of A Fistful of Dollars, many Italian directors were suddenly making Westerns about silent types. The Italian film community had never been shy about jumping onto trends, and they did this in spades, with hundreds of cheap imitations and unofficial sequels. It was from this string of cheap cash-ins that one film would rise above the imitators, and a pupil of director Leone would emerge as an exciting new talent in the genre.
Django opens with a man in black dragging a coffin across the desert set to an amazing theme song by composer Ennio Morricone. The song sets up the mysterious drifter’s back story, and opens the film up in a way that basically gives director Sergio Corbucci freedom to show you whatever he wants. Corbucci uses this freedom to take the violence to new heights, as we follow Django into a small town where he puts together a plan to rob a rival gang of their gold. That’s right, Django‘s about two things: violence and treasure! This movie earned Corbucci his reputation for creating dark, brutal films that pushed the limits of good taste. Ever wonder where Tarantino got the idea to have a guy cut off another guy’s ear (in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs)? Look no further than Django.
The movie marked actor Franco Nero’s first major starring role and his first of many collaborations with Corbucci. While the character of Django is basically a blank slate, Nero does a great job of breathing life into him with that look and natural talent that is impossible to ignore. Even with the dialogue being dubbed, Nero manages to captivate. He even managed to inspire me to write a tune for my band.
Django’s coffin starts as a MacGuffin, inspiring awesome exchanges like:
Maria: Is there someone inside?
Django: Yeah, and his name is Django.
But when the reveal happens at about the 35 minute mark, the film makes the transition from cool to completely badass! Corbucci throws so much awesomeness against the wall, and almost all of it sticks as Django leads the town in a rebellion against the mask wearing gang that’s been oppressing them. There is torture, explosions, horses being shot, quick sand, bad guys that look like TMNT foot soldiers, and amazing one-liners holding it all together.
The film was so well received that it immediately inspired over 30 unofficial sequels and made stars out of both Corbucci and Nero. Though it had it’s origins as a quick cash in on the Western craze, Django was and is good enough to stand on it’s own as a pillar of the genre.
If you like action and exploitation cinema, you should check out this movie. And for fun, as with Hard Boiled try counting the on screen deaths. Good Luck!
Fans of Django should also check out the recent film by Japanese director Takashi Miike called Sukiyaki Western Django. This movie is Miike’s modern mashup of all things Corbucci, and is good, but better appreciated after seeing the works that inspired it (notably Django, and The Great Silence). I went into greater detail on that film here.