Tuesday, June 26, 2007

DJANGO (1966) Movie Review

DJANGO (1966)

When Django, a lone gunslinger who drags a coffin behind him, rescues a woman from being attacked by bandits, he sets himself up at odds with the merciless desperados. After the encounter, he wanders into a desolate, dirty, and muddy town that can only be describe as physically looking like Hell on earth. He soon discovers that the bandits he previously encountered also have the town under their thumb, and Django acts in the only way he can - with a gravely-voiced wit and violence. The townspeople, in a strange turn of events, try to stop Django from saving them, but his mind has been made up, and even if it means killing every bandit and allowing innocents to die in the crossfire, he will accomplish his goal.

In the wake of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, the European movie market became a monster with an insatiable appetite for spaghetti westerns. Production companies were spitting out rip-offs of Sergio Leone's work as fast as they could get the film negatives processed. Then, a director named Sergio Corbucci set off to Spain with a young actor named Franco Nero who would play the title character, and brought back to his homeland of Italy a spaghetti western that would completely change the expectations of the sub-genre.

At its heart, DJANGO is nothing more than another rip-off of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (and thus a remake/rip-off of Kurosawa's YOJIMBO), as a lone wanderer happens into a corrupted town, through trickery and bloodshed kills the oppressors, and then wanders off again. However, what makes DJANGO stand out is its much darker tone, a gritty style that is as much a product of the film stock as it is the actual sets and characters, and the shocking graphic violence for the time. Innocents are brutally gunned down, a hapless ear is sliced off, and in a grueling sequence Django's hands are trampled and crushed by horses.

Franco Nero, whose performance would create an iconic character symbolic of spaghetti westerns, may just be rehashing the stoic and squinting Man With No Name previously brought to the screen by Clint Eastwood, but there is something about the way he does rehash it that makes him a more "dangerous" character. While the Man With No Name may have tried to act hard, he was a hero and just at heart. Here, Django's vision of good deeds, heroics, and bravado are twisted and skewed, and even cowardly. Perhaps it is these elements that caught the public's eye, and caused what can only be described as an insane amount of unofficial sequels featuring the character of Django (none actually played by Franco Nero) and even more spaghetti westerns being rechristened with the Django moniker depending on where they would be exported, even if Django wasn't even in the movie! Nero would make one official sequel, 1987's DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN, which also starred Donald Pleasence.

Corbucci, who also wrote the story and screenplay, brings several crucial, genre defining sequences to the screen in DJANGO, which have been stolen, reused countless times since. Those include the sequence in which Django faces off against the entire group of bandits armed with a machine gun, a heartwrenching sequence featuring quicksand, and the all-important final shoot-out, where Django coaxes the bandit leader into a graveyard. This scene in particular is symbolic of where Django feels most comfortable, and his acceptance of death as both an ally and enemy. This downbeat embrace of death is also an element that would make DJANGO stand out against its cookie-cutter competition.

In America, save for the die-hard and dedicated fans, spaghetti westerns basically begin with and end with Sergio Leone's output. And agreeably, for the casual fan this is enough as Leone's work morphed the sub-genre to what we know it and remember it as today, and has unequivocally defined it major themes, character arcs and storylines. For the adventurous and curious western fan though, DJANGO is an excellent place to start diving into the rich and abundant amount of films that were churned out in the heyday of the spaghetti western.


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