Desert. Howling winds speak of desolation and a climate as harsh as the scoundrels that inhabit it. A lone man slowly plods along with a saddle on his back, dragging a casket behind him with a rope like an albatross around his neck. Upon encountering and subsequently saving a fair maiden from a group of bandits, he becomes embroiled in between a battle between the “Racists” – a group of ragtag southern soldiers, and a group of Mexican ex-patriots. He is Django…. and he shoots motherfuckers. And has a theme song.
That’s right… how many theme songs do YOU have? This is the one and only. The original that spawned purportedly over 100 unofficial sequels. One Hundred. Sequels. Pause a moment and let that sink in… Needless to say, Django had a lot to live up to with me given its legendary status. Not being a Western connoisseur, I went into this with mixed feelings. Sure, I’ve seen a couple… Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse I LOVE to death, I enjoyed Eastwood’s Pale Rider a lot, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was decent but overrated in my opinion… umm… see, not a lot to compare to here. When I think “Western” I think of some uber watered down John Wayne type drivel that’s destined to bore me to tears. I need meat. I need some edginess. This was a time where people wore guns on their hips and shot people for looking at them crosseyed… a place where you could go into a saloon and order up a bit of pussy as easily as ordering up a bottle of whiskey. How anyone could tone down and romanticize that seems just wrong to me. Django’s controversial reputation of being one of the most violent films ever made up to that point promised to perhaps amp up a genre that (at least in my head) was merely kid stuff.
Django delivers and it doesn’t. It’s a gritty tale of revenge to be sure – and maybe here’s where my expectations kind of ruined it – but the violence is really quite tame save for two pivotal scenes that I’d imagine made audiences shit egg rolls back in the mid 60s. Sure a ton of dirty cowboys/Mexicans get ventilated (even in a scene with a Gatling type gun – years before The Wild Bunch, I might add), but there’s nary a drop of blood to be seen. Django’s amorous pursuits are also glossed over as he takes his whore to bed for strictly off-screen coitus – she doesn’t show so much as a bit of ankle. Ok so my expectations were WAY too high in the sex & violence department, this was to be expected.
The craftsmanship behind the film is where it really shines. Corbucci certainly knew his way behind the camera, having been responsible for such classics as Castle of Blood and The Great Silence and Django is no exception. The sets are meticulously staged, the atmosphere is desolate and dreary… often the only sound the viewer is treated to is the howling wind. Very effective. The town is fucking FILTHY, Django makes his appearance dragging the casket though ankle deep mud, stomps into the saloon, plops it down in the middle of the room and orders something to eat. How badass is that? Needless to say the setting is downright perfect, the aesthetic of the film is grimy and bleak… I was digging the hell out of it at first.
So Django of course gets on the bad side of pretty much everyone as someone who practices bad-assery professionally is obviously wont to do… and proceeds to fuck everyone up to satisfy his own agenda. The problem here isn’t the plot or the setting or the performances even – pretty boy Franco Nero does a great job as our brooding anti-hero – the rest of the cast are both competent and convincing… the problem I found is the (surprise!) glossing over of the violent content. It felt a lot of the time like I was watching a group of men playing shoot-em-up and falling down playing dead. Note to filmmakers: when motherfuckers get shot, they bleed. Not to be a broken record, but when you see almost 40 dudes get mowed down with a fucking Gatling gun and there isn’t a drop of blood at all it can be a bit disconcerting. Django does contain the infamous ear severing scene and the hand trampling – all well and good – but the film would have definitely benefited from titties and a lot more blood. Ok I’m done preaching about it. I think.
Not being a genre expert by any stretch of the imagination, I can safely say that Django is not the best western I have seen, but it’s up there with the handful of good ones I have subjected myself to. And one can’t deny that it’s been influential as fuck to the genre and possibly filmmaking as an art form in general (the Italians had such a knack for the craft) that I have to say this is indeed essential viewing, genre fan or not. Even the most jaded of film snobs will find something to like here – it’s motherfucking Django. Soulless Tarantino-esque tripe this ain’t.
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