‘Django’-A Pulpy, Spaghetti Western

8 05 2011

Franco Nero stars as the title character in "Django"

In honor of Tarantino’s script release I look back at the classic inspiration for his upcoming feature. Full review of Django after the jump…

Last week news quickly spread that Quentin Tarantino had finished the final draft of a brand new script, revealing the title of his upcoming project as Django Unchained. This news got film nerds everyone so excited, but for me (a huge Tarantino fan) the name Django didn’t mean much. I quickly learned that Django was a Spaghetti Western from the 1960s (of course QT would be a fan!) starring Franco Nero as the titular Django, basically a really, ridiculously bad ass cowboy. I then found out the movie is streaming on Netflix Instant and I watched it right away. That’s the background, now on to the review:

“I’ve already got all the help I need.” -Django 

The movie opens with a shot of a very dirty man dragging a wooden coffin through the mud. The opening song signals to us that he is Django. And that’s about all we know about him. Django is a cowboy who is incredible with a gun, dispatching dozens of men without letting them get a single shot in. He saves a woman named Marie in the opening scene from the cultic group lead by the evil Major Jackson. He takes her to the nearest town (more of a ghost town than anything) and he then helps the local townspeople who live in fear of the Major. Oh, and inside that coffin that he drags with him everywhere? Yeah, it’s a freakin’ machine gun. Django is awesome. The film goes on, there’s lots of double crossing between the Major, Django, and a group of (also evil!) Mexicans, lots of people die, and I don’t think it’s giving anything away (there are MANY official and unofficial sequels) that Django lives to see the end of the film and he does it with style fit only for an awesome cowboy like him.

The film comes from the great subgenre known as the Spaghetti Western, movies that took place in the Old West and told stories of cowboys and Mexicans but that were produced in Italy with international casts and Italian directors. The most famous Spaghetti Western is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly starring a young Clint Eastwood at the start of his career. I’ve seen a few of these great Spaghetti Westerns and Django is unlike anything I’ve seen. Where The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly took advantage of beautiful landscapes in Italy with very careful cinematography, Django revels in muddy, dank landscapes that are far from beautiful. And I mean that as a compliment. The audience is not meant to see pretty landscapes, but rather see a town on the brink of extinction. The town at the center of the film is shown as a desolate place with perpetually muddy roads and a lingering fog that is no good omen. People are never seen outside (until they fight!) and the tavern/brothel is so bleak and depressing I can almost feel the dust covering every inch of the furniture. It’s great directing and production, what could easily cheap and thrown together works well for the the film is trying to do.*

*On a separate, and funnier, note; the rumor goes that the reason Major Jackson’s men all wore red, clothe masks (invoking images of the KKK and other strange cults) was that at the time of production there were so many films being produced that there was a shortage of extras and that the only ones left to use for Django were the ugliest of extras. Red clothes cover up the ugly.

While many Westerns handle their material very seriously I felt like Django had its tongue in its cheek the entire run of the film. It was silly (but never unintentionally so), sometimes it was over the top (Django kills 50 men at once!), but the entire time it was so much fun. Sure, it’s got its problems; the plot is flimsy at best and the acting leaves much to be desired (though this is hard to judge having Italian actors who have been over dubbed).

But on the whole Django is awesome, it sometimes felt more like a pulpy B movie than a Spaghetti Western, and I loved that about it. The film is worth watching just to watch this main character and his coffin. I completely understand why Tarantino has been so inspired by this film and I understand now homages to this one in some of his earlier work.* I’m very much looking forward to the new Tarantino flick and I’ve heard that Franco Nero will be back, over 40 years later playing Django once again (don’t quote me on that, please) so I can’t wait to see this character back in action.

*The famous scene from Reservoir Dogs in which Michael Madsen cuts off a guy’s ear is straight out of this movie. 

So if you’ve got 90 minutes to kill and want to have some fun, do yourself a favor and check out Django. 

*Django is streaming right now on Netflix Instant.


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