Western Wednesdays: ‘Django’

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When I set out on this long and dusty trail, one of my goals was to highlight the classic (or not so classic) films people could watch online. It’s never been my intention to restrict it to online selections, but I feel like the “Instant! Now! Yes!” can excite people to go watch a film like The Searchers immediately instead of putting it off yet again.

That said, we are talking about the wild wild west here. There are no rules! Guidelines are meant to be broken!  Especially when Django arrives in the mail.

Django exists in the murky world between “completely obscure” and “well known classic,” that world Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Takashi Miike live in and gleefully borrow from.   Despite that it was the one of the most violent films of the 1960s (it was even banned in England and Sweden), type it into Google and the top results are websites for the Python web framework.

How did Django fall so low?  I’m not sure, except there does seem to be a suspicion or a distaste for the spaghetti westerns that followed Sergio Leone. For moviegoers, and the bastions of film criticism, it seems to have  ended with Once Upon a Time in the West, and nothing else was worth watching.

Especially not a film that reportedly spawned 100 unofficial sequels, and a German following that was so desperate for more that they pretended every Franco Nero movie was a Django installment.  In Germany, Camelot was renamed Django Lancelot. (No, not really. At least, I don’t think so ….)

But Django is worth watching. Sure, it’s a blatant ripoff of A Fistful of Dollars and Nero was initially cast for his scruff, ability to squint, and chew a cigar.  But the film finds its own stride, particularly in its production values.

Sergio Corbucci’s ghost town is a cold and miserable place, a far cry from Leone and his other copycats. The mud never dries, the wind never stops howling, and all the buildings are relics of a more profitable time. There’s a reason Django has dragged his coffin to this town, though Corbucci really fails to employ that deathly idea as well as he could have.

And oh yes, that famous coffin. It alone should win Django a place in pop culture alongside The Man With No Name. The opening scene of Django dragging his “burial suit”  are just as thrilling as the first flip of the serape. He’s the kind of striking, unearthly gunfighter that all antiheroes aspire to be, but inevitably fail to touch.

But Django lacks the cool polish of Leone’s killers. He plays things a little riskier, and a little greedier. Where Blondie would lay low, Django plunges forward, undaunted by his heavy accessory. Nor is he adverse to taking a little time out for the pleasures of the flesh. He’s a man, after all, not a sociopath like so many of his mysterious kin. Those mortal weaknesses cost him, though. They cost him bad. Blondie would probably squint, remove the cigar, and say “I told you so.”

To jaded modern eyes the violence isn’t particularly shocking, though I don’t think any filmmaker today would dare cripple their own hero in such a way. While Django’s torture scene is the more painful to watch, the international controversy arose primarily because one villain has his ear sliced off.

And yes, it is where the equally controversial scene in Reservoir Dogs comes from, and you have to hand it to Corbucci for going where even Tarantino didn’t tread. His camera doesn’t turn away from the carnage.

By contrast, the final duel between Django and Major Jackson is relatively bloodless, but it’s one of the most teeth-gritting and painful in the genre.  Corbucci may have taken a page or two from Leone, but no one has ever lifted Django’s bloody gun.

Give Django a watch (Watch him in his original Italian. The current DVD transfer is good, but the English dubbing is awful), and talk him up to your friends. Those who have seen and enjoyed  Sukiyaki Western Django will have the added enjoyment of a treasure hunt, while enjoying Django on his own merits.

He’s a fantastic character who is begging for a revival or a remake, though it would be hard to top the godlike looks of Nero.

Be sure to go back and visit all the Western Wednesdays, and watch what you’ve missed. Our next Western Wednesday happens to fall on my birthday, so I’ll be writing up my personal favorite of the genre. You can try to guess what it is, but I won’t confirm or deny.

Just come back next week, and find out if you’re right. Hopefully, you’ll be moved enough to watch it that very day so you can celebrate your author’s new year!

  • Drake Mallard
    January 29, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Yeah,this film isn’t bad.Django the character is indeed a bit more human and vulnerable than many of his peers in the genre.Even in a one-on-one bar fight he almost loses.He’s badass but not invincible,and manages to get himself into trouble without any assistance from a Tuco-like character.

    Re: The dubbing.Django sounds like Bruce Campbell!

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