Things must be pretty hard for Franco Nero as the eponymous anti-hero of Sergio Corbucci’s classic spaghetti western, Django, what with dragging that heavy coffin behind him and carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Modelled on the lead character in Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo, Django is the classic outlaw – no past and no future, just a thirst for revenge that can only be quenched by bloodshed. Walking into the middle of a private war between a gang of Mexican bandits and a group of hooded Klan-like ex-Confederate soldiers for whom the war never ended, it not only transpires that Django has his own score to settle with Confederate leader Major Jackson, but also intends to rip-off General Hugo’s Mexicans whilst he’s at it.
There is so much to discuss here about Corbucci’s masterpiece. Django is a very negative, downbeat movie, very bleak and desolate, often blamed for the BBFC’s staunch refusal to award it a certificate until 1993 (one should remember, however, that it may not have been re-submitted until then following its original refusal in 1966). Death is everywhere, in the coffin Django drags, the windswept graveyard just outside town… even in the muddy streets of the dead town. Django is a very cold character, emotionless and loveless, running purely on simmering hatred. When the movie’s over, in probably its most nihilistic moment, with his lust for vengeance satisfied, he walks away with even less than he walked in with.
Django is also an extremely sadistic movie – maybe it’s worth noting that a relatively young Ruggero Deodato was assistant director on this. One much talked about scene involves a maniacal preacher being forced to eat his own ear as punishment for spying on the Mexicans. After this tasty mid-afternoon snack, they put a bullet in his chest. Another brutal moment involves the Major’s idea of sport, effectively using Mexican prisoners as clay pigeons – they run and he shoots them. Worst of all, though, is watching Django receive his punishment for stealing from the Mexicans – agonising even for the viewer.
But the finest thing about Django is its rampant surrealism. Who isn’t taken aback when Django whips out his weapon, making a terrible mess as he fires it off in all directions? Betcha didn’t guess he was hiding a machine gun in that coffin, eh? And don’t you feel a certain creepiness when you look upon the neurotic midget who owns the town’s saloon-cum-brothel, posh-talking with that dislocated English accent? And then there’s Django’s absurd ability to hit every target dead on, shootouts taking on the choreography of Hong Kong kung-fu fights as Django manages to mow down even those stood behind him. And speaking of his sharpshooting, what about his stupendous performance during the movie’s final gunfight, plugging six men with just six bullets even though his hands and fingers have been smashed to a pulp?
Django is a superb metaphor for Italian trash cinema, the Italian’s ability to do things bigger, better and crazier than their more restrained American cousins. Franco Nero is fantastic as the wandering drifter, and his performance in Django gave him such superstar status in Germany that nearly every movie he made thereafter was released there as Django, western or not – according to Nero, one movie named The Shark Hunter was renamed Django And The Sharks! (Similarly, albeit to a slightly lesser extent, that goddess of anorexia Laura Gemser found herself saddled with the Emanuelle character). Of course, it’s debatable whether or not this is the greatest western of all time – such things can only really be decided by the panel of acclaimed experts, respected academics and out-of-work C-list celebrities who host Channel 5’s 40 Greatest Whatevers Of All Time shows. But in the opinion of this humble reviewer, it’s up there with the best. And I mean, RIGHT up there. A trash masterpiece.