Sunday, 15 February 2009

Django (1966)

Spaghetti westerns form a cult movie genre that I’m not all that familiar with. But after seeing Sergio Corbucci’s Django (following a recommendation on this community) I can see myself exploring this area much more fully.

Like Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns Django is amazingly violent, very dark and very very cynical. Django himself is a former Union soldier whose wife was murdered by the corrupt and sadistic Major Jackson. He arrives in an exceptionally forlorn town near the Mexican border, to find the town so terrorised by both Mexican bandits and Major Jackson’s red-hooded cut-throats that it now seems entirely deserted apart from Nathaniel’s whorehouse. Django has a reputation as a murderer and a thief himself, but he also has a deep aversion to those like Jackson who kill for pleasure, and he has an understandable dislike of people who enjoy brutalising women.

Our hero isn’t worried about being outnumbered by Jackson’s thugs, because he has a very useful little toy in the coffin that he takes with him everywhere. The toy is a Gatling gun. And why does he drag a coffin around with him? Apparently because he considers himself dead, after the murder of his wife. He’s one of those brooding tragic anti-hero types. He becomes involved in a plan to steal a hoard of gold from a military fort, and what follows is a series of double-crosses and outrageous amounts of mayhem. There’s a romantic interest as well - a whore named Maria, rescued by Django at the beginning of the film. Django wants the gold, and Maria wants Django.

Corbucci directs with considerable panache. He’s not Sergio Leone, but he has almost as much style and a fine sense of pacing. The anonymous town is superbly done - it’s all mud and desolation, like a vision of the aftermath of the apocalypse. On a low budget this movie manages to look rather impressive with plenty of exciting action sequences and copious amounts of atmposphere. In the title role Franco Nero does his best to duplicate the sort of effect that Clint Eastwood achieved in his Italian western roles, and he does a splendid job. Loredana Nusciak is likeable and spirited as Maria and the supporting cast show plenty of enthusiasm and verve.

The level of violence and brutality was enough to get the film banned in Britain for 25 years. It’s a much better movie than I’d expected it to be, and it’s definitely more than just a retread of Leone’s films. There are some great visual set pieces and it delivers stylish entertainment. The Region 4 DVD includes a brief documentary featuring interviews with the movie’s assistant director Ruggero Deodato and with star Franco Nero (who is charming and amusing and remembers the film with a good deal of affection).

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