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Review by L.L. Soares
In honor of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, DJANGO UNCHAINED, which opened on Christmas Day, I thought I would see the movie that inspired him – at least in part – the original 1966 spaghetti western called, simply, DJANGO, starring Franco Nero.
When we first see the titular anti-hero, Django is on a hill, dragging a coffin behind him with ropes. He looks down upon a group of Mexican bandits tying up a prostiute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and flogging her. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive, shooting the bandits and setting the woman free – or so we think. Instead, they form a cross from pieces of wood, intent on burning her for her sins. Django comes to her rescue and she is saved a second time.
Going into town, they find it pretty much deserted, except for a whorehouse/saloon run by Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez). Their clientele includes the soldiers, led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), and the Mexican bandits, led by General Hugo (Jose Bodalo), the exact two groups who had taken turns persecuting Maria earlier.
Django makes the whorehouse his office, dragging that coffin of his into the middle of the room, to the consternation of Nathaniel and his girls, who are terrified about how Major Jackson will respond. When we are introduced to the Major, he is using bandits as target practice (they’re forced to run up a hill and he shoots them in the back as they flee). Jackson takes some of his men into town to look at the stranger who shot some of his soldiers, which leads to Django revealing just what’s in that coffin of his. Let’s just say Major Jackson enters the saloon with an entourage and leaves all by himself.
While Django and Nathaniel are digging graves for all the men Django has killed, the bandits show up again. It turns out that General Hugo knows Django from past skirmishes and they are old friends. Django reveals to the General why he came to town – to steal some gold from a military fort just inside the Mexican border. Hugo is game, and they follow Major Jackson back to the fort, where they attack (after hiding in the covered wagon Nathaniel normally uses to bring prostitutes to the soldiers) and abscond with a big bag of gold dust.
Afterwards, Hugo double-crosses Django, cheating him out of his cut of the gold in the name of “La Revolucion” Hugo is planning, to take over the Mexican government. He expects Django to make a sacrifice for the cause, but the mysterious stranger has no intention of leaving empty-handed, especially when it was his plan that got them the gold.
After tricking the bandits out of their gold, Django tries to get away, but accidentally loses the gold (now stuffed in his coffin) to a patch of quicksand. The bandits catch up and crush Django’s hands, leaving him for dead, before riding off into an ambush of Major Jackson’s men, who shoot the bandits dead.
The film ends with a lethal showdown in a cemetery with Django, with a gun but crushed hands, against Major Jackson and a group of his men, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.
DJANGO was a big hit upon its initial release and spawned lots of imitators, and some sequels. It’s clear that Franco Nero’s character is patterened after the “Man with No Name” that Clint Eastwood played in the spaghetti westerns he did for director Sergio Leone. Django is a man of few works, with a face full of stubble, like Eastwood’s mercenary, but Nero also has piercing blue eyes beneath his beat-up cowboy hat. Directed by Sergio Corbucci, DJANGO isn’t as epic as Leone’s best work, and he clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the budget of Leone’s films, but Corbucci makes up for it in in interesting locations and a strong atmosphere of foreboding.
DJANGO doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the tons of other Italian westerns of the time, but Nero is terrific as the lead character. And that coffin he drags around is an interesting gimmick. Also, Major Jackson’s men go around wearing red bags over their heads, looking an awful lot like a variation on the Klu Klux Klan (the fact that Jackson is clearly a racist just emphasizes this).
It’s not 100% clear what Major Jackson is up to. He leads a group of soldiers, but they seem to be outside of the law and murder the locals with impunity. At one point, Jackson mentions that he fought for the South in the recent Civil War (which isn’t referred to by name), while Django fought for the North. All the more reason for them to be enemies. But since the film was made in Italy, it seems to be a little vague about the details of the war and the specifics of geography.
While it’s not a great movie, DJANGO has some great moments, including a scene where bandits cut off the ear of one of Major Jackson’s cronies, a preacher named Brother Jonathan (Gino Pernice), and that final showdown in the graveyard. And Franco Nero dominates every scene he’s in, and it’s not hard to see how he became an international star.
Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.
DJANGO may have “inspired” Tarantino’s new one, but aside from the titles (and names of the title characters) and the fact that they’re both westerns, there’s not a lot in common between DJANGO and DJANGO UNCHAINED. Tarantino has stated that he really likes this movie, however, and he uses some of Luis Bacalov’s score for DJANGO in DJANGO UNCHAINED, including the memorable title song which appears in both films. The original film is worth checking out, however, especially if you’re a big fan of Italian westerns of the 1970s.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares