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Django (1966)

by on 2011/06/11

It can happen without warning. I’m in a store and hear a piece of music. Or perhaps a bargain-binned something catches my eye. Then I’m set off down an unexpected path. It happened with the shoegazing music of Lush, with A Prairie Home Companion and, to a lesser extent, with the video of Django.

I hadn’t heard of filmmaker Sergio Corbucci, or leading man Franco Nero. I’d never seen the cover image before, but the title sounded familiar. For under ten dollars, the price was right, and I took a chance and bought it. I imposed my choice on a Certain Someone, and she loved it even more. We discovered a Spaghetti Western anticipating two other favourites: Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado and Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

For those as unfamiliar with Franco Nero as I was, imagine Michael Biehn crossed with Daniel Craig. A rough blond with piercing blue eyes, his stoic intensity flickers with an occasional hint of madness. As the titular Django, he drags a battered coffin behind him wherever he goes . . . outdoors, indoors, even scaling a ladder.

Drenched in rain and caked in muck, he arrives at the bawdy house of a small town north of the Mexican border. There he drops off Maria (Loredana Nusciak), a woman he rescued en route. She seems interested in him, but he’s preoccupied with a personal vendetta against a southerner, Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo).

His plan is complicated by the appearance of Mexican bandits, led by an uneasy acquaintance, Hugo Rodriguez (Jose Bodalo). To say any more, however, would spoil the fun. Though it’s not an overly complex tale, it has its twists and turns.

For its relative straightforwardness, it’s quite slow-paced in stretches: a wagon ride, an escape sequence, and a graveyard scene. There are obvious similarities between this movie and Fistful of Dollars, not just in their common conventions, but in their morally grey rogues exploiting opposing groups. Yet, despite its simplicity, brevity, and brutality, it doesn’t have the quick edge felt in Fistful. Fortunately, what it loses in polish, it regains in spirit.

In fact, that spirit pushes Django toward another category: exploitation. Our hero saves the damsel in distress, but only after allowing her to be beaten for a time. A dubiously motivated battle between prostitutes exists as an excuse for a mud wrestling catfight. One character is made to consume his own severed ear before he is summarily killed.

Perhaps surprisingly, the tone is far less creepy than these incidents suggest. Like the events decorating the story, the script is cheesy, melodramatic, over-the-top, and admittedly fun. More a caricature of a western than anything else, the production is nearly as slipshod as its decorum.

Unfortunately, Nero blinks a lot for a ruthless force of vengeance and, despite being dubbed by a Clint-esque voice, the synch is unusually loose. Dialogue, foley work, even subtitles . . . everything is just a shade off. Grizzled heavyset characters emit improbably high nasal chatter. Thumping sounds fall shortly ahead of their impacts. Victims fall dramatically in anticipation of being shot. Still, intended or not, the flaws are part of its charm.

By now you probably already know whether you’d like this piece or not. According to the English dub, Django “means more . . . than a brother.” Although I greatly enjoyed it, I’d have to side with the subtitles’ take, that Django is rather “more than a friend.” It’s not as much incompetent as impetuous, and that suits me right down to the proverbial ground.

* * *

Not Rated, but contains considerable violence

90 minutes

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