There is only on name beginning with the letters D and J on the lips of film fans at the moment, and it is that of taciturn gunslinger Django (“The ‘D’ is silent”). Controversy may surround Tarantino’s latest but so do award nominations; the film community is rife with discussion and debate. As such, previous iterations of the character are also being granted a new lease of life through fresh home entertainment releases. Of course, though, there is only one Django (1966), and Sergio Corbucci’s original genre-defining spaghetti western now arrives on a new Blu-ray transfer courtesy of distributors Argent Films.
Appearing on screen for the very first time dragging a heavy coffin behind him through the mud, Django (Franco Nero) arrives in a dirty town on the Mexican border aiming to misbehave. The town is the setting for an ongoing war between two gangs of bandits; those led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and those following General Hugo Rodriguez (José Bódalo). Armed with the fastest gun around and a constant glower, Django single-handedly sets about reducing Jackson’s substantial army with an aim to stealing his gold. When the Mexicans arrive in town, Rodriquez and Django form an uneasy alliance but it’s not long before the sound of ricocheting bullets can be heard once again.
Django is one of the hallowed original spaghetti westerns with its cult director, Corbucci, one of the most important to the genre alongside the masterful (and more widely recognised) Sergio Leone. The former’s magnum opus went on to inspire not only a multitude of unofficial sequels of its own but, with the protagonist’s somewhat less-than-moral crusade, a more mercenary attitude in future cowboy protagonists. There are very few people involved in this tale who are not out for themselves, and while Django’s initial motivation may be understandable – revenge, pure and simple – he’s also happy to put a bullet in anyone that he’s not keen on in the finest tradition of the anti-hero.
And boy, are there people that he is not keen on. The film is famed for its violence and was even banned in some countries for years. Django himself kills over seventy-five people during the brisk 90-minute runtime and his modus operandi is a bullet; significantly less sadistic than other characters’. One instance in particular sees a bandit have his ear cut off and fed to him before being summarily executed. It’s scenes like this one that earned the film its bloody reputation and one can’t help but wonder if it also inspired Tarantino’s Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) in his debut feature Reservoir Dogs (1992).
That the violence is combined with a grimy mud-soaked aesthetic and all-pervasive death symbolism only adds to Django’s uniqueness at the time it was released. What’s more, few westerns have come along and delivered the same kind of visceral punch that this one managed, though many have tried. Corbucci’s Django is dirty and brutal and a great deal of fun; especially when you find out what he’s got in that coffin.