A man from nowhere, wearing black, wades through the desert dragging a coffin tied up to his belt. As he approaches three stubborn vigilantes, preparing to execute a beautiful woman, he decides to free her by killing all of them with a lightning speed of his colt… that’s how legendary "Django" starring young Franco Nero begins. A picture shot on a very low budget and joke of a script by Sergio Corbucci has become since a top cult spaghetti western and one of the most famous genre movies ever. Following the success of Sergio Leone’s trilogy, it spawned more than 30 spinoffs in the next two years… and after amost 50 years came back short-circuiting Quentin Tarantino’s wires, who just went into production of his new film – "Django Unchained" (to be released December, 2012).
One of the reasons why popularity of this movie went through the roof at the time of it’s release was an unprecedented spill of sheer, cinematic violence... cause when Django finally opens his coffin, he pulls out a sucker-killing-hell-of-a-heavy-machine-gun, which becomes THE TOOL of delivering justice to a bunch of KKK crooks, who beforehand took over a small western town using excessive force. When you see a first bullet fired you just cannot help but ask (and I did too, really) how Corbucci ever managed to knock out such a crackpot idea? Django’s body count hits 84 in about two minutes – not even Corman’s 70’s jungle movies were able to do that sequentially – becoming the highest movie overkill scene for another decade... and there’s still a famous cutting off an ear scene with a neat zoom on a knife ripping through the flesh and the blood dripping. It’s all anchored in pure exploitation realm!
Although for the last 50 years our tolerance for film violence has raised much and "Django" is a piece of cake now getting 15 rating at most in most of the Western countries – not without the help of 70’s & 80’s exploitation cinema – in 1966 it was a much more shocking experience for the viewers, which nonetheless tapped very accurately into Baby Boomers’ state of mind. A revolution was in the air, the violence has become a fact of everyday life and the counterculture wanted to bring the old world to it’s knees. Django was a perfect personification! He was doin’ it with his monster machine gun getting as close to the militant dreams as it was possible on the screen. We might say he preceded the facts of life, cause when the Weathermen started waging their war against the system in 1968 – they did it with an equal faith in their unstoppable force.
However, when Arhur Penn’s auteur flick, "Bonnie and Clyde" with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was released in the USA next year to a mixed reception – older cinema goers were puzzled by lack of moral judgement in film’s narration – it’s characters couldn’t even come near Django’s DIY implications. One of the directors who tried to match movie’s success, was Lucio Fulci. He shot his "Massacre Time" (Italian title: "Le colt cantarono la morte e fu... tempo di massacro") with Franco Nero the same year "Django" was made, but although he incorporated as much bestiality as he could in this western, he simply accomplished a higher value product. His story breaks down as a twisted show of human cruelty involving much more complex actor’s creations than we find in "Django", which if we take away all the shooting, comes simply as a tale of a drifting gunslinger, who goes after easy cash… while his exploits are supported by a wicked soundtrack theme – a crucial point for many fans.
Although "Django" was definitely a breakthrough for Corbucci and for Nero respectively – not saying that Ruggero Deodato working here as a second unit director made his way in as well – it was their later collaboration to up the hidden, artistic potential of the genre. Movies such as "The Mercenary" (1968) or "Companeros" (1970) were beautifully directed pictures with a complex, continually swinging intrigue and fascinating action twists. These amazing spaghetti westerns are filled with peculiar humour and countercultural musings, most often supported by Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks. If we are to compare "Django" with these ones or with dark pieces like "Big Silence" (1968) starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski, sandbox play rather comes to mind. If anybody seriously claims "Django" to be the best spaghetti western ever made, I’d suggest watching few other movies of Corbucci before irreversibly settling on that.