Usually, people only remember one film whenever they think of “Spaghetti Western.” That is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This is understandable; the film is a masterpiece that few others can live up to.
Yet it was an entire genre that thrived during the 1960s. So many are unfairly overlooked today. One of those overlooked masterpieces is Django.
Django was just as influential a film as A Fistful of Dollars. Not that many would admit to it – it has the reputation for being unforgivingly violent and more of an exploitation film. Yet it was the same sort of adrenaline shot that The Wild Bunch later gave the western genre.
The whole film takes place shortly after the American Civil War. Django (Franco Nero) comes to a frontier town on the Mexican border, carrying a large coffin. He rescues a girl named Maria, and then takes her into the town where some old Confederate soldiers (lead by a man named Major Jackson) are trying to fight a Mexican army that keep raiding the town. Django tries to push Andrew Jackson out of the town by helping the Mexican army steal gold so they can buy weapons. Of course, Django’s efforts run into a few snags, forcing him to a violent confrontation with his enemies.
First off, the character of Django did just as much to reinvent the western protagonist as the infamous “Man with No Name.” I suppose Django suffers because he is given a clear identity. But then, if you pay attention to the film, that is not the case. The first time he identifies himself, he refers to his being dead – “there is a man in the coffin behind me. His name’s Django.” So, the rampage was not just a way for Django to indulge in greed – as it was for the Man with No Name. Django is trying to recreate himself.
Thus the film turns into more of an epic about a man’s struggle with his past. There are some dark moments revealed in the dialogue (about how Django’s wife was killed by Major Jackson and he must take vengeance) but Django tries to remain stoic throughout the film. It makes him that much more mysterious, in a way that is very hard to achieve.
Now, Sergio Leone’s films were also epics about man’s relationship with good and evil. This does not approach the level of sophistication that Leone’s works did. But then, that does not mean it is bad, for the same reason that Salieri could not be called a bad composer simply because he was not as good as Mozart. It was still an insightful film.
I guess I should comment on the level of violence that is present in the film. This is, after all, where Tarantino got the idea for his infamous ear slicing scene. Frankly, it is fairly justified. After all, Westerns had been suggesting violence for decades, even if they could not show it. Django predicted the rise of Sam Peckinpah – that one day, westerns could show everything that it hinted at. Yes, it is violent. But to me, the more violent films are the ones that did not explicitly state what they intended to do. Django almost seems like a parody of such films – the hero wears a dark hat (still a very important distinction at the time) and acts with no morals. I do not care to guess how many times Sam Peckinpah watched this.
Django has been forgotten by most – except for the few jaded cult film fans. That is a shame – it does deserve more recognition than it gets. It aimed high and, for the most part, met its goals. That is something other films have failed to do, yet they are still part of the collective conscious. Isn’t it time Django received the attention it deserves?