Is there a more iconic figure in cult cinema than Franco Nero as Django? He’s a character so cool even with mashed up, bloodied hands, he finds a way to gun down his enemies and claim victory.
Sergio Corbucci’s ultra-violent western has proved an influential work (Quentin Tarantino adores it) and delivers a seemingly revenge-driven tale caked in mud as much as the red stuff. With the advent of Cine-Excess V screening of the 1966 classic and the publication of Any Gun Can Play: A Guide to the Euro Western (FAB Press, 2011)*, Franco Nero came to London on May 27th and proclaimed: “Django was made for the worker.” Indeed, its cult appeal these days belies the fact the movie was a popular hit and sparked numerous cash-ins back then. Further movies with 'Django' in the title often had nothing to do with the original movie beyond exploitation of the name.
The opening credit sequence, complete with a wonderful theme song, alters the usual idea of a stranger riding into town on his horse. In fact, there are no horses to be seen for a good fifteen minutes. Django, a former soldier who fought on the Yankee side, appears in a near-ghost town dragging a mysterious coffin.
Corbucci delivers a clever narrative implying Django is out for revenge on the film’s chief villain, Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo). It sets itself up A Fistful of Dollars style with a character making a play – divide and conquer – between rival outfits: Mexican revolutionaries versus Southern, Ku Klux Klan-style gangsters. Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo has proved a major influence on western cinema and Franco Nero admitted as such in the Q&A before the screening.
Django is a screen classic in its own right. It is super-stylish and gives us a morally ambiguous character to root for. This is a clear mark of exploitation cinema. Nothing is ever black and white. Django displays good and bad qualities. He spins us a tale about lost love but seems way more interested in the gold at the fort and riding off into the sunset with the riches. Perhaps Django is telling the truth when he tells hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold María (Loredana Nusciak) he can never love again. But there’s the sense he uses people when he needs to and will cast them aside once they served their purpose.
Corbucci shot his western outside Madrid, in presumably, very bad weather. Yet the film’s barren, dirty, muddy environment gives Django a fatalistic, rotten edge. It reeks of death and decay; and that’s exactly what the lone stranger brings to town: death. Django is rather cocksure about his ability to see out his scheme. He’s got a Gatling gun hiding in the coffin and when he sprays lead into Major Jackson’s gang everybody is impressed.
There are lashes of cinema style from crash zooms, grand wide shots and whip pans: all with precision editing. The saloon fight is noticeable, too, for using handheld camera techniques and rapid montage, lending it an immediacy not often seen in westerns. The famous ear-slicing scene re-appeared just as famously in Reservoir Dogs.
Unlike more laconic Spaghetti Western heroes Django is a talkative chap. Franco Nero plays the character as a romantic figure. Women love him and men want to be him, and that surely is what echoed with the audience. With his electric blue eyes and cool as a cucumber swagger, Django cemented his place in cult film history.
*Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide To Euro Westerns by FAB Press is on sale now.