Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Original Django, Accept No Substitutes

Italian spaghetti western maestro Sergio Corbucci only helmed one official sequel to his classic 1966 western gundown Django, but scores of scruffy bootleg Django follow-ups were produced.  In fact, they keep on coming, don’t they?  None of them, including the recent homages from Takeshi Miike and Quentin Tarantino cannot hold a cigarillo to Corbucci’s original Django (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York at Film Forum.

A stone cold killer comes to town wearing Union Blue and dragging a coffin.  Much mayhem ensues.  Basically, that is what the film boils down to.  Like A Fistful of Dollars, there is an element of Yojimbo in Django, turning the title character loose in a town embroiled in a war between Maj. Jackson’s ex-Confederate white supremacists and a band of Mexican revolutionaries (who all look more or less the same), but attitude and action are more important than plot, per se.

Temporarily Django throws in his lot with his old associate, “General” Hugo Rodriguez, but that is only because he needs a few men to stage a daring gold heist from the Mexican army depot just across the border.  He also holds a mysterious grudge against Jackson, whom he saves killing for last.  Along the way, he rescues a fallen woman who duly falls for Django, but he is not really at a place in his life where he is looking for a serious relationship.

Notoriously violent in its day, Corbucci’s Django does not seem so shocking at a time when the Weinsteins will release Tarantino’s pseudo-reboot on Christmas Day (regardless of the unforeseeable national tragedy).  However, its body count is still impressive.  Django’s action scenes are not really shootouts, they are massacres.  After all, that casket holds a heck of an equalizer, courtesy of Mr. Richard Gatling.

In a career defining role, Franco Nero is all kinds of steely badness as Django.  There is something deeply existential about his presence, yet he is strictly business when it counts.  Eduardo Fajardo is also thoroughly despicable as Jackson, providing the anti-hero with a worthy antagonist. 

Frankly, some of the details do not make a lot of sense, like the racist Klansman Jackson being buddy-buddy with the Mexican army.  At times, extras literally walk into the line of Gatling gunfire, which is awfully convenient of them.  Yet, the metaphorically muddy environment and gritty action more than compensate for any pedantic grousing.  Plus, it is truly impossible to watch Django and not hum the iconic theme song in your head for several days afterward. 

Alex Cox suggests Django’s name is indeed a reference to the great Roma jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, in a way that would be spoilerish to explain.  If so, it adds another layer of cult weirdness to the film.  Regardless, Django delivers enough unrepentant action to satisfy any genre fan.  An essential Italian western, Corbucci’s 1966 original is the Django to see when it opens tomorrow (12/21) at Film Forum.