Region 2 Edition, reviewed by Mark Frost
A stranger, Django (Franco Nero), walks
into a desolate town accompanied by a prostitute whose life he has just
saved, dragging a mysterious coffin behind him.
Once there, he raises eyebrows amongst the
rival gangs in the town – the racist confederates led by the megalomaniac
Major Jackson, and General Rodriguez’s band of Mexican revolutionaries.
Django begins to play the gangs off against each other whilst gradually
his real motivations are revealed.
The Westerns made in America in the 1940’s
and 50’s were typically bright and optimistic affairs. A lone cowboy
returning home to fight for his family, a mercenary who sees it in his
heart to put people over money – with few exceptions you could always bet
that the hero would turn good by the resolution and the film would
conclude on a happy note.
This outlook reflected American society and
the purveying attitude to keep building, keep improving and remain
In 1964 A Fistful of Dollars was
made, and the mood of the Italian people was imprinted all over it.
Pessimism, cynicism and general disdain. A Fistful of Dollars was
certainly bleak in tone, but the look of the town and people was still one
hundred percent American. Django’s pessimistic Italian roots were
expressed visually – the town in the film is a forlorn shell, with the
main street a literal mudbath. The residents are completely worthless
creatures, looking flea-bitten, downtrodden and without hope.
The opening of Django is one of the
most enduring and iconic, the image of Django dragging his own coffin
through deep mud, struggling to scale a hill. Its all there – the air of
mystery around ‘the stranger’ represented by hidden face and the tattered
civil war outfit, and the hero’s unknown back-story, signified by the
coffin he is pulling.
Django quickly reveals itself
to be yet another derivative of the ‘servant of two masters’ plot employed
by A Fistful of Dollars (by way of Yojimbo). Corbucci also
mixes in a fair bit of the For A Few Dollars More story.
Django differs from
Fistful and the average Spaghetti of the time by having the main
characters motivations revolve around something other than money - here it
is revenge. Although not exactly original for film in general, it is
refreshing to see a Spaghetti Western where the main character actually
has a real stake in the story.
Somewhat unrecognisable from his later
image, Franco Nero is superb as the title character. Sadly, his
performance is almost suffocated by the horrendous English dubbing, which
is some of the worst I’ve ever heard – his voice is too high pitched and
mind-numbingly bland. Corbucci gives Nero the usual western motifs to act
out at first, but as the plot becomes more complicated, Nero’s performance
rises to the challenge.
A review of Django is not complete
without discussing its violence, and some of the scenes still shock today.
Its amazing to think that a shot of a man having his ear cut off and being
forced to eat it could have existed in 1966, considering how much
controversy a similar scene in 1991’s Reservoir Dogs caused. But
the sequence is in good company alongside the infamous street massacre,
the horses being led over a man’s hands, and the target practice using
Mexican villagers (inspiring a similar scene in the 1968 Yul Brynner film
This is a remarkably confident film for so
early on in the Spaghetti boom, matching the Leone pictures in popularity.
For what was essentially an imitator itself, Django was followed by
over thirty sequels; most of them ordinary Westerns re-titled to cash in
on its success. Standouts include Django the Bastard, from which
High Plains Drifter lifted the story, and the insane, a deranged,
ultra-violent, psychedelic experience which Argent have also released.
As a film, Django is not perfect. It
loses a lot of steam in the middle, causing the viewers’ attention to wane
somewhat. And it more or less just leisurely canters to the finale, itself
an anti-climax. The end would be perfectly adequate in most Westerns, but
the first third promises so much that it can’t possible keep the pace till
I was pleasantly surprised by Django
after the relative disappointment of Argent’s Keoma. The 1.66:1
presentation is a huge improvement over previous VHS releases, the image
has good contrast with a pleasingly sharp image, at an average of
7.46mb/s. It cannot compete with the R1 Blue Underground release, but
extensive re-mastering was undertaken on that disc so it is no surprise.
Extensive print damage is evident, but I’m afraid that is par for the
course for this type of film - and the Blue Underground suffers from the
This Argent release is far from perfect –
the colours are washed out compared to the vibrant Blue Underground, and
it will certainly never be a demo disc to show friends, but we should be
thankful it has been released in this country.
The picture appears to be slightly cropped
to fit into the anamorphic 16:9 image - which some people may not notice -
but I found it very annoying.
The film is presented in mono at 192kbps.
It’s an acceptable, clear track which does nothing wrong, but the Argent
disc gets the biggest cross against its name here – the Blue Underground
disc contains the original Italian soundtrack alongside the English dub,
which turns Django into a wholly better film: more serious, deep
and meaningful, with less of the glib, tacky lines that the English
translation is saddled with.
THE BONUS MATERIAL
Introduction by Alex Cox (12m 10s)
The ever-reliable Alex Cox delivers an
informative introduction to the feature (which, the menus handily inform
you, contain spoilers). Cox doesn’t impart anything that will change the
way you view the film, but the man certainly knows his stuff.
Interview with Franco Nero (11m 59s)
The fantastic Franco Nero takes us through
his experiences making the film, including some revealing anecdotes. The
production on these interviews is cheap, but it doesn’t really matter when
it is the instantly likeable Nero talking. My only complaint is that it is
Django is a very important film in
the history of spaghetti westerns, contributing a great deal to the
movement and a noticeable shift in the tone and attitude of film in
Argent have given us a solid release,
which, unfortunately for them, loses out to the R1 Blue Underground in
terms of picture quality and audio presentation. It should also be noted
that the Blue Underground DVD release currently includes a free disc of
the wonderful 2002 short film, The Last Pistolero – an opportunity
to see Franco Nero back in a cowboy hat - if only for ten minutes.