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Django
cast: Franco Nero, Loredana Nusciak, Eduardo Fajardo, Jose Bodalo, and Gino Pernice

director: Sergio Corbucci

88 minutes (15) 1966
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Argent DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Barry Forshaw
Along with Leone's Dollars trilogy, the operatically violent Django is the most influential of all 'spaghetti westerns', a genuinely iconic movie that (as with Leone in A Fistful Of Dollars, 1964) plunders Kurosawa's Yojimbo for its plot (a man of violence, servant of two corrupt masters, plays both against each other, assuring their destruction - a plot, in fact, that Kurosawa himself had lifted from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest). Originally banned in several countries for its then-extreme violence (and denied a certificate by the BBFC in the UK until 1993), the film made a star of Franco Nero and spawned over 30 unauthorised sequels.

It is, of course, the extreme violence that earned the film its reputation: a corrupt preacher, who spies for the villainous Major Jackson, has an ear bloodily cut off - a scene referenced in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs - and then is fed the severed organ; Django himself undergoes the kind of sadomasochistic violence that Brando made such a key ingredient of his screen persona, notably having his hands broken and turned into bloody messes by a Mexican's rifle butt and horse's hooves (the significance of the mutilation of Django's hands is somewhat undercut by the speedy dispatch of six heavies in the final scene - realism isn't the order of the day here).

But it's Corbucci's dynamic eye for a composition that marks the film out as something quite new in the western - along with Leone, the director (like his friend, a veteran of a previous Italian trend, the muscleman peplum) inaugurates a muddy, dirty vision of the west which (for all its implausible gunplay) looks more like the real thing than any Hollywood westerns of the classic era; the unprepossessing prostitutes in Django, for instance, are a million miles away from the lacquered Linda Darnell in Ford's My Darling Clementine). And his kinetic grasp of the language of cinema makes Django as vigorous an experience as anything the Italian cinema had produced.

Much was made at the time (and subsequently) of the Italian western's creation of a new, hyper-cynical protagonist: the mercenary out only for himself (with a residual regard for the poor and the brutalised; women are the recipients of rough gallantry from both Django and Leone's 'Man with No Name'). But if the truth were told, the truly cynical western hero was not an Italian invention - the disillusioned antiheroes of the series of ambitious westerns Anthony Mann made with James Stewart are far richer and more nuanced creations than anything Corbucci & Co. created, with psychological depths and conflicts the Italian directors were clearly uninterested in. Django's motivation (beyond revenge for a dead woman) as he cuts a swathe though the racist thugs of Major Jackson and the sadistic brutality of the Mexican rebels is strictly one-dimensional. But there is no point in criticising Corbucci for what he didn't try to do - his achievement, even viewed after the Italian westerns vanished beneath a slew of ever-more-spiritless clones, remains both iconoclastic and trenchant.

Regrettably, this print is the crassly dubbed American version - the US issue from Blue Underground restored the Italian soundtrack (with subtitles), and Franco Nero's own voice is infinitely more effective in its quiet understatement than the conventional harsh bravado served up by the minimally talented dubbing artist he's saddled with here.

The DVD extras include an interesting (if faintly self-aggrandising) interview with a remarkably well-preserved Nero - different from that on the US issue, though sharing some of the same anecdotes. A distinct plus is a typically quirky introduction to the film by the ever-reliable Alex Cox, who puts Django in context with unassuming scholarship. He's under the impression, however, that he's introducing an academy ratio version of the film (how it was shot, he informs us), when, in fact, it's a masked anamorphic widescreen version.
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