Thursday, September 13, 2007

Django (1966)

Or, The Bad, the Badder, and the Baddest.

This is the movie for those of you that thought The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly was too long since it clocks in at a crisp 90 minutes. It's also far bloodier than Leone's masterpiece. Is it better? Not even close, but how could it be? The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly is, not only the best western ever made (fine, the best western i've ever seen since I certainly haven't seen every western ever made) but, one of the greatest of all pictures. I know there are those of you that prefer Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and, believe me, it's hard to disagree with that choice. Still, Good, Bad, Ugly has the superior characterizations, score, and the final graveyard scene is perhaps the greatest standoff ever put to film. Of course, that's all my opinion and I would never really argue with anyone over this because I love both films.

Django is a spaghetti western that came out in 1966 (the same year as Good, Bad, Ugly). Some of the similarities are striking, so it's hard to believe one story did not influence the other. Both stories involve three central characters; an Eastwood-like stranger with a mysterious past, an "ugly" mexican bandito, and a steely eyed sharpshooter. There's also a plot involving stolen gold, as well as a spectacular final graveyard shoot out. Unlike the Leone films, however, this one chose to throw in a love interest for Django, one of Django's few faults (the movie AND the character).

In general, I prefer the spaghetti westerns to the hot dog and hamburger westerns. For authenticity, they blow away their hollywood counterparts. Of course, the dubbing is a problem for some. In Leone's pictures this was a neccessary evil since few of the actors spoke the same language. Still, these worlds look lived in. The characters look like they've actually lived IN them. I recently caught the 3:10 to Yuma remake, and while I liked the film, I couldn't help but notice how damned pretty some of the characters were, the beautiful woman bartender, Bale's wife, and, If I were more in touch with my sexuality, I might even offer Bale, himself. Also, Russell Crowe, perhaps Ben Foster. Hell, even Luke Wilson if you're into that type of thing. The hotel where they holed up before making the mad dash for the train was pristinely put together. In contrast, the characters in Django wear grime soaked beards, the whores are overweight and prone to coughing fits, the buildings look devestated by years of harsh weather and gunfights. Again, 3:10 to Yuma is good. Go see it. I'm just illustrating my point, whatever that may be.

Ok, Django. The picture opens with a lone stranger traversing a blighted landscape. This would be Django, played by Franco Nero (Enter the Ninja). The conditions are harsh, the land caked in mud. Django pulls a coffin behind him and carries his horseless saddle upon his shoulder. We assume he's a northern army civil war veteran because of his pants. Also, we're told this later on in the picture. An old timey (60s sounding) song cerenades us with his story. "Django. You must face another day. Django. Now your love has gone away". As he begins to descend a barren hill, he sees several mexicans tying up a beautiful red haired woman. They begin to whip her. Suddenly, we hear gunshots and the mexicans fall dead to the ground. We assume it was Django, but no, over an adjacent hill come five cowboys wearing red sashes. Unfortunately, the cowboys saved her so they could tie her to a cross and burn her. Their logic? "Burning's a lot better than getting beaten to death". To each his own, I guess. Django finally makes his approach. The picture wasn't titled "The Red Sash Five" so we can guess who doesn't walk away from this confrontation.

The girl Django saves is named Maria, played by Loredana Nusciak (Vendetta per Vendetta), and is strikingly beautful with her glorious red hair and green eyes. I just contradicted myself, didn't I? She's the ONLY beautiful thing in the picture. A key to most westerns are the eyes and boy does Loredana have an amazing pair of green ones. Nero's got great eyes as well, but enough about him. Loredana is up there with Claudia Cardinale. Since the movie was dubbed, I relied on the eyes to carry the acting for me. Quite frankly, the movie is full of awful lines, and worse line readings. We're subjected to painfully stale dialogue such as "a woman shouldn't be treated that way" and "That whore's got an ass sweeter n' Texas. Yahooo!" Perhaps, that last line wasn't in the final film, I can't remember.

Anyway, the movie revolves around three central players. The bad, the badder, and the baddest. These characters being Django, Major Jackson (the leader of the red sash army), and General Hugo (aka "Ugly"). Hugo and Jackson are vying for control of the town, with Django playing both sides (sound familiar?). Actually, Django never sides with Jackson. He was too busy destroying his "army", but more on that in a bit. These three men alternate between who is worse, although Django is on the path to redemption at least. After rescuing Maria, Django brings her into the town. It's currently being run by Major Jackson (aka Steely Eyes). Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) is a biggoted prick. The war may be over, but he's running his own "private war" to eradicate the mexicans. Obviously a statement on the KKK, his men wear red sashes, red hoods, and carry burning crosses. Django enters the brothel run by the short, stout, cigar chomping Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez) who is clearly on board for comic relief. As Django enters, still pulling that coffin, followed by Maria, the record player skips and everyone turns to stare. Alright, there was NO record player, but if there was it would have happened just like this. The pianist did stop playing, however, but there was no skipping sound.

I mentioned Major Jackson being a racist prick. Besides the obvious (red hoodies, burning crosses), we know this because of a scene where he and his men release a penned up mexican one at a time, wait until he's far enough away so he thinks he has a chance at escape, and then shoot him. If you've seen Apocalypto, you might recall a similar scene. I think I liked this one better.

The 2nd gunfight between Django and Jackson's bafoons takes place in the brothel. It's a brilliant little eruption of violence where Django kills 5 more of the red sash bastards (one without even looking) in about 3 seconds. He leaves Jackson alive, however, and tells him to round up his remaining men (48, we're told) and to come back when he can give Django a fair fight. Yes, Django is an arrogant cocksucker and if Jackson were'nt so reprehensible I might actually be rooting against him.

Well, Jackson DOES bring his men back to town, but Django is waiting for him in the middle of main street. Here, we FINALLY get to see what's in the coffin. SPOILER ALERT!!!A god damned Howitzer, which unloads about 50 rounds per second. END SPOILER. So, Jackson's "army" lasts about 5. Seconds. Django again, somewhat inexplicably, leaves Jackson alive (He must know what he's doing, right?). We also now learn that Django has a sense of humor when he shoots Jackson's retreating horse, which causes Jackson to plunge face first into the mud, giving him the black face, which he clearly despises so much. Racist.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on whether you're racist or not, with Jackson's men out of the way, those dirty stinking (just kidding!) mexicans roar back into town. Their first act, in what I hear is a semi-famous scene, is to graphically cut off the ear of one of Jackson's men. Clearly, this inspired Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, only they went a step further by making the poor son of a bitch eat his own ear before shooting him in the back. The mexicans point and cackle maniacally as the poor, misguided bastard is horribly murdered. this Jackson guy had a point, right? I mean, if these are the mexicans he's had to deal with, I can suddenly relate. Coulda done without the red hoods and burning crosses though. Seriously, good to have the mexicans back. We missed you.

It turns out the leader of the mexicans, General Hugo, and Django go way back; "This is Django! A murderer and an outlaw! But, he means more to me than a brother." At this point, Django's character becomes interesting because, to be frank, he turns into even more of an asshole than before. He starts belittling women (even Maria) and at one point, he shoots up poor Nathaniels bar as the mexicans drunkenly cheer him on. Actually, what he's doing is trying to win their trust. He needs them for a gold heist he's apparently had in the works for some time. This is what's great about Django. He's thinking three, four steps ahead. Your average Joe wouldn't be able to think ahead of the step involving the 50 KKK members coming at you with guns, but Django did. He's one of a kind.

The remaining picture involves that gold heist, a double cross and a jarring barroom brawl that employed Greengrass-like (Bourne Supremacy) shaky cam when Greengrass was still shitting his diapers. This fight is better though because it ends with an impaling. This is the first western I can remember since Blazing Saddles that features quicksand in a pivotal scene. There's also found love and lost love and found love again. At one point, Django endures one of the most savage beatings I've ever seen on film (at the hands of the mexicans). His hands are badly mangled, rendered completely useless. Yet, he still must think of a way to defeat Major Jackson (Yes, I knew there was a reason he let him live. Twice.) in a graveyard battle that needs to be seen to be believed (hmmm, I say that a lot, don't I?). Jackson, shows up with five men (so 6 total). Hmmm, six shooter? six men? Django is forced to improvise by using his mouth and some good ol' gravestone metalwork. Who won? Well, here's a hint. The movie spawned over 30 sequels. Nero wouldn't reprise the role until 1987 in Django 2.

Speaking of Django 2. It's the only sequel that gained the approval of this films director, Sergio Corbucci. Corbucci has directed such Italian classics (I've been told) as Mercenario (with Nero and Jack Palance) and Companeros (Nero). I'm definitely going to check these out. This is really a fine picture and, to be honest, if I had watched it with subtitles as opposed to dubbing, should not be reviewed by yours truly (at least, not on this site). It deserves mention with Leone's classics, although it's a step or two behind. The music is close to Morricone level, with lots of horns and plenty of bombast at appropriate times. Let's face it though. Django is no Blondie. Hugo is no Tuco and Jackson is CERTAINLY no Angel eyes. But, goddamn, if I'll ever get rid of that image of Django pulling that coffin behind him, that coffin which, Django eventually reveals, carries himself.

I think he was speaking metaphorically.


brian said...

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on their favorite westerns. I seriously won't be mad if you suggest Raimi's The Quick and the Dead, a film I also truly love. Granted, I'll respect you more if you offer Hang 'Em High or Ford's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (my favorite of the hot dog and hamburger variety).

Beepy said...

Putting in the trailers is a wonderful idea. Thanks.

But it does bring up a question. How the heck did they keep their red sashes so clean when everything else is so darned dirty?

Beepy said...

Oh, and I've probably only seen three westerns in my entire life so I have nothing to say in this opinion poll.

Gianni said...

I'd have to say I've seen almost no westerns, and even fewer the whole way through. Quick and the Dead is probably the best I know. Also, the TV show "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." was a good - if historically innacurate - show, although it's really more a sci-fi show with western elements than a true western. Kinda like the opposite of "Firefly".

brian said...

Wow, and yet you still call yourselves Americans?? Interesting.