Arrow Video 4K UHD: Django (1966) - Reviewed

After Italian master Sergio Leone remade Akira Kurosawa’s samurai-western epic Yojimbo into the Clint Eastwood starring spaghetti western vehicle A Fistful of Dollars, Italian producer Manolo Bolognini approached veteran director Sergio Corbucci with the prospect of writing-directing a film that would capitalize on the success of Leone’s remake.  The result was one of the most legendarily ultraviolent spaghetti western epics ever made, the down-and-dirty rough-and-tough Django. 
Made in stark contrast to the wide-angled panoramic style of Leone, instead staged in gritty close-ups of the actors faces interspersed by moments of startling abrasive carnage and gruesome violence, Django while known to many through Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained as well as the proliferation of unofficial knockoffs remains curiously underseen by genre aficionados to this day.  The film’s level of violence kept most US audiences from seeing it though in Europe the film became a smash hit and cemented Franco Nero as a leading man in Italian action films.
Beginning with a catchy theme song sung by Rocky Roberts set against images of a lone drifter in a black coat and hat dragging a coffin through the mud in an old western town, we meet Django (Franco Nero) who slaughters a group of bandits before rescuing a mixed race prostitute from certain death.  As she tags along, Django settles in a ghost town brothel on the Mexican-US border where he finds himself caught in a brutal war between a racist confederate gang and a group of Mexican revolutionaries, setting the stage for unrelenting brutality and bloodshed with more than a few from both sides wondering just what is in Django’s ominous coffin.
Almost more violent than some of Sam Peckinpah’s westerns including The Wild Bunch, Django has lost none of its power to shock and enthrall with a then-newfound level of sadism not seen in the western genre before.  Though critically drubbed due to the nastiness of the piece, seen now it is one of the quintessential spaghetti westerns and as such may well be the pinnacle of the genre despite assailing it from a more intimate and personal angle than Leone’s films.  Much of the film’s strengths come from the lead performance by Franco Nero who makes the antihero of Django cool and formidable even when he is put to a test even the most hardened spaghetti western fans won’t see coming. 

Of equally lyrical character is Luis Bacalov’s moody and nihilistic score which more than a few cues found their way into Tarantino’s tribute to Corbucci.  So up front and involved is the score for Django from start to finish it plays out almost like a musical as Rocky Roberts’ vocals reverberate over the soundtrack, Django may be among the earliest examples of using music purely to move the narrative forward.  Then there’s the film’s gritty look by Enzo Barboni who shoots largely in close-ups with rough and at times shaky zooms and camera pans that gives the film a messier, disheveled feeling.
Though opening to negative reviews due to the unflinching brutality depicted onscreen, Django became a major success and spawned more than thirty unofficial sequels capitalizing on the film’s notoriety.  The film launched the career of Franco Nero as well as brought up the careers of many surprising names including but not limited to Cannibal Holocaust bad boy Ruggero Deodato.  So popular is the series that a third Django film is reportedly in the making with Nero though shooting continues to be delayed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Lastly, Django entered the spotlight a few years ago when Arrow Video, the new rightsholder, ran into some legal problems releasing their new 4K restoration of the film after Blue Underground issued a cease-and-desist order.  The rights issues boondoggle was litigated for two more years before both parties reached an agreement and Arrow then upgraded the release to a new 4K UHD disc package. 

After all the back and forth trouble getting this film to home video consumers in the best release possible, Django at the end of the battle might well be the greatest spaghetti western film of all time, a timelessly abrasive and unforgivingly brutal no-bullshit action film that hits you out of the park like a baseball bat.  In short, a perfect film in a lavish home-video release edition which is only making it’s way to a new generation of filmgoers now.

--Andrew Kotwicki