One of the most violent westerns ever made (up to that point), Django was such a huge hit that it spawned more than 30 unofficial sequels and countless knock-offs. Written and directed by Sergio Corbucci, it cemented the spaghetti western craze kickstarted by Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars..
Franco Nero stars in the title role, that of a drifting gunfighter first seen by viewers as he drags a coffin across the desert during the opening credits. He arrives in a sparsely populated town and within about roughly 10 minutes we not only learn what’s in the box (a real howler, too), but also find our hero caught between a KKK-esque gang of thugs and a faction Mexican revolutionaries.
The shadow of the Civil War hangs over the film, from the hooded riders who refuse to acknowledge the South’s defeat to Django’s haunting memories of what the war took from him. True to the Italian approach to the American west, there isn’t a single character who isn’t flawed to some degree.
Corbucci’s to-the-point, no-nonsense filming style blends well with some ambitious visual elements, creative camera angles, and inventive brutality (a man forced to eat his own severed ear and Django forced to defend himself with shattered hands are two, ahem, highlights). He mixes in a little religious symbolism and gives the whole affair an almost operatic feel.
It may pale in comparison to Leone’s epics and Corbucci’s later works (see The Mercenary, Companeros, and The Great Silence), but as a spaghetti western prototype, its influence is undeniable.