Next to the Leone films and Ringo, Django is perhaps the most influential of all Italian Westerns. Thanks to the Quentin Tarantino release of Django Unchained, today it is probably even more well-known in the U.S.
While making Ringo and his Golden Pistol, Sergio Corbucci was approached by Manolo Bolognini to make this film. Bolognini wanted to make back the money he had lost on his first film as a producer, The Possessed, and since Westerns were hot, it seemed to be a good genre to get into.
Much as how Yojimbo had influenced A Fistful of Dollars, Corbucci wanted to make a movie that would echo the work of Kurosawa. As for the idea of the coffin-dragging protagonist, assistant director Ruggero Deodato — hmm, wonder what that guy did after this? — claimed that the director took the idea from a comic book that he had read.
Strangely enough, in Japan, this film was Continuation: Wilderness Bodyguard, marketed not only as a remake of Yojimbo but a sequel to A Fistful of Dollars, which was distributed in Japan by Kurosawa as the result of the lawsuit between he and Leone. As a result, the Japanese auteur won 15% of the worldwide receipts and over $100,000.
The Japanese/Italian Western connection continued with Yojimbo star Toshiro Mifune appearing in Terence Young’s Red Sun, which also featured another Leone player, Charles Bronson.
The idea for — spoiler warning — Django’s hands to be ruined before the end of the movie came from the notion that guitarist Django Reinhardt became legendary despite not being able to move the third and fourth fingers of his left hand.
Walking into a war between Major Jackson’s Red Shirts and General Hugo Rodríguez’s revolutionaries, Django starts the film by dragging a coffin behind himself and then dispatches several of Jackson’s soldiers who are attempting to crucify a prostitute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak, Tiffany Memorandum, Superargo versus Diabolikus).
Our hero then eggs Jackson on, making him bring most of his forces to town, where he opens the coffin to reveal a machine gun that he uses to kill nearly everyone. This has all been for revenge, as Jackson had murdered Django’s lover Mercedes Zaro.
What follows is a meditation on the needs of love versus material wealth, which ends up costing Django nearly everything. The gold that everyone is dying over almost costs even our once-thought invincible hero his life. This is an incredibly bloody installment of the Western genre, with a body count of 180 people, including 79 personally dispatched by Django.
To get an indication of the success of this film, you only need to realize that more than thirty unofficial sequels were made to it, often only using the name to sell tickets. We’ll be covering some of the better installments this week, such as Django the Bastard and Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
There was also a planned sequel in 1968 called Django, Prepare a Coffin that ended up featuring Terrence Hill before Nero returned to the role one more time in Django Strikes Again, which was filmed at the same time as Corbucci’s Tex and the Lord of the Deep.
The end of this movie, as Django’s ingenuity prevails against physical pain and the realization that his need for money over love caused this, is poetic and bloody in a way that very few films — much less Westerns — can ever hope to capture. Amongst the blood, mud and dust, there is art.
You can watch this on Tubi.