Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
The film's opening has achieved a certain legendary status. Greeted with a sense of prophetic foreboding by an over-the-top song set in the tune of the film's musical score (composed by Luis Enríquez Bacalov), the titular hero (played by Franco Nero) drags a wooden coffin through a muddy valley. Atop a cliff, he witnesses a band of Mexican bandits whipping a prostitute Maria (Loredana Nusciak), before being killed by a separate band of cultic racist soldiers who opt to burn the prostitute in a red-tagged cross instead. Showcasing his nimble fingers and his ability for gunslinging, Django kills each and every one of the girl's tormentor, rescues the girl, and brings her to safety in a ghost town inhabited by prostitutes and their kind-hearted brothel-owner.
Django finds himself in the middle of an ongoing feud between the Mexican vigilantes under General Hugo (José Bódalo), and the cultic gringo army led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo). We learn from his trousers and certain hints that Django is a former Yankee soldier who would later turn into a soldier of fortune, using his talents and techniques to gain the amount of gold to leave (or metaphorically bury) the gunslinging Django of old. Furthermore, Django has a history with the respective leaders of the opposing camps. He once saved General Hugo from impending death while Major Jackson killed his wife, while he was away fighting for the Union. Their fates again intertwine in that ghost town. Is there redemption for the morally questionable Django?
Nero's Django is stonecold. He does not afford any hint of emotionality in his exterior, even his striking blue eyes declare a shallowness that prevents character study. Nero's Django is more calculating than anything --- from the start (wherein he drags a prostitute and a coffin to that ghost town) to near the end, everything seems to be a product of his devious plans. Yet upon the unintended passing of fate and destiny, of awkward romanticism, Django's plans fall flat and he has to struggle to again take control of his world.
It is that unintended glance at the anti-hero's humanity that keeps the film riveting. He starts out indestructible; he even becomes more superhuman when he reveals his secret weapon --- yet in a cruel twist of coincidence and accident, he is suddenly left with a choice to die with his conceived plans or to save himself and go with the spirit of the frontier; be swept away by that wind of possible new romance. It's nice in it's simplicity; that spark of hope for the ambiguous Django shines bright in the heap of dead bodies and bullets.
Django is considered as the seminal spaghetti western. It ushered in a horde of sequels (all, except for one, are unrecognized by Sergio Corbucci), and likeminded films. Corbucci, himself, would remain in the genre and would later on craft even better films (like The Great Silence (1968)). Along with Sergio Leone (Corbucci served as assistant director in A Fistful of Dollars (1964)), Corbucci stands as a figurehead for European-made westerns, often considered lesser (described as B-type) equivalents of the American-made ones. Spaghetti westerns are pulpier, more visceral, with characters whose interests are not necessarily indicative of human nature (quite animalistic in fact --- sex, greed, vengeance). In that way, spaghetti westerns forego of those wistful ideologies and virtues of the frontierland and has exchanged it with frank fatalism with blood, violence, and multiplying body counts. Django, even more than Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (although I prefer Leone's film), establishes the staple of the genre.