Starring Franco Nero, José Bodalo. Written by Sergio Corbucci, Bruno Corbucci, Franco Rossetti. Directed by Sergio Corbucci. 90 min. Opens Dec. 21 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Cleverly programmed at TIFF Bell Lightbox to coincide with the release of Quentin Tarantino’s semi-homage Django Unchained, Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 revenge saga is great, gooey fun—a spaghetti western with extra cheese. Arriving in a one-horse town after the Civil War caked in mud and with a scorned woman by his side, Franco Nero’s title character speaks softly and carries a big gun. The trick is that for the film’s first half hour, he hides it in the wooden coffin he drags behind him at all times.
Django needs all the artillery he can get, because his rival, the Confederate army-trained Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), has a cabal of red-hooded acolytes ready to do his bidding. The scene where our hero cuts down dozens of anonymous henchmen with his automatic weapon solidified Django’s mid-’60s rep as the most violent movie around. (It was banned in the U.K.) While the action is tame by today’s standards, the film is still bracing: a cold, cynical story with a borderline psychopathic protagonist bent on avenging his wife’s death by any means necessary.
Nero’s deadpan delivery and ice-cold stare mark him as a close cousin to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, but Corbucci isn’t half the artist that his contemporary Sergio Leone was. The various standoffs and showdowns are at best functionally staged, and the locations are bland—evidence that the director was simply trying to bring the project in on time and under budget. There’s no sense that Django is aiming for anything more than trashy entertainment, which may be why, nearly 50 years later, it still gets the job done.