It’ll never be mistaken for the greatest spaghetti western ever made, but from the moment that Franco Nero appears on screen, clad in black and dragging a coffin through the mud beneath Luis Enríquez Bacalov's histrionic theme song (the one Tarantino cribbed for his movie), it’s easy to see why Django was both wildly popular and enduringly influential.
Besides its primitive technique and brutal morality—Django’s barely a good guy, everyone else is bad, corrupt, cowardly, racist, or compromised—Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film is stacked with weirdly potent elements. Corbucci delivers one of the greatest punch lines in the history of film (really!) when we finally discover what’s inside that coffin, while notorious scenes of an ear being sliced off or the racist Major Jackson (a truly detestable Eduardo Fajardo) playing turkey shoot with Mexican peasants were (and still are) impressively cruel enough to get the movie banned in the UK for 25 years.
On the whole, Django gets under your skin just for being by far the muddiest spaghetti western ever made. Cold permeates the film; even inside the tavern, where much of the action takes place, we can see everybody’s breath. By the end of his frigid, dead-eyed revenge tale, Corbucci has delivered precisely nothing in the way of relief or sentiment.
The digitally remastered, Italian language version of Django gets the first of six screenings at the Cinematheque on Thursday (March 21) as part of the Cinematheque’s fine spaghetti western series. Check here for subsequent screenings.