The closing chapter of Sergio Leone’s iconic Spaghetti Western trilogy — following “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) — is an operatic cinematic hymn to the hypocrisies of war and the schemes of opportunist outlaws on a quest for personal riches. Clint Eastwood’s “man-with-no-name” character “Blondie” isn’t exactly a model of ethical behavior, even if the “Good” appellation in the film’s title applies to him.
The “Bad” refers to Lee Van Cleef’s ruthless gunslinger Sentenza, whose search for a cache of stolen Confederate gold coincides with that of Blondie and the “Ugly” one of the bunch, Eli Wallach’s Mexican character Tuco. Most noteworthy is Leone’s shift away from an emphasis on Eastwood’s thematic standard-bearer in the previous two films to Tuco, an immigrant with an instinct for survival equal to his capacity for humor and greed. With a hefty bounty on his head, Tuco is an unlikely protagonist. His business deal with Blondie involves Eastwood’s sharpshooter gunman splitting the hangman’s rope around Tuco’s neck to free him after receiving the reward for turning Tuco in. Blondie rescues Tuco at the last possible second, and the men escape to pull the same trick in another town. Still, there is no love lost between the men despite their mutually beneficial financial arrangement.
A son of Italian cinema parents — has father was director Roberto Roberti, and his mother was the silent film actress Edvige Valcarenghi — Sergio Leone had the good fortune of working as an assistant to Vittorio de Sica on “The Bicycle Thief” for his first job. That Leone went to school with his trusted composer Ennio Morricone only adds to the rich pedigree of cinema language from which Leone sprung .
Leone’s liberal use of widescreen shots in conjunction with extreme close-ups gives the movie an epic quality matched in scope by a skeletal narrative structure that breathes with a poker-faced mood, tone, and personality. Leone uses Ennio Morricone’s brilliant musical score to paint large swaths of aural colors across the screen as if it were a three-dimensional canvas brimming with thematic counterpoint. The filmmaker’s use of stark visual compositions contributes to the story’s surreal landscape where violence is a consequence of the region’s dichotomy between abject poverty and outrageous wealth being spent by the North in conducting the Civil War — an economic power-grab sold to the public, most recently by Steven Spielberg, as a humanitarian battle of moral superiority.
Rated R. 161 mins.
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
Following sharply on the heels of Sergio Leone’s hugely successful Spaghetti Westerns “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) and “For a Few Dollars More” (1965), Italian director Sergio Corbucci put his own stamp of violent exploitation on the genre in 1966 with Django. With an emphasis on gory brutality, Coubucci introduced a blood-soaked drifter closely modeled after Clint Eastwood’s iconic character from Leone’s films, but with one clear difference — Django drags a coffin with him everywhere he goes.
In the title role, Franco Nero apes Eastwood’s stoic mannerisms to a tee. Naturally, his voice is dubbed along with every other character. As the film’s cheesy Tom-Jones-styled theme song plays over blood-orange credits, Django pulls a dirt-caked coffin across a long stretch of muddy ground. Questions abound. Is there a corpse in the coffin? Before the contents of the casket are disclosed, Django liberates Maria (Loredana Nusciak), a comely prostitute being tortured by Mexican banditos before she can be immolated by a rival gang of Confederate cowboys led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) — the man responsible for the death of Django’s wife. Jackson and his gang wear red hoods to identify them with such racist groups as the Ku Klux Klan. Good thing Django is quick with his pistol.
The second act opens with Django hunkered down with his mysterious coffin behind a giant tree stump in the middle of the street in a one-horse town. Prostitution, booze, and undertaking provide the town’s limited sources of income. As Major Jackson and his band of roughly 30 troops approach, Django opens the coffin to reveal a uniquely designed Gatling gun he swiftly uses to dispatch the whole bunch — with the exception of Major Jackson. Django has a method to his madness.
Anyone who has seen Brian De Palma’s “Scarface” will see the connection to the scene. The famous ear-cutting incident from Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” owes inspiration to a scene in “Django” where Mexican bandits punish Major Jackson’s right-hand man with a very sharp blade. The bandits go so far as to “feed” the man his own ear.
True to the Spaghetti Western template, the lead is a loner anti-hero who pays allegiance to no man or country. If Django teams up with a rebel Mexican gang to steal a fortune in gold from Major Jackson, he does so only long enough to take more than his share of the bounty.
“Django” encouraged some 31 “sequels” from filmmakers attempting to cash in on Corbucci’s second-generation creation. Corbucci himself went on hit a nerve with Spaghetti Western fans in 1969 with “The Great Silence,” which was similarly notable for its outré use of blood-soaked violence. Quentin Tarantino pays the film homage a second time with his film “Django Unchained,” which features an appearance by Franco Nero.
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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
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