Updated: Jun 5, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Newcomer Franco Nero plays a former Union soldier, now a gunrunner, who rescues Maria (Loredana Nusciak) from Mexican revolutionaries and a small army of red-hooded Confederate miscreants.
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“DJANGO: TWO-DISC LIMITED EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, 1966, unrated, violence, mild sexuality and language
Best extras: A new commentary with author-historian Stephen Prince
FRANCO NERO was 24 and trying to break into the movies when he heard from his agency that director Sergio Corbucci would like to meet with him about a movie he was making. Later, in the car with his agent, he expressed some misgivings.
Nero (“Camelot”) wanted to be a serious actor and Corbucci (“The Great Silence”) wanted him for a Western, he recalls in the new interview “Django Never Dies.” His agent was pragmatic.
“Who knows you?” he asked.
“Nobody,” Nero replied.
“You have nothing to lose. Just do it.”
As it turned out, he had everything to gain. Made about the time that the great Sergio Leone was completing his Man With No Name trilogy, “Django” made Nero a star and ushered in a new concept of Westerns and anti-heroes that is still influencing filmmakers today. (Nero had a small role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”)
(1-4) Maria is tied up to a wooden rope bridge by the Mexican bandits and flogged with a whip of knotted rope. Django observes the violence from a bluff overlooking the canyon. (5) The Mexicans are killed by five of Major Jackson’s Klansmen. (6) The 4K resolution extracts excellent facial detail. (7&8) Django finally intervenes.
Not that its praises were universally sung 55 years ago. “Django” was banned in the U.K. because of its excessive violence and American critics got it wrong, author-historian Stephen Prince says in a must-cue-up commentary recorded for this must-have Arrow Video two-disc set.
“They dismissed it as a cheap imitation when it radically reinvented the Western. It upset all the guideposts of the clean, moralistic Hollywood Western.” By the end of the 1960s, Prince adds, Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”) and other American directors were drawing on the European model.
Corbucci serves notice in the opening scene, framing Nero in a tight shot from behind, just like Akira Kurosawa introduced Toshiro Mifune in “Yojimbo.” Corbucci, of course, wasn’t the only director influenced by Kurosawa, who as a boy had been inspired by the films of John Ford. Leone took a cue from the Japanese master when he had Clint Eastwood play both sides.
But instead of sweeping Technicolor vistas, Nero arrives in a desolate, relentlessly muddy backwater on the U.S.-Mexico border that’s just a few steps removed from being a ghost town. It’s just after the end of the Civil War, and he doesn’t enter on a noble horse kicking up dust on the hard-packed streets – dressed in black except for his Union Army trousers, Django is on foot, and the coffin he’s dragging houses a machine gun.
“Django drives death and dispenses it,” Prince says.
Does he ever. After rescuing Maria (Loredana Nusciak), a mixed-race prostitute, from Mexican revolutionaries led by General Rodriguez (Jose Bodalo) and a small army of red-hooded Confederate miscreants commanded by the cruel, corrupt Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), Django turns the tables on both. He’s driven in part by vengeance – Jackson murdered his wife – and there’s gold at stake, too, but in shading him emotionally and giving him a social conscience, Prince says, Corbucci confronts issues that resonate today: racism and religious fanaticism.
(1) The saloon is nearly empty except for the showgirls. (2) Django and Maria trudge through the muddy main street of a desolate settlement. The Elios Studios outside of Rome provided the western town. (3) Gino Pernice plays the pseudo-clergyman and Jackson spy Brother Jonathan.
Arrow, which scored big a few months back with “Tremors,” goes two-for-two with “Django” (1.66:1 aspect ratio). The original 35mm camera negative was restored and remastered in 4K, delivering a reference-quality print that’s, in a word, exceptional.
Detail in the costumes, worn faces, and exteriors and interiors (“Django” was filmed in Spain and outside Rome) is sharp throughout and a thin layer of grain is fittingly cinematic. Blacks are deep and the whites brilliant, too, and let’s hear it for Dolby Vision HDR toning – the array of colors, from the saturated red scarves and hoods of Jackson’s degenerates to Django’s Union blue, are a true feast.
The original audio was also remastered to create the robust, lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track. Dialogue is clean and clear courtesy of the center speaker and the gunfire packs plenty of punch. One more word about the dialogue: By all means, choose the original Italian and English subtitles. The dubbed track is gawdawful.
Nero’s 26-minute interview is a treat from start to finish, as is Prince’s commentary. He’s a fan and an authority, and his insights about the choices made by Corbucci and director of photography Enzo Barboni add all kinds of perspective. But Arrow doesn’t stop there.
Also new are engaging interviews with assistant director Ruggero Deodato, whose own credits include the notorious “Cannibal Holocaust,” and Corbucci’s widow Nora, an appreciation by film scholar Austin Fisher and s\an introduction by filmmaker Alex Cox (“Repo Man”). From the archives are interviews with stuntman Gilberto Glimberti, whose saloon brawl with Nero was improvised, and co-writers Piero Vivarelli and Franco Rossetti, as well as a full menu of image galleries and trailers.
(1) Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and his racist men. (2) Django pulls the machine gun out of the coffin and fires. The fictional gun was based on the barrel of an 1866-71 Montigny mitrailleuse, and firing mechanism and belt-fed magazine of the 1895 Maxim gun. (3) Nathaniel the bartender (Ángel Álvarez) and the showgirls watch the action. (4) The machine gun mows down Jackson’s men.
And that’s just the first disc. The second is where you’ll find “Texas, Adios,” the 1966 sequel directed by Ferdinando Baldi (“The Sicilian Connection”). It’s the same Blu-ray that was remastered three years ago in 2K from the original Techniscope 35mm camera negative and has been outfitted with a new commentary and interviews, including one with Franco, a Fisher appreciation, galleries and trailers.
More? You bet. This limited edition box set comes with a half-dozen lobby cards, a two-sided mini-poster and a 56-page booklet that includes insights from writers Howard Hughes and Roberto Curti and, best of all, snippets from a handful of period reviews of “Django.”
One of them begins with, “The race to the horrific and sadistic is getting more and more revolting.” And another, “With Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django,’ the ‘Italian-style Western’ has reached the pinnacle of exasperated violence.”
Corbucci didn’t see it that way. In an excerpt from his memoirs, he says, “ … Seen today, after all those American horror movies, ‘Django’ looks likes Walt Disney film, because American horror gave us appalling examples of gruesomeness.”
There’s one way to decide: See for yourself.
– Craig Shapiro
(1&2) This violent scene was the reason it was banned in the U.K. “Django” was released in Italy in April 1966, in Japan in September, in West Germany and France in November, and in Spain in September 1967. "Django" couldn't find a U.S. distributor, and was briefly released in 1972. Eventually, it was shown in the U.K. in 1990.