The upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino’s reboot of the seminal Spaghetti Western saga Django wreaked some minor havoc with my recent Frontierado holiday posts. I had been working on a draft for a review of the original Django and its central figure contrasted with other EuroWestern heroes like Charles Bronson’s Harmonica, Gianni Garko’s Sartana, Terence Hill’s Trinity, Tony Anthony’s Stranger and of course Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name.
I also had a draft in progress for a review of two blaxploitation westerns from the 1970′s which featured a former slave turned gunslinger taking on former Confederates in the Wild West.
A few days before I was to publish those reviews the airwaves and the web started crawling with what seemed like ’round the clock trailers for Django Unchained, Tarantino’s reboot of the story, this time with the title figure an African American who goes from slavery to a career as a bounty hunter gunning down southern rednecks in the Wild West.
Instantly my two reviews, right down to AN ACTUAL JOKE I WROTE THAT, ASTONISHINGLY ENOUGH, SHOWS UP IN THE TRAILER FOR DJANGO UNCHAINED, seemed like petty coatttail-riding of the excitement surrounding the Tarantino flick. Now I know how the Hong Kong director of City On Fire must have felt way back when. (I’m kidding, Reservoir Dogs fans, I swear I’m just kidding!)
So, after some rewriting to reflect this new context, I’ve combined the two reviews into one review looking at three movies that were the spiritual forerunners of Django Unchained. I’ll start with a look at the original Django for those unfamiliar with it, and I’m assuming that’s plenty of people considering even IMDB only has 66 user reviews for it so far.
DJANGO – In 1966 Sergio Corbucci, the man forever condemned to being known as “the other Sergio” in EuroWestern history, directed what some consider to be the definitive action film of that sub-genre, Django.
The title character, played by Franco Nero, is a bounty hunter who fought on the Union side of the Civil War and who is on a quest to find and kill the man responsible for his wife’s death: his former Confederate archenemy Major Jackson. Jackson, played with consummate sleaze by Eduardo Fajardo, is backed by an army of Confederate veterans turned outright Klansmen.
The melancholy Django has been roaming the west on his vengeance quest, all the while dragging a heavy coffin behind him in his travels. The image of the world-weary gunslinger toting that heavily symbolic coffin with him across a barren desert landscape is an iconic visual with all of us Spaghetti Western dorks. The casket is an artsy glyph for the burden of mourning our brooding hero has been carrying around with him for a long time.
It’s also a moderate enigma early in the film, as bystanders, villains and the audience wonder what’s in it. Is it the dead body of the woman Django loved? Is it a coffin reserved for the vile Major Jackson when he at last falls to our hero’s guns? It’s no spoiler this many decades later to mention that the coffin contains a Gatling Gun, which comes in pretty handy for Django in a few action scenes. (The body count in this apocalyptically violent film is in the eighties … and that’s just the people killed by our hero!)
At any rate Major Jackson and his KKK boys are involved in an armed conflict with the corrupt Mexican General Rodriguez, and this conflict is unfolding around a battered town bordering the U.S. and Mexico. Django at last catches up with Jackson in this battle-scarred No Man’s Land and exploits the situation to get his revenge on his old foe and possibly lay his hands on a fortune in gold at the same time. I prefer this movie’s presentation of the “play both sides against each other” storyline to the way it was handled in For A Fistful Of Dollars. Partly because Django’s motivation is handled better and partly because Franco Nero depicts Django as a laconic gunman with hidden depths and haunting sorrows, a performance deeper than Clint Eastwood delivers as The Man With No Name.
I won’t deliver any more spoilers, suffice it to say Django is an unforgettable movie, if not as polished as Leone’s films. The original flick is sure to get the attention it has long deserved with Quentin Tarantino’s reboot coming up.
I know the title is irksome to some people, but I’m opposed to all forms of censorship, even the self-imposed kind, so I stand with Tarantino who has said that when people give that much power to one word that power should be broken by having everyone scream it from the rooftops.
If you’re too delicate to deal with that word’s existence why not just pretend the gunslinger’s nickname is “Trigger Charley” instead. Think of the time period the film is set in and remind yourself there was a scumbag of a real-life gunslinger whose nickname actually was Nigger-Killin’ Bill Longley, because of his fondness for murdering freed blacks with his six-guns.
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson stars as the title hero. Like the new Django in the upcoming reboot the hero is a slave in the Confederate States. Charley kills the plantation overseer and heads west, where he makes a reputation for himself as a gunslinger protecting his own freedom and that of other freed blacks in the Wild West. Rather than obsesss over our gunslinger’s handle, why not relish the joyously visceral twist the movie provides on the legend of western gunfighters.
THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY (1973) - The further adventures of our hero – a former slave turned gunman blowing away crackers and rednecks out west. What’s not to like? ** I SWEAR to you I had that joke written long ago! Unfortunately the trailer to Django Unchained features a brief scene where the slave turned gunslinger is asked how he feels about being a bounty hunter. His reply is “Getting PAID to kill white people. What’s not to like?” Damn you, Quentin Tarantinooooo! (I’m kidding!)
This sequel to the original Nigger Charley movie (Trigger Charley if you’re squeamish) is just as enjoyable and gloriously uncomfortable at times as the original was.
The Confederate angle is even more heavily laid on in this flick, which features a former Confederate officer and his still- loyal troops rounding up freed blacks in the American West. Their plan is to take them as slaves down to Mexico with them, where Emperor Maximillian was giving amnesty and new land for plantations to Confederate Americans who wanted to come down and help the Emperor in the war to keep his throne.
The historical backdrop is fundamentally true, and many former citizens of the Confederacy did indeed take Maximillian up on his offer, sort of like fleeing Nazis banding together in South America.
The movie’s emphasis, happily, is on feel-good Karmic Justice as Nigger Charley and other freed blacks kick major Dixie ass and blow away enough bad guys to depopulate the real-life Confederacy. Only those with a truly demented attachment to the fallen land of ”the Stars and Bars” might object to this film, which, of course makes it even MORE enjoyable! How’d ya like to strap the Grand Wizard down and force that bastard to watch every frame of this movie like Alexander DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange?
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