Django on DVD

One of the classic Spaghetti Westerns, Django, is now available on DVD in a two-disc set from Anchor Bay Entertainment. This set also includes the only official Django sequel, Django Strikes Again. Previously, Django has been available in many markets only in mediocre videotape copies. But now, it's available in a crisp, digitally-mastered widescreen transfer.

Briefly, this two-disc set is top notch. The DVDs include interviews with actor Franco Nero, the original theatrical trailers, and talent biographies. While Django is only available in an English-language dubbed version, Django Strikes Again allows viewers the option of either English or Italian audio. (You can also turn on English subtitles.) In addition, the Django disc includes a silly-but-amusing target game where you use your DVD remote control like a video game control pad. The set also includes a 20-page booklet that summarizes the history of the Django movies, with short descriptions of all the Django pseudo-sequels, even those with no trace of Django except for his name in the title.

Anchor Bay picked Django and Django Strikes Again to determine if a market exists for classic Spaghetti Westerns on DVD. As a result, the run is limited to 15,000 copies. Let's hope they sell out and prompt more releases. (The Big Gundown would be nice.)

Both movies are also available on VHS from Anchor Bay in widescreen transfers. The VHS versions contain trailers as well as Franco Nero interviews.

DVD cover artwork for Django and Django Strikes Again.
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When director Sergio Corbucci began filming Django in December 1965, he didn't have a script. Production was halted after several days so that a script could be fashioned and a Spanish co-producer could be found (because money was scarce). This might explain the "we made it up as we went along" look to the film. Amazingly, what emerged was a classic Spaghetti Western. When I first saw this film in the late 1980s, many years after the Spaghetti Western boom had ended, I had a hard time understanding its appeal; I felt I had seen it all before. I then realized that my disappointment emerged not because the film was bad (it isn't) but because its style had been so copied by later films. I really had seen it all before. When I re-visited the film with an eye toward viewing it as the first of its kind, I found much to appreciate. For Western audiences in the '60s, Django proved so popular that dozens of unofficial "sequels" were released (especially in Germany), many with no one named Django in the cast of characters.

When it was released, Django was considered so violent and brutal that it was never shown in many markets and was banned outright in England and several other countries. Compared to today's films, where beheadings and evisceration are commonplace, Django seems relatively mild. One character has his ear sliced off and is forced to swallow it, a woman is brutally whipped, and Django has his hands smashed by a Mexican bandit, but most of the violence is of the shoot-'em-up variety. Much of the cast is mowed down by Django's machine gun, while Major Jackson's red-hooded Klan-like racists slaughter Mexican peasants for fun in a "how fast can you run" shooting game.

VHS cover artwork for Django.
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Django contains some startling set pieces that helped define the look of later Spaghetti Westerns: during the main title sequence, a lone man in black drags a coffin through the mud and rain; later, Django sits on his coffin in the middle of the street while waiting for the Major and his men to show up ("I have all the help I need," he tells the hotel owner); and during the movie's conclusion, after his hands have been crushed, Django struggles to remove the trigger guard from his pistol and prop the weapon against an iron cross cemetery marker--while the Major and his men close in on him.

The supporting cast is more than competent. Eduardo Fajardo makes an especially vile villain and Jose Badalo is appropriately greasy as the leader of the Mexican bandits. Lovely Loredana Nusciak, as Maria, is beaten, belittled, and shot -- a typical fate for women in Spaghetti Westerns.

Enzo Barboni's masterful camera work echoes the arty angles and dolly shots utilized by Jack Dalmas (Massimo Dallamano) in Fistful of Dollars, but the effect is exactly the opposite. Fistful's characters baked under a glaring hot sun in a dusty, desert environment, while Django is muddy, gray, cold, and oppressive. Luis Bacalov's now-classic score is heavy and baroque and adds greatly to the atmosphere. (Bacalov won an Academy Award for Il Postino in 1996.)

Django does have its flaws. The dubbing is awful and much of the dialog is corny. But such are the facts of life in the world of Spaghetti Westerns. Nonetheless, Django has proven to be as influential as Sergio Leone's Westerns. Experts frequently name it as one of the top ten Spaghetti Westerns of all-time. In addition, Django made then-unknown Franco Nero a star and gave director Corbucci the reputation as a director of gritty, violent Westerns.

VHS cover artwork for Django Strikes Again.
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Django Strikes Again is the only official sequel to Django, and it's the only one with Franco Nero in the lead role. Anchor Bay's widescreen transfer is of particular interest because it restores a 5½ minute prologue (featuring William Berger) that never made it to English-language editions.

Filmed in 1987, Django Strikes Again offers a drastically-reformed Django. He has given up his violent ways and become a monk. However, when his daughter is kidnapped by slavers, he digs up his infamous machine gun and racks up the body count once again.

Filmed on location in Columbia, but set in Mexico, Django Strikes Again has a strange, alien look to it. Palm trees and white sandy beaches might suggest southern coastal Mexico, but I couldn't help thinking this film belongs in the action/adventure category more than with the Westerns. (Critics frequently compare it with Rambo.) I also had a hard time with the lethargic pacing. I fell asleep in the middle because there seemed to be nothing important going on: Django goes here, Django goes there, etc., with no real direction. I was also bothered by Django's ability to spray a crowd with bullets and only hit the bad guys. A minor point, maybe, but irritating nonetheless.

While I applaud the effort to make a bonified Django sequel, the idea is certainly more intriguing than the execution. That's not to say there aren't some good moments. In one of the movie's best sequences, Django is in a cemetery, digging up his weapon, when a gang of bandits kills an undertaker and begins to assault the undertaker's wife. Django, unseen in the grave, tells them to let her go. Fragments of coffin explode from the hole as Django, dressed in his white monk's robe, rises with his machine gun and opens fire on the surprised men.

Christopher Connelly is tiresome as the megalomaniacal leader of the slavers. He is a dictator and self-styled king who uses innocent river boatmen for target practice (when he is not enslaving them to work in his silver mine). He is proud of the name the locals have given him -- Devil. Most of the other villains are cardboard characters -- laughing Mexican bandits who do Connelly's bidding, dimwit mine guards, and a woman who forsakes her morals for silver. One standout is Connelly's personal slave and concubine (Lucia Lee Lyon). She parades around wearing not much more than a set of fancy chains and treats her fellow slaves nearly as badly as her boss does. In one scene, the slaves (who are trapped in the riverboat's hold) ask for water. She pours a bucket over herself while the slaves struggle to drink the water that drips from her body.

Donald Pleasence has a nice turn as a slave who helps Django to escape after Django is captured by the slavers. Later, he has a good time throwing dynamite in the film's finale. He is one of the movie's few bright spots. However, most of the rest of the supporting cast give dull performances. Overall, Django Strikes Again represents a failed effort, an attempt at a sequel that did too many things wrong.


Django and Django Strikes Again are available as a two-DVD set from Anchor Bay Entertainment. The DVDs feature theatrical trailers, talent bios, interviews with actor Franco Nero, and an interactive game. Suggested retail price: $39.98. Both movies are also available on VHS (with trailers and Franco Nero interviews). Suggested retail price for VHS: $14.98 each. Both DVD and VHS versions are presented in widescreen format (1.66:1).