This is one of my absolutely favorite kinds of movies.
DJANGO (1966, Sergio Corbucci) is the story of a mysterious gunslinger (Franco Nero) in the old West who drags a coffin behind him wherever he goes. He has a vendetta against Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), a former Union Major who murdered Django's wife, and Django comes to a small town on the Mexican border whose prostitutes Jackson and his men are known to frequent. From there, he hatches an elaborate plot to get his revenge, involving the local Mexican crime boss (Jose Bodalo), a prostitute he saved from Jackson's men (Loredana Nusciak) earlier, and some heavy artillery. Will Django succeed in his quest, and will he and the woman get together? That's the film.
And that's all that it needs to be, which is why I love it. One of the things I've been struggling for the past /decade/ or so, is getting my mojo for writing back. Part of the reason I started reviewing movies was to do that, hoping that writing about the movies I like would keep my skills sharp as I tried to figure out why I couldn't write anymore. I feel that they have stayed sharp, and have a few published letters and paid stories to back that up (not to mention losing my job and getting another one in just six weeks), but have not been able to figure out why my writing hasn't come back to me. Having recently watched this film, I think I know the answer.
The problem, which DJANGO doesn't have, is that, as Gene Siskel put it, "it really isn't that hard to make a good movie". What makes DJANGO work as a film is the execution - it doesn't need much of a plot to get it going. See, "execution" can be a pretty broad term, and after watching DJANGO, I see that in the case of this film, it's all done with the directing and the characters. DJango is an extremely simple, but well-defined character. He's single-minded in his mission, and he kills, but he's not a villain. We see that because he saves Maria in the beginning, despite the fact that she serves him almost no purpose. Later, he "uses" a prostitute in a way that has nothing to do with sex, and he never hurts anybody who isn't trying to hurt him. We learn later that he has been in love, and can love again, despite not wanting to. IOW, even though he doesn't say much we know who he is. And because of the way Corbucci directs this movie, we enjoy watching him go through it. DJANGO is all atmosphere - the audio, the cinematography, the lighting in places - it all creates this dark, desolate, and primal feeling, essential for a Western revenge story. This is one of the films that /made/ the spaghetti Western sub-genre, and much of what we see here later becomes its staples. DJANGO, like ENTER THE DRAGON (Robert Clouse, 1973) is a movie that gives you just enough story to make it go, but characters we know well enough to want to see what happens next, and that's why it works. TAKEN (Pierre Morel, 2008) does this too, as does FOOTLOOSE (Herbert Ross, 1984), in a completely different genre. And that's what I've been missing.
The height of my writing days was when I was a teenager, writing page after page after page of fan fiction, which was easy because the characters - in my case, comic book characters - had already been created for me, and I knew them well. So really, all I had to do is take and apply what I knew to situations my imagination would invent. This is why I was so good at running RPG's too - the players created their own characters, I just put them through things. I now understand why so many writing books and teachers stress that it begins with character. The stories one writes are just execution, putting characters through things. The characters themselves just need to exist, and be put through them. Django gets put through the ringer here, and it's compelling because Sergio Corbucci has made us like and understand him. He does that through his filmmaking, and the cast is able to give him what he needs to make that go. But if the character didn't exist in Corbucci or Franco Nero's heads), a story this simple wouldn't fly. DJANGO soars, and many consider it a classic for that reason. I am also one of them.
Why is it not a perfect film? The ending. Anticlimactic. But it's a great movie, and without question, I give it a solid A.