Django (1966)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Franco Nero
Extras: Interview with Franco Nero, Shooting Game, Trailers, 24-page booklet

Starting in the early 60s, a film genre manifested itself in Italy that is since known as "Spaghetti Westerns". One of the superstars to come out of this genre is Clint Eastwood, the nameless star in a number of Sergio Leone’s films. After the success of "A Fistful Of Dollars" many Italian filmmakers decided to follow the trend and aside from Leone’s now classic movies, "Django" has remained one of the most memorable entries of the genre. Anchor Bay has now released a limited edition 2-disc set featuring the 1966 original "Django" and the 1987 sequel "Django Strikes Again", the only two of the many Django films that feature Franco Nero in the titular role.

What Clint Eastwood became to American audiences, Franco Nero became to European movie-goers after the release of the first Django film. The lonesome taciturn gunfighter with a heart, always on the move, and seemingly invulnerable. Obviously Django is a direct copy of Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s films, but in all fairness, Django is the best of the plethora of copies.

Django is a gunfighter and he appears out of nowhere it seems. Dragging his coffin he comes to lone time close to the Mexican border where to factions square off against each other. Major Jackson is the leader of a fanatic group of white men who make it a sport to kill Mexican peasants. Like Ku-Klux-Klan members the racist bigots wear masks and hoods – albeit in bright red – and raid the town with frequent regularity. On the other side, there is the group of Jose Bodalo’s Mexican bandits, faring their own little war against Jackson’s men while plundering the town with regularity themselves.

Django is determined to put an end to it, and in a spectacular shoot-out he takes out most of the Major’s men with the gattling gun he hides in his coffin. Immediately the Mexicans are interested in such a powerful piece of artillery, and Django aligns himself with them to break into the colonel’s headquarter and steal their gold. With blazing guns they infiltrate the little fort, take the gold and return. But ultimately it is not gold that Django wants, but revenge. From his past, a memory keeps eating away on him, and before he can find his peace, Django has to make sure the man responsible for his doomed existence pays. The question is who that man is?

Franco Nero has the same enigmatic charm, Clint Eastwood showed in his early westerns, although the character is more tangible and gives away much more of his nature, talking quite a bit, thus breaking part of the mystery surrounding the man. Moving slowly and precisely, talking in short sentences, with cold eyes glued on his opponent, Django makes a great protagonist. This is even more notable, as the viewer doesn’t really know whether Django is good or bad for the most part of the movie. He obviously has a good streak in him, as we see in the film’s opening when he saves a damsel in distress, but at the same time he is snappy and unwilling to share his thoughts with anyone and is apparently a friend of the Mexican bandit leader. It is only in the film’s final, climactic minutes that we learn which side Django is really on. His somber appearance adds to the mysticism that shrouds the character. Dragging a coffin behind and completely cloaked in black, Django oftentimes appears more like an undertaker than a gunslinger.

Franco Nero’s portrayal of Django is what the film needed to come across believable. The film itself uses the same basic storyline as "A Fistful Of Dollars", but at the same time is oftentimes as surprising and inventive as any other spaghetti western. Although the film has not as involving, stylish and delicate a script as "Fistful Of Dollars" or its sequels had, "Django" has a different purpose. It replaces the witty, ironic cynism of Sergio Leone’s films with a much stronger melodramatic, fatalistic feel, and breaks many taboos, portraying most characters as purposely overdrawn stereotypes. "Django" is also extremely violent, and the film had been banned in a number of countries, including the UK for the longest time. The film never misses an opportunity to see to people being shot in the backs, heads and even the eyes in a rather graphic manner. It all adds up to a movie that distinguishes itself very well and leaves a mark in people’s minds.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has fully restored "Django" and is presenting it in a <$PS,widescreen> version on this disc that restores the movie’s original theatrical 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The DVD contains a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer of the film that is very clean. Although some minor defects and a few registration problems are evident during the movie, it is never truly distracting. Obviously some noise has been applied to the transfer to achieve this level of quality and as a result, the transfer appears a bit soft. Considering that this is a low budget movie that was mostly targeted at the Italian and Spanish market, the film is in incredible shape however and has certainly never looked as good as on this DVD.

"Django" has a bit of a muted look – by nature – but the movie’s color scheme is consistent throughout, rendering fleshtones a little pale, but powering up the costumes with their powerful hues. Blacks are deep and solid, shadows maintain a good level of detail without any signs of dot crawl, and highlights are bright and well exposed without overlighting the scenes.

The disc contains a monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack, dubbed in English. I was surprised, Anchor Bay did not include the original Italian version of the film with subtitles, but it may have to do with licensing issues surrounding the film. Some distortion from the film print is noticeable in a number of scenes, especially when the music adds up to a crescendo of screaming strings during some of the more tense scenes. Nonetheless, dialogues are always understandable, but in a number of instances inconsistently mixed, adding ambiance in the middle of a sentence, stripping it in the latter half of it.

Anchor Bay has added a brand new 10-minute interview with actor Franco Nero to the disc that was recorded earlier this summer. It is remarkable that the now almost 60-years old actor has not changed a bit. The eyes and his physical appearance are still as impressive as over 3 years ago when he made this film. Nero tells some entertaining anecdotes how the film came about and how director Sergio Corbucci played a number of pranks on him during the shoot. It is an entertaining piece that complements the film nicely.

If you want to be a gunfighter yourself, a Django shoot-out game will help you practice your skills. Playable on all DVD players, this game uses footage from the film, as well as specially designed graphics to create a shooting game where bandits and damsels appear in building doorways and windows, and you have to target the baddies, and shoot them before a stick of dynamite goes off. It is a fun little romp and especially the commentaries you receive on your actions are "very goodo and hilarioso." The folks at Anchor Bay did a great job creating menus that use made-up Mexican terms for the selections and nice transitions from the film.

The second disc of the set contains "Django 2: il grande ritorno" or better known as "Django Strikes Again" here in the US. Literally translated "The Great Return", the film is the only "official" sequel to Corbucci’s 1966 movie and stars, next to Franco Nero, none other than Halloween’s Dr. Loomis Donald Pleasance.

The first five minutes of the movie have only recently been discovered during the production of this DVD. It is footage from the original version of the film as it was presented in theaters there. Unfortunately the footage is in rather bad shape and serious noise reduction had to be applied, which is visible through many artifacts. Luckily these artifacts disappear once the movie’s ‘traditional footage starts. Since there is no English version of the opening available, it is presented in Italian with English subtitles. The film picks up many years after the original movie and Django has become a monk, leaving behind his violent past. But when his daughter is kidnapped, Django unearths his past and sets out to track her down with his trusty gattling gun. Especially towards the end of the film, "Django Strikes Again" pulls off some impressive action and set pieces to create the spectacular finale. Story-wise it is also the better movie with some interesting new angles on the genre and a very unique look.

"Django Strikes Again" is also presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that looks very good – apart from the restored opening minutes. The movie’s color scheme is more natural than in the 1966 original and the disc faithfully restores the film’s colors, giving it a natural and very balanced look.

The soundtrack is distorted however and sounds very thin. Especially the English dubbed version is constantly clipped which makes the original Italian track that is also on the disc much more preferable, if you understand the language.

The release also includes a 24-page booklet that lists and depicts the poster art of all Django films that were spawned by the original movie. It is a great addition to the release that adds quite some individual value to the DVD for fans of the films.

For fans of the genre, this release from Anchor Bay is a great addition to their library. Django is clearly one of the better films of the genre and mostly the two films starring Franco Nero stand out above the others. As such, creating a 2-disc box set for these two films was a very sensible choice. The presentation on these discs is superb and much better than anyone could have expected from such small genre films. Giving them the full <$16x9,anamorphic> treatment is the ultimate icing on the cake, making these versions better looking than any other out there. Although not numbered, this box set is a limited release from Anchor Bay and only 15,000 units have been produced, so make sure to grab your copy before someone else does.