After Django (1966) succeeded, mainly in Europe, hundreds more films emerged sporting the word "Django" in their titles. These two syllables alone became a big box office draw. The original was an example of what later became known as Spaghetti Westerns. They were made in Italy and Spain, but purported to represent the American Southwest and Mexico. The latest derivation or incarnation or transformation, made in the USA, is Django Unchained (2012), still in theaters. Django starred Franco Nero, and despite glaring differences, it is hard not to compare the character he plays to the one Clint Eastwood developed in A Fistful of Dollars (1964). These are all violent movies, by the way, but the violence is not always gratuitous because the bad guys in them are that bad.
The narrative takes place just after the Civil War. Django still wears Union trousers. He finds himself, alternately, at odds with both Mexican soldiers and the revolutionaries who oppose them. Southerners are portrayed as totally heartless and devoid of human feelings. Klan-like creatures wear blood red hoods. The quality of exaggeration enters early into the film and never exits. It is all highly stylistic with formalistic elements or mise-en-scene vying against content, which could easily be summarized in a relatively short paragraph. Very probably the highly charged result, at variance with traditional westerns, has to do with its outside look in, conceived as it was in Europe. Incidentally, there are some interesting literary precedents. Karl May's 19th century western novels, for instance, were written entirely in Germany without any firsthand knowledge of western settings.
It all goes to show that although westerns have lost their prestige and popularity, fascination for the West -- unsettled, raw, and usually described as wild -- still continues. All the genre needs to make yet another comeback is a new angle of some kind: easily enough said, true enough. For Django, it is not readily apparent what the filmmakers had in mind, right from the start, but many of the elements found so frequently in conventional westerns are herein duplicated. There is the town, for example, that has a bar with rooms on the second floor. Guitars are strummed. Drinking gets out of hand and ends in brawls, such as in an exploitative cat fight. And there is a cemetery that keeps expanding as well as shootouts in and around mountain rocks. But no sheriff wears a badge; the place is completely lawless. And it would be rare indeed to find a town in any western as muddy as this one. Also, the racial themes are more visceral and stronger, at least for the 1960s, than what played on American screens. Once again, this unflattering perspective must be in part a reflection of how Europeans see America rather than how America would like Europeans to see it.
Despite the usual loathing coast to coast for sub-titles, Django is really best seen and heard in Italian. There are two versions and the English is acceptable (diverging from the English subtitles for some reason). But the thing is, viewers can adjust to this anomaly without detriment to the whole cinematic experience. The film relies heavily on action with tough talk exchanged in between, overall not very pretty, and yet Maria (Loredana Nusciak), somehow holds on throughout as the female lead. It would not have mattered if she had had more lines or costumes or anything since from one moment to the next the emphases are all on gold, bloodshed, machismo, revenge, cruelty, punishment, guns, and ammo.