April 25, 2023
Clint Eastwood is regarded by most to be the king of Spaghetti Westerns, but you’re about to have to forget everything you’ve ever known because Franco Nero is here to take the crown. Franco Nero’s two movie run as the deadly cowboy, Django, would cement the man as a Western icon, but the actor would also appear in a number of other films in this genre. Where Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name carries the Dollars trilogy as a quiet, unsuspecting type, Django runs his movies out in the open. Nero’s portrayal of the character shows a headstrong, towering force to be reckoned with. He’s more of an anti-hero than a straight-up good guy, but that won’t stop him from being one of the greatest Western protagonists of all time. Franco Nero rocks in these movies, and while he might not be the “greatest” leading man we’ve had in a Spaghetti Western, he’s certainly the most badass.
Franco Nero Is the Spaghetti Western King
Franco Nero was born on November 23, 1941 in San Prospero Parmense, Parma, Italy. He rose to international fame with the release of 1966’s Django, delivering a performance that cemented him forever as a genre-movie legend. Over the years, he’s had a prolific career as an actor, director, and producer, working on hundreds of films and continuing to pop up on screen to this day. His work as Django might lead you to believe that he’d go on to be typecast as a rough-around-the-edges tough guy when in reality, his filmography boasts a pretty diverse array of films. Nero has had roles in romantic comedies, horror films, dramas, and even animated films. No matter how hard he might try and shake the mold that he formed for himself, he’ll always primarily be remembered as a Spaghetti Western icon.
Django is a 1966 Spaghetti Western directed by legendary Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. It follows a man named Django, a Union soldier-turned-cowboy who travels on foot and drags a mysterious coffin everywhere he goes. After saving a woman, María (Loredana Nusciak), from two groups of people that try to kill her, the two of them wander into a town and get caught up in a conflict between Confederates and revolutionaries. Now, the two of them have to figure out how they can help solve the town’s unrest. The movie was a huge success, spawning an additional 31 films in the series (only one of those starring Franco Nero in the lead role). Outside of the Dollars trilogy, this is probably the essential Spaghetti Western, making a huge splash in its own subgenre, Westerns in general, and action films at large. Quentin Tarantino has expressed interest in making a Spaghetti Western of his own, and is such a big fan of the movie in particular that he went off and reimagined the character for his film, Django Unchained. The original Django might not be the most violent and bloodiest Western ever made, or the most original, but it’s one of the most entertaining.
Aside From Being a Tough Guy, Django Is a Genuinely Good Guy
Being that he’s the titular character, the whole movie hinges on Nero’s performance as Django, and he knows it. He’s quiet in a similar way to The Man with No Name, but only when he has to be. When duty calls for it, Django gets in his enemies’ faces and makes it known that he’s about to lay down the law. It helps that Nero is built like a mountain. He’s an enormous presence on screen. Django is made even more memorable by his signature firearm. You typically see cowboys walking around and waving their little pistols around, but not Django. Inside his coffin that he drags around, Django keeps a massive volley gun (basically, a machine gun that is so big that it’s meant to be kept on wheels). He doesn’t use it every time enemies come his way, but whenever he does bust it out, both the movie and the character end up really setting themselves apart from other Westerns. Combining a huge guy with the biggest gun possible makes for a visually striking and memorable cowboy. You don’t wanna mess with Django!
Django is also a man of morals. In short, he’s a great guy! Early on in the movie, it’s made known that he was a Union soldier during the American Civil War, so he’s instantly easy to root for. Corbucci clearly made an effort to make every one of Django’s enemies as deplorable as possible. This guy runs into Klansmen, other blatantly racist people, sexual assaulters, and an assortment of other miscellaneous criminal types. Django doesn’t just pass these guys by, he wipes them out clean with his volley gun. Genre movie heroes are always the most fun when they’re taking down the absolute worst of the worst.
‘Django’ Is Full of Great Action Sequences
Aside from Django himself, the actual movie is a lot of fun. There are a number of conversational scenes that take place in saloons and on the town’s main street, but even though it seems to want to be, Django isn’t a movie about the story: it’s a straight-up early exploitation film. Corbucci regularly introduces a new batch of villains for Django to have to deal with. Django will encounter a new group of baddies, their grimy character traits are made clear, and Django has to deal with them.
This is evident in the first couple of minutes when our hero finds María being assaulted by a group of bandits. Before Django can save her, the bandits are killed by a group of soldiers. The problem? They’re terrible soldiers…they’re Confederates! These guys plan on hanging her up and killing her on a burning cross, but Django finally intervenes and takes them all down. The scene isn’t necessarily bloody or gory, but it only takes a few minutes for the film to start racking up a body count. What’s impressive is that the movie doesn’t slow down either. Clocking in at only 92 minutes, Django is stacked with back-to-back action sequences. The movie is probably best known for the scene where Django first busts out his volley gun. A description of the scene would never do it justice, you just have to see it to believe it. If you’re in the mood to see a badass cowboy shoot down an army of Klansmen with a massive machine gun, check this movie out. It’s unreal.
If you’re looking for a great Spaghetti Western that isn’t one of Sergio Leone’s many masterpieces, drop everything you’re doing and go check out Django. It’s a grimy, filthy, airtight 92-minutes that doesn’t play around. Westerns are largely known for their action scenes and shootouts, but a lot of the time, they tend to get caught up in overlong scenes of small talk and lose focus of what makes them fun. Most Westerns don’t need to make their focus the story, they need to fire off endless rounds of ammunition and load up on standoffs rife with action. Audiences aren’t showing up to Django for the intimate character moments, they’re showing up to watch this battleship of a man bust out a huge machine gun and wipe out racist and downright lame cowboys. Not only does Django deliver on all of these fronts, but it crowns Franco Nero the king of the Spaghetti Western genre.