Arrow’s long-delayed restoration of Sergio Corbucci’s seminal Western astounds with stellar 4K visuals and a stacked deluxe box set
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
If American filmmakers like John Ford and Howard Hawks held a glamorized sheen over the American West, part of my favorite film experiences has been to see how Italian filmmakers across the Atlantic tear that iconography to shreds. My introduction to Spaghetti Westerns began like most with Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West, four unexpectedly bloody and conniving films that thrived upon the lawlessness of the frontier, with Clint Eastwood’s cigar-chomping Man with No Name and Charles Bronson’s near-mute Harmonica enacting their own brand of justice–often leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. There was no moralized hand-wringing or shoot-second mentalities to hold the moral high ground–as Eli Wallach’s Tuco says in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, “if you’re gonna shoot, shoot.”
But my true love for Spaghetti Westerns came when I finally got around to Sergio Corbucci. First with The Mercenary and then The Great Silence, Corbucci’s Westerns seemed to push further than Leone’s films, beyond a Western world full of a broad yet clearly defined spectrum of morality and into a murky, mud-soaked world of true lawless amorality. Like the Man with No Name, Corbucci’s heroes are often thrust into greedy conflicts they are propelled to solve–but in these films, greed usually begets greed, along with gunsmoke and a river of blood created by the good and evil alike. Protagonists try to hold onto a code that is undone or is their downfall by the end of the picture, or the purest of ideals/motivations end up all but corrupted by the people who champion them. Where Leone offered a world of the Good, the Bad, and mostly the Ugly–Corbucci recognizes that all three shades can color his characters at any given moment.
Taking story cues from both Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s adaptation A Fistful of Dollars, Django is a stellar distillation of Corbucci’s ruthless, down-and-dirty style as well as the Spaghetti Western ethos–while also injecting a revitalizing thread of hope amidst impeccably-timed gallows humor. Django follows the titular hero (a star-making turn by Franco Nero) as he wanders his way into a border town brothel caught in a bloody battle between a racist gang of former Confederates and a thieving band of Mexican revolutionaries.
His alliances ever-shifting across the picture, Django pushes both sides to a bloody standoff, dispensing his own brand of vengeful justice along the way to settle an old score with the racist gang’s sadistic leader, Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo). Along the way are temptations from all sides–notably to join the revolution and be paid handsomely, or to shrug off his identity as Django and start a new life with his headstrong love interest Maria (Loredana Nusciak), herself a prostitute also caught between both sides. But this is a Corbucci film–whether Django chooses romance, the revolution, or revenge, all will come with a deadly price to pay.
Much like The Great Silence, moral corruption isn’t limited by race, gender, or creed. From the vile Confederates who hunt locals for sport, to the gold-hoarding Mexican army who regularly ships in the members of the brothel to pass their time while nearby towns fall into disrepair, to the revolutionaries whose plans for upending the status quo extends only as far as their own self-interest–everyone rests comfortably on a spectrum that begins at evil and slowly dilutes into well-rationalized self-preservation. Religious figures like Brother Jonathan (Gino Pernice) take the status quo as the baseline for what’s Biblically ordained. From its backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, to the harsh, commodified treatment of brothel workers, to the Klan as a villainous presence, there’s an acknowledgment of widespread class conflicts, racism, and sexism that, for all their brutality, Leone’s Dollars trilogy arguably sanitizes about life in the West. It’s an acknowledgment of what the lawlessness mythologized in other Westerns truly brings about–while also making the system-smashing actions of those closer on the spectrum to “good” feel as if they’re ripped from the pages of Revelations.
Which, to be fair, the violence in Django certainly feels Biblical at points–there’s a primal satisfaction and humor to Django’s bullet ballet, which Corbucci documents with whirling cameras, shock-value closeups, masking any sort of low-budget limitations. Whether it’s a sudden appearance of a weapon out of nowhere to a crowded saloon brawl, Corbucci expresses his violence free of intricate choreography or over-rehearsed finesse. Each of his actors seems caught off guard as to what’s inflicted upon them next — sometimes to the point of gallows slapstick — that their natural reactions of fleeing or grabbing whatever’s closest in order to retaliate feels wholesomely gritty and real. Yes, even with the reveal of just what’s inside Django’s dragged coffin–in a world where change is seized by the firing of a bullet, why not have a tidal wave of them in order to bring about something lasting?
And that’s still not mentioning Franco Nero’s instantly iconic performance, Luis Bacalov’s gripping score, as well as the fully lived-in production design, full of slung mud, crumbling ruined towns, and forgotten cemeteries. All of these are brought to startlingly vivid clarity in Arrow’s new 4K UHD restoration. Coupled with Django knockoff Texas Adios–itself an exciting border thriller with its own fair share of engaging twists–Arrow has created a definitive tribute to one of the best Spaghetti Westerns out there, one eagerly awaiting a new audience as they wind their way through exploring the all-stars of the genre.
Arrow presents Django in a new 4K Dolby Vision UHD restoration from the original 35mm negative, preserving its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Texas Adios is presented on Blu-ray in a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Both Italian and English mono soundtracks are presented for both films, also restored and remastered from their respective original optical sound negatives. While Arrow’s discs default to each film’s English-language track, the post-production dubbing standards of the era meant that both films were shot without sound during production, so either dubbing choice can be considered the “original” language of the films.
This is a reference-quality restoration. Few, if any, artifacts or film damage are present aside from slightly rough title opticals at the film’s beginning. Clear, sharply defined details are represented throughout, from the cheap peeling wallpaper of the film’s central brothel to the sharp reflections in pools of water in the town’s mucky main thoroughfare. Everything in this film seems to ooze perspiration, from the people to the coffins and floorboards–all of which register with tense, vibrant individuality on Arrow’s 4K presentation. Some deep focus shots are slightly out of focus–but these are issues present in the film’s original negative, and are more representative of the limitations of the original production.
The film’s monaural audio tracks, despite being wholly engineered in post-production, are rich with sonic detail, paying special heed to Bacalov’s timpani and string-focused score, with an echoing thunder to drums and horns. Dubbed dialogue matches well to characters’ performances, and is never lost in the midst of other foley work or sound design.
Please note this listing pertains to the Limited Edition. Not all versions contain all the listed features.
Disc One: Django (4K UHD Blu-ray):
- Audio Commentary by film critic, historian, and theorist Stephen Prince.
- Django Never Dies: an interview with star Franco Nero.
- Cannibal of the Wild West: an interview with assistant director Ruggero Deodato.
- Sergio, My Husband: an interview with Sergio Corbucci’s wife, Nori Corbucci.
- That’s my Life (Part 1): an archival interview with co-writer Franco Rossetti.
- A Rock n’ Roll Scriptwriter: an archival interview with co-writer Piero Vivarelli.
- A Punch in the Face: an archival interview with stuntman and actor Gilberto Galimberti.
- Discovering Django: an appreciation by spaghetti western scholar Austin Fisher.
- An Introduction to Django: an archival featurette by director and critic Alex Cox.
- Promotional Material: a collection of archival marketing materials for Django from the Mike Siegal Archive.
- Trailers from Django’s original release.
Disc Two: Texas Adios (Blu-ray):
- Texas Adios: Marketed as a sequel to Django in multiple countries, this shoot-em-up Western reunited star Franco Nero with several other Django collaborators (minus the Corbucci brothers), and is a fine film in its own right–working in a similar revenge tale with deeper themes of brotherly sacrifice, villainous estranged fathers, and the fleeting satisfaction of revenge.
- Audio Commentary by spaghetti western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke.
- The Sheriff is in Town: an interview with star Franco Nero.
- Jump into the West: an interview with co-star Alberto Dell’Acqua.
- That’s My Life (Part 2): an archival interview with co-writer Franco Rossetti.
- Hello Texas!: an appreciation by spaghetti western scholar Austin Fisher.
- Promotional Material: a collection of archival marketing materials for Texas Adios from the Mike Siegel Archive.
- Trailers from Texas Adios’ original release.
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Book: a 60-page book featuring writing by Howard Hughes and Roberto Curti, and original reviews of Django and Texas Adios’ release.
The Django + Texas Adios set is now available in this limited edition 4K UHD/Blu-ray package courtesy of Arrow.
Get it at Amazon:
If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.