Django Unchained’s References

Martyn Conterio

We all know how Quentin Tarantino, cinema’s great magpie, loves to pay homage (or steal) from famous – and sometimes obscure – movies. Django Unchained is no exception. So to prepare you for his forthcoming western, here are five fun references to other spaghetti western flicks and why Django is unchained.

1. Franco Nero – the one and only Django.   

We’ve all seen the trailer where Jamie Foxx tells an old man at a bar ‘the D is silent’, right? Cult movie fans will understand this in-joke in a flash. Back in 1966 Franco Nero starred as the eponymous hero in Sergio Corbucci’s legendary movie, which also, incidentally, influenced the ear-slicing scene in QT’s debut, Reservoir Dogs. Nero is the original – and we can argue – the best screen incarnation of Django.

In Django Unchained, Nero plays an Italian slave trader named Amerigo Vassepi. As the two Djangos meet and Foxx informs the man how to pronounce the name itself, Vassepi replies, “I know.” Cult enthusiasts will no doubt cheer at this very moment.

2. Who or what is a Django? 

The origins of the name are very interesting and rely on a visual pun. Django Reinhardt was a famous jazz guitarist with paralysed fingers. In Corbucci’s flick, our hero has his fingers mashed up good and proper yet is still able to shoot his gun and take the baddies down (skills to pay the bills!). Tarantino’s Django is the latest in a long line of Django rip-offs. There was only ever one ‘official’ sequel: 1987’s Django Strikes Again!  - Django was a real exploitation movie phenomenon back in the late 1960s. The name was shoehorned into a film title even though it had nothing to do with westerns. A bit of dubbing would fix all that!

3. Dr. King Schultz’s occupation.    

Christoph Waltz has landed himself another Oscar nomination for his turn as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Now, here, QT isn’t just into riffing on spaghetti westerns. After all, the American western is the real McCoy.

Tarantino throws a reference towards Bob Hope’s 1948 comedy western The Paleface, by making Schultz a travelling dentist of dubious skill, just like Hope’s character. This shows how wide-ranging QT’s homages actually are and how he hoovers up influences from unlikely places. The dentist occupation brings a bit of goofy fun to proceedings.

4. The influence of Sergio Corbucci.    

If you really want to impress your friends, say something like this: ‘Sergio Leone is revered for his Dollars trilogy and Once Upon A Time in the West. However, Tarantino doesn’t use his ‘Southern’ as a means to give us the same-old epic vistas and those iconic close-ups of squinty eyes staring intently or a gunslinger ready to duel with his hand hovering over the shooter. Tarantino’s Django is firmly in the key of Corbucci.’

We get visual nods to Corbucci’s The Big Silence (1968) and the original Django, too. The use of snowy landscapes and muddy towns is a direct doffing of the cap. It’s also worth observing that the dandified Dr. King Schultz’s light grey attire echoes Franco Nero’s well-dressed character in another Corbucci cracker, Compañeros.

5. The Blazing Saddles reference.    

As Django and Schultz mosey into town on their quest to find the Brittle brothers, plenty of gormless folk stare in disbelief. Why? Because there’s a black man riding a horse. This scene without a doubt refers back to Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles and the hilarious moment in which Cleavon Little’s newly appointed sheriff rides into town. The locals are gobsmacked and confused. Both Brooks and QT highlight racism by making fun of character reactions.

Follow Martyn on Twitter: @Martyn_Conterio  

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