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Django Shoots First

(Alberto de Martino, Italy, 1966): Since the name ‘Django’ in spaghetti westerns refers more to a kind of generic brand than a specific character — think Coke, Kleenex or Sheiks — one comes to expect otherwise absurd variations from one Djangler to the next. But that’s part of the appeal: the spaghetti west was a genre bred by exploitation and shameless in its pursuit of it, so anything goes as long as it rides, shoots and refuses to shave. So here comes Django, this time a blonde, grinning young Troy Donahue type (the amiable dutch hunk Glen Saxson) who from the git-go looks like he’s going to make or take no more trouble than a golden lab puppy with a roll of toilet paper. This impression holds despite the fact that he kills the bounty hunter Ringo (another hearty spaghetti western brand) as soon as he learns the body slung over the man’s horse is his father. None of this bothers Django, whose only thought at the death of his dad — let alone the murder he’s just committed — is to see if he can grab the bounty himself. So he rides into town, only to discover that the old man was a partner of a nasty civic dictator named Kluster, and that Django Jr. is now eligible for half of Kluster’s lustre. This makes for complications, as Kluster, weirdly enough, is not the sharing type. (Hence, the dead dad.) It all plays out sunnily and comically, as though for a moment early in its history the spaghetti western was angling less for grindhouse and drive-in trade than Saturday morning triple bills at the suburban Bijou. But this is the Italian west, sir, and not the Desilu backlot, so even this daffy little time-waster has its pan-cultural eccentricities. Its depiction of the town’s corruption reflects the almost inescapably politicized sensibility of its day, and it’s fascinating to watch a spaghetti western hero who’s much more the luck-blessed doofus as he is a stone alone killer. Which means you can see the Trinity movies coming over the horizon, and hear the laughter generated by Cat Ballou all the way across the Atlantic. (Dorado Films)