John Ford had John Wayne, Sergio Leone had Clint Eastwood and Sergio Corbucci had Franco Nero. Often seen as the face of Spaghetti Westerns, Nero’s rise to cult fame had a director correlation with the works of Corbucci. Making several Westerns during his illustrious career, his most acclaimed work came during the late 60s, like many others. With the decline of Golden Age Hollywood and the rise of television serials, European filmmaking was making a braver stance. But over 50 years later, Corbucci has remained one of the greatest Western directors of all time, and his pop-soaked, bloody depiction of this classic genre is still unique.
Playing into the ‘strong, silent type’ – Corbucci’s protagonists were anything but the classic charmers of Gary Cooper, instead often dressed all in black, motivated by money and their own selfish gains. These sadistic anti-heroes were the cause for the dark and brutal violence that encapsulated Corbucci’s action scenes; scenes that focused less on the draw and more on quick-fire editing and shaky-cam when the bullets went flying. Embracing the genre’s tropes as well as subverting them, Django (1966) was an unofficial adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) similar to Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964).
Corbucci attempted to go one further with the body counts of his films reaching gratuitous numbers, with over 180 bodies in Django, with Nero’s titular character being responsible for 79 of these. It’s not surprising to see when the opening scene contains Nero drifting through the desert dragging a coffin which will later reveal itself to be a machine gun contained inside. His films at times depicted scenes of mutilation which would become a big no for censorship in Italy and overseas. Django received an 18 certificate in Italy and was rejected by the BBFC until 1993 for several scenes that were to be later removed for UK distribution.
Playing to the tunes of phenomenal scores of Luis Bacalov and Ennio Morricone, these films were similar in their depictions of bleak landscapes of desert and snow. The Great Silence (1968), often called the ‘greatest snow western’ is also seen as Corbucci’s masterpiece, a perfect combination of Western tropes, subversions and political allegory. Corbucci’s subtext would often support his left-wing views that would highlight corruption in the forms of authoritative capitalism. The Great Silence seemed to be politically inspired by the deaths of Che Guevara and Malcolm X. Corbucci knew the ending may not subside with more traditional markets like the US and UK and had also filmed a relatively less tragic ending for these markets although it was never shown.
Overall Corbucci knew the world of Spaghetti Westerns, embracing the camp, comic style of his characters and stories but still kept to his core beliefs and ideas, no matter the censorship that may have come his way.
Header Image Courtesy of Frame Rated.