A Guide to the Film References in Django Unchained

A Guide to the Film References in Django Unchained

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Franco-Nero-Django-Unchained


Franco-Nero-Django-Unchained(This article contains some minor spoilers for Django Unchained and be warned that most of the clips included are NSFW)

Like many of Tarantino’s previous films Django Unchained is filled to the brim with film references. Below I’ve attempted to guide you through some of these references and links to other films.

I’ve only seen the film once at a screening and am sure that given the opportunity to sit down with the film on Blu-ray I will undoubtedly find even more, so the following is in no way definitive but hopefully provides some answers to for those wondering what Tarantino was referencing in Django Unchained. Also, most importantly, hopefully it will lead you to check out some of the films in question.

The most obvious film reference in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is right there in the title. Django was a 1966 ‘spaghetti western’ directed by Sergio Corbucci and starred Franco Nero in the titular role. The film was a great success, particularly in Europe and Asia, and led to tens of unofficial sequels that featured the same character name but did not feature Nero in the lead role.

Django has always been synonymous with Nero though, so much so that it even led to some non-westerns which starred Nero being retitled abroad with ‘Django’ somewhere in the title. Nero appears in Django Unchained in a cameo role in which he asks Jamie Foxx’s Django about his name.

Tarantino has even previously appeared in a ‘Django’ film, with a cameo role in Takashi Miike’s 2007 film Sukiyaki Western Django, a film that is (spoiler) a prequel of sorts to the original Django.

Tarantino also has a cameo in Django Unchained as an employee of The LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. There are two other members of the Mining Co. that we encounter (played by Michael Parks and John Jarratt) and all three have Australian accents (Tarantino’s is utterly dreadful – perhaps deliberately). The choice to use Australian accents could well be a link to Tarantino’s love of Ozploitation or simply be related to the casting of  Jarratt, who unlike Tarantino or Parks is actually Australian (he is probably most well known for his role in Wolf Creek).

The soundtrack to Django Unchained features tracks taken from the original Django soundtrack, including the incredibly memorable theme tune to the film, but the film ends with a track from the 1970 comedic spaghetti western They Call me Trinity, a film which starred Terence Hill in the title role. Hill also starred as Django in the unofficial sequel Django, Prepare a Coffin.

Zoe Bell also appears in Django Unchained in a role that was reportedly cut down and wears a red mask that is very similar to those worn in the original Django.

The Great Silence

Tarantino makes reference and takes inspiration from Corbucci’s other westerns beyond Django in Django Unchained, including nods to Minnesota Clay and, Corbucci’s masterpiece, The Great Silence. A saloon near the start of the film is called Minnesota Clay, a film that features a scene in which a character shoots the ear off of another. This also occurs in the original Django and presumably at least one of these had some influence on the infamous ear mutilation scene in Reservoir Dogs.

The Great Silence appears to be a key inspiration for Tarantino with the snow filled scenes in Django Unchained being very reminiscent of the memorable winter setting of The Great Silence. Like Django Unchained The Great Silence also features a German actor, Klaus Kinski, playing a bounty hunter, but he plays a character who has none of the charm or manners of Waltz’s King Schultz.

Tarantino also uses an Ennio Morricone track on the soundtrack to Django Unchained which was taken from Corbucci’s 1966 western The Hellbenders, a film released in the same year as Django.

The Great Train Robbery

The film references in Django Unchained go further back in film history than Spaghetti Westerns too with the oldest reference probably being a nod to Edwin S. Porter, the director of the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery, with a wanted poster for Edwin Porter appearing in the background in a scene. The Great Train Robbery was an important film due to the innovative techniques used by Porter but is probably most well known for a shot which features a character firing directly at the camera, a shot that has been referenced multiple times in films since, most famously by Martin Scorsese in Goodfellas.

Tarantino also pokes fun at the Ku Klux Klan in one of the film’s funnier scenes in which a KKK group mount an inept attack on Django and Schultz. The  attack is scored by The Ride of the Valkyries, undoubtedly inspired by its use in D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Where Griffith opted to celebrate the KKK and portray them heroically, Tarantino ridicules them and uses the music to directly parody Griffith’s cinematic representation of the Klan.

Tarantino also undermines and ridicules Hollywood’s previous approach to civil rights when Django and Schultz enter Mississippi. The text ‘MISSISSIPPI’ fills the screen and scrolls from one side to the other. This is almost certainly a joke at the expense of Gone with the Wind, which opens with a very similar title sequence. Where Gone with the Wind portrayed a rather idyllic view of the South Tarantino lays the text over slaves trudging in mud.

In a gag that really only works in the credits Tarantino credits Russ Tamblyn in Django Unchained as ‘Son of a Gunfighter’ (this name is not referenced in the film) and his daughter, played by Tamblyn’s real life daughter Amber, is credited as ‘Daughter of the Son of a Gunfighter’. Son of a Gunfighter was a 1965 western starring Russ Tamblyn and directed by Paul Landres. Landres was most well known for directing TV westerns, including The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid, and the sheer volume of his credits is really quite extraordinary.

There have been a number of westerns that feature black actors in prominent roles and although Tarantino does not make explicit references to many it is not a stretch to imagine that films such as Boss Nigger, Buck and the Preacher, Charley One-Eye and Legend of Nigger Charley were not far from his mind when making Django Unchained.

Hannie CaulderThe plot of Django Unchained also somewhat mirrors some of the elements of Hannie Caulder, a 1971 western starring Raquel Welch in the lead role. The character of Hannie Caulder is raped by three men who also murder her husband. Caulder seeks revenge and makes a deal with a bounty hunter to train her to kill the three men.

Blaxploitation films of the seventies are, unsurprisingly, another key reference point for Tarantino but the nods to this genre are often rather minor. When Schultz and Django first meet Calvin Candie, for instance, it is in the Cleopatra Club, perhaps a reference to Tamara Dobson’s character Cleopatra Jones, who appeared in the 1973 film of the same name and the rather weak sequel Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold two years later.

One of Candie’s slaves, who we are first introduced to in the Cleopatra Club, is called Sheba, again possibly a reference to another ass-kicking blaxpoitation heroine. Tarantino favourite Pam Grier played the title role of Sheba Shayne in Sheba, Baby, a character billed in the advertising as “Hotter ‘N’ Coffy, Meaner ‘N’ Foxy Brown”.

Most notably the love of Django’s life, his wife Broomhilda, has the rather unusual surname ‘von Shaft’, undoubtedly a reference to the 1971 blaxploitation smash hit Shaft.

When we are first introduced to Broomhilda she has been put in the ‘hot box’, a punishment for trying to run away from Calvin Candie’s plantation. This could also be a reference to another blaxploitation film, the somewhat lousy The Hot Box, a Roger Corman produced ‘Women in Prison’ film which featured a script co-written by Jonathan Demme. The logistics of the hot box in The Hot Box are very different to those of the one in Django Unchained though.

In the Cleopatra Club we also first introduced to ‘Mandingo fights’, a practice that was made famous by the exploitation picture Mandingo, directed by Richard Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures in 1975. Tarantino has previously talked about Mandingo at length and it was almost certainly an influence that led to the inclusion of these scenes and the Mandingo fighting sub-plot in Django Unchained.

Samuel Jackson’s character of Stephen has been described by many to be a an ‘Uncle Tom’ character (a character type which gets its name from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and whilst Django Unchained bears very little similarity to Goodbye Uncle Tom, a 1971 faked documentary that explores slavery, it was almost certainly a reference point for Tarantino. The soundtrack for Goodbye Uncle Tom also features music from Riz Ortolani, who appears on the soundtrack to Django Unchained.

 The track Rito Finale that is used in Django Unchained first appeared on the soundtrack to Violent City, a Sergio Sollima directed Italian crime film starring Charles Bronson. Sollima was well known for his westerns before moving into crime pictures and made an exquisite pair of westerns in 1966 and 1967, The Big Gundown and Face to Face. Both were incredibly political and fantastic examples of the genre.

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A number of pieces of music in Django Unchained are taken from the scores for other film, including cuts taken from Two Mules for Sister Sara, Hornet’s Nest, Under Fire, Day of Anger, The Last American Hero and His Name Was King. This last track supplies the theme tune for the character of King Schultz. The film His Name Was King was another western featuring Klaus Kinski, although he did not play the ‘King’ character.

The track ‘Unchained’, which is used to great effect in one of the film’s later shoot-out sequences, samples heavily from the track Payback by James Brown. Although Payback did not actually first appear on a soundtrack it was originally recorded for the Larry Cohen film Hell Up in Harlem, a sequel to James Brown scored Black Caesar. Reports as to why it was not actually used differ but it appears to have been due to a dispute over the cost of making the music James Brown supplied for Black Caesar fit to the film.

So, what have I missed? Let me know in the comments section below.

Django Unchained is out in UK cinemas now.

  • Giuseppe Garzero

    I think an important reference you missed is Sergio Leone’s “The good the ugly and the bad”. At the end of DU, when Candyland mansion is about to blow away, Samuel L. Jackson screams. “Django you are a son of a biiiicth” exactly as Eli Wallach does at the end of Leone’s movie adressing the name to Clint Eastwood.

    I feel to say that also Tonino Valerii’s “My name is nobody” (starring Henry Fonda and Terence Hill) is poked in DU. Tarantino avails himself twice of the same “dynamite trick” Henry Fonda uses to defeat the wild bunch in Valerii’s movie: shooting at the dynamite the enemies carry to themself. Dr. Schultz in the KKK scene and Django in the LeQuint Dicket Mining employees one, kill the bad guys actually in this way: shooting at the dynamite from long distance.

    Last but not least, Corbucci’s “Minnesota Clay” is referenced not only in the instances you said, but also in the opening of DU. Corbucci’s movie opened with a scene of prisoners in chain working in a cave… Does it remind something? :-)

  • Dusty

    The Violent City score is composed by Ennio Morricone, not Riz Ortolani. Tarantino recyles Ortolani’s music from Day of Anger.

  • Craig_Skinner

    You’re quite right. I think I was was mixing Violent City and Day of Anger up.

  • ElectricDonkey

    The Searchers doorway image inverted in shadow when Django comes to rescue Hildy at the end

  • BobSilvester

    The character of Butch (Calvin Candies bodyguard) played by James Remar wears a derby bowler hat and looks the spitting image of Paul Newman. I am sure that this must be a reference to Butch Cassidy?

  • BobSilvester

    The scene where Calvin Candie is shot through the flower he wears is from A Professional Gun. Jack Palance playing Curly is shot in this manner. This is one of Tarantino’s favourite Spaghetti Westerns – he has frequently used the music from it (KIll Bill2 and Inglourious Basterds)

  • Craig_Skinner

    Aaah, of course. I knew I’d seen the shot through the flower somewhere but couldn’t think where. Thanks!

  • Kenny

    I think there was a homage to “star wars” as well.
    Dr schultz is obi wan.
    Django is Luke.
    Candyland is equal to the Death Star.
    They are on a mission to free a princess, brunhilda even has hair in the same side bun style as Princess Leia.
    Like obi wan dr Schultz dies fighter evil leader.
    In the last scene Death Star/ Candyland is destroyed in an over explosion.

  • CJ Robb

    I may be wrong but when Stephen gets shot in his kneecaps at the end, to me, it was reminiscent of the end of “Nevada Smith” when Steve McQueen, who had been looking for the 3 killers of his parents has finally found the last one, Karl Malden, chases him in the desert and shoots him in his kneecaps, but doesn’t kill him.

  • http://twitter.com/slanzoni Sabrina L. Gonçalves

    Another film reference, imho: “They Call Me Trinity” main theme is played at the end of the movie because of Dr. Schultz’s quote “You know how they will call you? The fastest gun of the South”, while Trinity was the fastest gun of the West.

    I think that also Django’s outfit, before blowing Candie’s mansion, was pretty similar to Clint Eastwood’s at “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”, especially his hat.

  • oldtimer

    The dentist’s wagon is pretty much a direct lift from the early scenes in Von Stroheim’s “Greed”, right down to the swinging molar.

  • http://twitter.com/_AKA_ AKA

    The appearance of James Remar (in two roles) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Robert Carradine is a nod to Walter Hill’s THE LONG RIDERS. Another Hill-Remar nod is the request by Schultz to Remar in the opening sequence for a “parlay”, which refers to THE WARRIORS.

    Samuel L. Jackson’s character Stephen is a reference to Stepin Fetchit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepin_Fetchit

  • pduggie

    Django is a bounty hunter. Jango Fett was a bounty hunter!

  • gettingandspending

    At the very end, the films cuts back to the guys in the cage on the wagon, and one of them says “Who was that nigger?” Surely a reference to the way every Lone Ranger show ended, with some character saying “Who was that masked man?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/IamAnurag Anurag Temptations Still Alive

    what is the name of the OST (original soundtrack track) of Django Unchained.

  • Mokkakop

    When Candie talks about his mandingo fighters, he said that he wants them to fight till the fifth round, maybe a reference to Pulp Fiction, where Marcellus tells Butch he will make it to the fifth and than fall down.

  • Elrae

    They meet a dentist-come-killer of sorts in true grit?