How Does “Django Unchained” Pay Homage to Other Westerns?
Quentin Tarantino loves to pay homage to his favorite films in his movies. Django Unchained (2012) isn’t any different. The southern shoot-em-up is a glorious mishmash of everything from ‘70s blaxploitation to classic Hollywood.
For example, Kerry Washington’s character Broomhilda has the last name Von Shaft, implying that she may be the great-great grandmother of everybody’s favorite black private dick, John Shaft, from the blaxploitation film Shaft (1971). The disturbing “Mandingo” sequence in Django Unchained is inspired by the film Mandingo (1975), a movie where slaves are trained to fight each other to the death. And when Django (Jamie Foxx) arrives in the Magnolia State, “MISSISSIPPI” slowly scrawls across the screen in big letters, like the opening titles in Gone with the Wind (1939).
But how does Django Unchained pay homage to other Westerns? Tarantino’s favorite genre is the “Spaghetti Western” (also known as the “Italian Western”) and his favorite director is Sergio Leone who made such films. The name “Django” comes from the Spaghetti Western Django (1966), directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero in the title role. Even the typeface in the credits mirrors Django’s opening sequence.
In addition to the title, Tarantino’s film opens with the memorable Luis Bacalov Django theme song, and Franco Nero makes a cameo during the Mandigo scene. Django isn’t the only Sergio Corbucci film Tarantino references in Django Unchained. During one sequence in the film, Django and bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) stop for a beer in the Minnesota Clay saloon. Minnesota Clay (1965) is another Corbucci film.
Tarantino borrowed a stunning visual from another Sergio Corbucci film The Great Silence (1968). The film is set during a particularly rough blizzard, and Django Unchained’s “I’ve Got a Name” montage features a snowy scene that pays homage to the film. Incidentally, The Great Silence stars Klaus Kinski…as a German bounty hunter. Tarantino’s upcoming The Hateful Eight (2015) also takes place during a blizzard and is likely influenced by The Great Silence.
Several songs in Django Unchained are ripped straight out of other spaghetti westerns such as Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), His Name Was King (1971), and They Call Me Trinity (1970). Tarantino references America-directed westerns as well. Sharp-eyed viewers might notice Edwin Porter’s name on a wanted poster, director of The Great Train Robbery (1903).
King Schultz’s secondary profession— a dentist—was likely influenced by films like The Paleface (1948) and The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), both western-comedies that feature orthodontists as protagonists.
Perhaps the quirkiest easter egg in Django Unchained is a cameo by West Side Story (1961) actor Russ Tamblyn and his daughter, Amber. Early in the film, Russ plays a doctor who notices Django riding into town with Schultz and expresses his shock at the sight of an African-American on a horse. His appearance lasts for a brief few seconds. If you pay attention to the credits, you’ll see Russ Tamblyn is billed as the “Son of a Gunfighter,” a reference to Tamblyn’s role in Son of a Gunfighter (1965). Amber is listed as the “Daughter of the Son of a Gunfighter.”