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An A–Z (Minus Some Letters) Primer to the Movie and TV References in Django Unchained

1138856 - Django Unchained Photo: Columbia Pictures

We know that Quentin Tarantino, armed with his prodigious and encyclopedic knowledge of movies and TV, likes to quote pop culture in his films. So, what are the references in Django Unchained (which is reviewed here by David Edelstein)? Here’s what we’ve found. Holler below in the comments if you’ve identified any that we missed.

Australian accents: Tarantino’s Australian accent as an employee of the LeQuint-Dickey Mining Company is probably meant as a shout-out to the Ozploitation films the writer-director likes so much, but we also have a crazy alternate theory: It might also be a nod to James Mason’s famously awful southern accent in the infamous Mandingo (see under: Mandingo Circuit) — an accent so bad it actually sounds Australian.

Bell, Zoe: One of the trackers is played by Bell, the stuntwoman who had a lead role in Tarantino’s Death Proof. She’s not exactly recognizable, as her face is covered by a red mask. She also doesn’t do much in the film, besides look through a stereopticon and wield an axe, which may or may not be the result of some late cuts to the film.

Broomhilda von Shaft: Tarantino has said elsewhere that Django and Broomhilda are supposed to be the great-great grandparents of John Shaft, from the Shaft movies. While her name is meant to be inspired by the mythic German female warrior Brunnhilde, “Broom-Hilda” is also the name of a witch from the American comic strip of the same name created in 1970.

Candyland: The ironically playful name of Calvin Candie’s horror-show plantation might be an obvious reference to the popular board game, especially considering that Tarantino himself is a huge board game buff and collector. It could also be a subtle joke, in that Christoph Waltz’s character is a dentist.

Corbucci, Sergio: Though not as well-known in the U.S. as Sergio Leone, Corbucci was a prolific director whose Spaghetti Westerns — many of which number among Tarantino’s favorites — were often darker, more violent, and more politically pointed than Leone’s. Films like Django, The Mercenary, Companeros, and The Great Silence tackled issues such as racism, class warfare, and the law’s protection of the privileged against the powerless.

Dentist: The famous Bob Hope comedy-Western The Paleface (and its Don Knotts–starring remake, The Shakiest Gun in the West) is about a dentist from the big city who travels out West and winds up tangled up with gunfighters and outlaws.

Django: As many viewers already know, Django was originally the name of a 1967 Spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero, which spawned a number of pseudo-sequels. In classic Spaghetti Western fashion, these were “sequels” only in that lots of other filmmakers simply named their characters Django — not unlike Tarantino did in this film.

Fritz the Horse: The tricks that Fritz the horse does may seem odd, but they’re likely a reference to Roy Rogers’s horse Trigger, who did similar tricks and was featured prominently in films Rogers did with the director William Witney, one of Tarantino’s favorite unsung auteurs.

Hoods: While the sight of a posse of armed men with hoods obviously evokes the KKK (which didn’t form until post–Civil War Reconstruction), it’s also likely a reference to the original Django, in which the titular gunfighter did battle against a group of white supremacists who sported red bags over their heads. It’s also worth noting that the eye-holes in the original Django villains’ bags were also rather small, prompting some viewers to wonder how they could ever see out of them.

The Hot Box: The hot box is an actual torture device used in the South, often in prisons. It was also featured famously in the film Cool Hand Luke. (“Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box … Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box … Any man not in his bunk at eight spends the night in the box … ”)

Horsley, Lee: The star of the eighties private eye show Matt Houston shows up as Sheriff Gus.

Johnson, Don: Though known primarily for playing Crockett in the original Miami Vice TV series, Johnson also starred in L.Q. Jones’s bizarre 1975 post-apocalyptic cult flick A Boy and His Dog, a Tarantino favorite.

The Law: Dr. King Schultz is scrupulous in his respect for the law. This is reminiscent of Klaus Kinski’s Loco, another law-abiding bounty hunter (and also played by a German) in Sergio Corbucci’s evocative and dark snowbound Western, The Great Silence. He was confronted in that film by a mute gunfighter named Silence (Amour’s Jean-Louis Trintignant), who was similarly law-abiding.

The Mandingo Circuit: This concept actually comes from Mandingo, Richard Fleischer’s infamous 1975 big-budget exploitation flick (based on the 1957 novel by Kyle Onstott), which is one of Tarantino’s favorite movies.

Minnesota Clay: This is the name of the saloon that Django and Schultz enter at one point in the film. Minnesota Clay is also the title of one of director Sergio Corbucci’s earliest Spaghetti Westerns, about a blind gunfighter bent on revenge.

MISSISSIPPI: When Django and Schultz first arrive in Mississippi, the word Mississippi scans across the screen in large letters — most likely a reference to the infamous credit sequence of Gone With the Wind, a film that did a lot to help mythologize (and whitewash) the world of the southern antebellum plantation.

Music: As usual, Tarantino has included lots of musical references to other films in his soundtrack. Among them are several tracks from Sergio Corbucci’s original Django (including the title song) as well as another Corbucci Western, The Hellbenders (which is, notably, about a bunch of unrepentant ex-Confederates who try to start a second American Civil War). Also featured prominently are several tracks from Don Siegel’s Clint Eastwood Western Two Mules for Sister Sara, the song “His Name Is King” from the Spaghetti Western His Name Was King, and some songs from Sergio Sollima’s Italian gangster revenge thriller Violent City.

Neeley, Ted: One of the trackers in the film is played by Neeley, who once gained stardom in the lead role in 1973’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

Nero, Franco: The Italian mandingo-owner Django briefly speaks to at the bar in the Cleopatra Club is played by Nero, who played Django in the original Django.

“I Got a Name”: Jim Croce’s 1973 hit is prominently heard at one point in the film. It was also the theme song for the southern racing drama The Last American Hero, another Tarantino favorite.

Parks, Michael: Tarantino once called this onetime star of the cult TV show Then Came Bronson “the world’s greatest living actor.” Parks has memorably appeared in previous Tarantino efforts such as Kill Bill. His son James is also in the film.

Porter, Edwin: There’s a Wanted poster on the wall for Porter, who was the director of the seminal silent short The Great Train Robbery, one of the very first narrative films and the very first Western.

Savini, Tom: Savini, who plays one of the trackers, is the legendary makeup and F/X wiz who memorably worked on such classics as Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, Maniac, and Creepshow.

The Sidekick Narrative: The relationship between Django and Dr. King Schultz is similar to the central relationships in many Spaghetti Westerns, particularly those featuring Lee Van Cleef — who often played a veteran, expert cowboy who had to train a younger, wilder protégé, in films like Death Rides a Horse, Day of Anger, and The Stranger and the Gunfighter.

Slavesploitation: This is a catch-all term for a number of films made in the seventies that had explicit antislavery messages but also indulged in so much graphic violence and sex that they were often shown for titillation and provocation. The most notorious of them was probably Goodbye Uncle Tom, an absolutely brutal film by the Italian director Gualtiero Jacopetti that pretended to have been shot by a documentary crew visiting the antebellum South. Django Unchained subtly quotes Goodbye Uncle Tom in its depictions of Southern plantation life set to lush Italian songs.  

Son of a Gunfighter/Daughter of the Son of a Gunfighter: The character actor Russ Tamblyn starred in the cult 1965 Western Son of a Gunfighter, and is credited as playing “Son of a Gunfighter” in Django Unchained. His daughter, Amber Tamblyn, is credited as playing “Daughter of the Son of a Gunfighter.”

Wopat, Tom: U.S. Marshall Gil Tatom is played by Tom Wopat, whom some viewers will remember as Luke Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard, yet another eighties TV show, and one that did much to mythologize life in the South.

Zooms: Tarantino has made zooms part of his trademark style at this point, in homage to many of his beloved sixties and seventies films, particularly kung fu and Italian genre flicks.

A Primer to All Django Unchained’s References