10,000 Dollars for a Massacre

10,000 Dollars for a Massacre ★★★

Spoilers ahead.

Ten Thousand Dollars for a Massacre* makes the most overt connection yet between killing in the name of the law and outright criminality, when charismatic bandit Manuel Vasquez (Claudio Camaso) amusedly tells bounty killer Django (Gianni Garko): "You kill people for money, like me. The two of us, we are like merchants, dealing in blood." Django is a lot of things, but he's also a man of a very specific, warped morality, and he knows enough not to argue with Manuel on this point. In fact, the conversation ends with Django teaming up with the bandit and his gang to rob a stagecoach full of gold. As the saying goes: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Of course, since this avaricious, remorseless act of joining results in the death of Django's proud, truly good girlfriend (Mijanou, played by Loredana Nusciak as the quintessential western character: a hooker with a heart of gold) he's, ironically, left lamenting his brief departure from the profession that Mijanou despised. While it's true that profit is at the bottom of Django's agreement to take part in the heist, it's also abundantly clear that part of him loves the excitement and danger of being around Manuel, particularly when profit is involved; this reality further deeps the guilt Django feels about Mijanou's murder, given that she had begged him, barely 24 hours before, to give up his life of violence and travel with her to start a new life in San Francsico.

The film's title comes from Django's cocky assertion that he really only chases criminals with bounties of at least $10,000. If they're worth less, he claims, they're too easy for him to kill or capture. In discussing Manuel's value of a mere $3000 with the bandit himself — the two are drawn together irresistibly, no matter their environment — Django teases Manuel into killing a man and thus increasing the profit to be had from bringing him in. The two men truly are a perfectly matched set, joined by their shared ambition and shameless desire for wealth, as well as their very personal, very flexible moralities. For the most part, the movie consists of the two of them happily jousting, delighting in having found an adversary who is their equal in any number of ways, and happily postponing the inevitable confrontation as long as possible.

Ultimately, the main source of Django's theoretical moral high ground over the outlaw is the fact that he's chasing Manuel because of the girl he kidnapped and presumably is keeping against her will — Django might be a murderer and a merchant of blood, but he's also on a mission of mercy, whereas Manuel is a rapist and kidnapper. It turns out, however, that the girl had no interest in being rescued and is, in fact, devastated by Manuel's death — rather than saving her, Django's actions have brought even more pain into her life, all in the service of his own, ever-growing pile of dirty money.

*I've briefly jumped back to 1966 here, because I wanted to watch this before watching $100,000 Per Killing, director Giovanni Fago's 1967 companion piece to this film, also starring Garko and Camaso.

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