Cowboys, gunfights, loan riders (usually bounty hunters), bandits riding through the hot, dusty desert! What can we be describing other than ‘Westerns’, the film genre that captured the imagination and admiration of millions of audiences around the world, even though they depict typical American scenarios from a time when the US was just beginning to find its feet and people were still trekking across the wide continent.
‘Westerns’ are a genre which had been most popular between the 1940 – 1960, over the years this has become known as the “Golden Age of the Western”. They portray life in America during the time when most things were a struggle and they always portrayed an amazing hero who overcame the struggle. The first westerns (circa 1890’s) included reenactments of known outlaws and sharp shooters such as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Billy the Kid.
The 1960’s saw the introduction of a subgenre – ‘The Spaghetti Western’, thus called because they were filmed in Italy or Spain by Italian directors, these were low budget films and produced in Europe because it was cheaper. One of the major differences between the traditional US Westerns and those made in Europe is that the latter were far more violent with a lot more gunfights and sometimes with questionable morals. They often featured anti-heroes as the protagonist, European desert landscapes and non-traditional music scores.
The unique characteristics of Spaghetti Westerns went on to influence the work of other directors. Howard Hughes book ‘Once Upon A Time In The Italian West & Spaghetti Westerns’, is an informative source on the subgenre, how they came about and which directors changed and shaped them.
“The key players who shaped the genre are undoubtedly Sergios Corbucci and Sollima, and Duccio Tessari,” Hughes said. “Each made westerns in their own style, but enhanced and expanded Leone’s (and western) mythology as a whole.”
Sergio Leone, the well-known director of the Dollars Trilogy of films starring Clint Eastwood (at the time an unknown American actor). Other popular directors followed: Duccio Tessari, Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani and Giulio Petroni to name but a few, there are so many of them that it would be impossible to include them all in this blog! The first Spaghetti Western Sergio Leone was ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ 1964 became an unexpected box office success and this led to the production of up to 500 films being made in the subgenre. It was so different from anything that had ever been made before, the key things that made it stand out the authentic music by Ennio Morricone, Clint Eastwood as the main character and the authentic costumes often the anti-hero would wear a black hat, poncho or vest they also appeared rugged, unshaven and sunburnt.
1966, saw the production of Corbucci’s Django this also went on to become a great hit. Franco Nero, the Italian star of the film would then appear in several spaghetti westerns and enjoy a lasting film career. His name would be remembered alongside that of Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Guiliano Gemma and Eli Wallach to name but a few.
The plots of Spaghetti Westerns could be said to follow three main themes, the bounty hunter, revenge tales and political stories many of these reflected the plight of the common man and therefore attracted viewers they took the side of oppressed and resulted in liberation and revenge.
Spaghetti Westerns offer the audience a European perception of what the directors thought life in the American West and Mexico was like!
“When a man’s got money in his pockets, he begins to appreciate peace.” - Joe (A Fistful of Dollars)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Wallpaper flare (free domain)
Sergio Leone.jpg - Wikimedai commons