Top 10 Spaghetti Westerns
The Western is a standard of American cinema and even those who have never seen a film in this genre are familiar with the hallmarks of the Western. Tough no-nonsense heroes, sweeping technicolor vistas, black hatted villains, are more than familiar aspects of these films. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the Western quit being so American as Italian filmmakers like; Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Joe D’Amato brought their skills to the genre. With much lower budgets and much higher violence and a stronger edge, these Italo-Westerns became known as “Spaghetti Westerns” and brought a uniquely American type of film to a global audience. Often lumped in with grindhouse and exploitation films of the era many film icons emerged from these pictures; Lee Van Cleef, Lee Marvin, Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, and most notably Clint Eastwood.
1. The Good the Bad and the Ugly: With a theme song everyone knows by heart, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly is heralded as the definitive film just of the Spaghetti Western ilk, and as a classic of the Western genre as a whole. Rumors of a stash of Confederate gold gets the attention of; the stalwart Blondie (Clint Eastwood as the legendary Man with No Name), the murderous Angel Eyes, and the unscrupulous Tuco. Each member of the trio knows a piece of information about the location of the treasure forcing them into an uneasy alliance. Tense stand-offs, double-crosses, and colorful characters all make this one of the best Westerns ever filmed.
2. Once Upon a Time in the West: Another film which seems to transcend the “Spaghetti Western” label and has forged a reputation as one of the best Westerns in cinema. Director Sergio Leone utilizes an all-star ensemble of actors and actresses to tell his epic which is considered by many to be his greatest accomplishment. Amid a grand story of land deals and fighting Charles Bronson plays the gunfighter Harmonica who is looking to kill the villainous Frank, played by the legendary Henry Fonda.
3. A Fistful of Dollars: Another classic collaboration between Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Serving as a pseudo-remake of the classic film Yojimbo, a Fistful of Dollars earned its place in film history by introducing audiences to the Man with No Name. A stranger wanders into a town in Mexico and sees potential money in a feud between the sheriff and the Rojo brothers. Of course things get out of control and the stranger has to fight his way out. As the first installment in the Dollars Trilogy it is the perfect starting point for newcomers to the genre.
4. Django: Forget about Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx, the original Django was a completely different character which often surprises modern audiences. A mysterious man toting a coffin through the desert rescues a prostitute from danger and in doing so finds himself caught between a gang of bandits from Mexico and white supremacist ex-Confederates. Anchored by actor Franco Nero in the role which made him an icon of cult film fans, Django became one of the most beloved characters in the genre.
5. The Great Silence: One of the darker films of the genre, director Sergio Corbucci intended for the Great Silence to be a statement on the recent assassinations of revolutionary figures in the 1960’s. Rather than taking place in the sweeping desert vistas as one usually sees in Westerns, the Great Silence is set in the snow covered wilderness of Utah. The hero is a man known as Silence, because as a boy his throat was cut when his family was murdered rendering him mute. Over the course of the film he seeks to bring a little bit of justice to region by battling a corrupt businessman, bounty hunters, and gangs. The ending of this picture is bound to leave viewers haunted as it subverts many traditions of the genre is nothing short of a powerful statement which sticks with the viewers long after movie ends.
6. Death Rides a Horse: Revenge is a theme the Spaghetti Westerns tackled often and few did it better than Death Rides a Horse. Starring Western icon Lee Van Cleef in his first leading role, the flick follows a young gun slinger looking to avenge his family and reluctantly joins forces with an old ex-con who is seeking the same gang. This movie earned its spot largely due to Van Cleef’s performance, always cast as the steely eyed and calculating villain he finally got to show a deeper and more emotional side to his abilities.
7. Duck You Sucker!: With one of the best movie titles in the history of film it is little wonder that fans of cult cinema have taken to this flick. The duo of an Irishman named John and a Mexican named Juan find themselves thrown together during the Mexican Revolution. Duck You Sucker! Is an absolute blast of a movie with; dynamite, machine guns, and violence aplenty.
8. My Name is Nobody: In a particularly memorable Spaghetti Western, Henry Fonda plays the aging Jack Beauregard who learns of a stash of gold from a dying friend. He looks to make one final score and is forced to join with a man known as “Nobody”. Nobody fills in Beauregard on the details of the treasure and the biggest obstacle they have in their way, a massive gang known as the Wild Bunch. As a later installment in the genre it took on a more tongue-in-cheek tone than many of the other Spaghetti Westerns and it works very well with this picture.
9. The Big Gundown: Genre mast Sergio Leone reteams with frequent collaborator Lee Van Cleef in one of the most critically acclaimed films of the Spaghetti Western ilk. Van Cleef plays a renowned bounty hunter who is contemplating retirement and a possible run in politics. But before he can he is hired by a wealthy railroad tycoon to bring in one final fugitive. Unfortunately this last hunt is against a criminal genius who proves to be his greatest challenge yet. Soon not only does Van Cleef have to deal with hunting this criminal but also dealing with a rival bounty hunter The Baron who is also on the trail.
10. The Mercenary: Starring genre icon Franco Nero, a mercenary attends a circus show and realizes one of the clowns performing is Paco, the man who had betrayed him six months before. This leads to his past catching up to him and the mercenary is forced to team up with Paco once again.
Maybe it was just because I had seen A Fistful of Dollars (And Yojimbo) before it, but I wasn’t crazy about Django.