Ponchos, dastardly bad guys, long buildups punctuated by explosions of graphic violence, all set against a backdrop of bad dubbing and the American West. They’re called spaghetti westerns, and for all their flaws and cultural obstacles, they remain some of the greatest films ever made. If you haven’t been introduced to this genre, correct that immediately. Start with something palatable like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Then, move on to these five masterpieces.
Sergio Corbucci directed this film about a lone hero of the west named Django (Franco Nero). He’s a coffin-hauling gunslinger caught between the KKK and a gang of Mexican bandits. Django has the same stony silence of most spaghetti western heroes, but one thing that sets him apart is the firepower he’s carrying inside his dead man’s box. Awesome, fast-paced fun, Django inspired QT’s 2012 film and ranks as his No. 3 favorite of the genre.
4. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Most Clint Eastwood fans will crucify me for not putting this at No. 1, but the truth is, director Sergio Leone had some big shoes to fill with The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly — his own. While it’s a solid western and one of my favorite movies ever made, it feels like too much of a production to be ahead of the other three films ahead of it (including two of Leone’s own). It’s a very stylish film, which I love, and Ennio Morricone’s score is breathtaking. Even so, it falls just short of…
3. The Great Silence
The Great Silence (another from director Sergio Corbucci) is as unconventional as movies get. The hero, Silence (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant), is a mute gunslinger, who decides he’ll take on a gang of ruthless bounty killers, led by Loco (Klaus Kinski) with some surprising results. While we won’t give any more away than that, we will say this: they don’t make movies like The Great Silence anymore. Few could handle it.
2. Once Upon A Time In The West
Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda lead an impressive international cast in director Leone’s follow-up to The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. The results are stellar. Bronson is the rough-around-the-edges good guy. Fonda is a blue-eyed killing machine. Leone’s camera does so much with so little, from the slow-burn opening to the edge-of-seat showdown that closes the film. It’s an amazing film and would be an easy No. 1 if not for…
1. For A Few Dollars More
Leone’s skills as a director were nowhere more influential than in this film about two men after the same bad guy — one for the money, the other for deeply personal reasons. The villain here is one of the most ruthless of the genre. As an example, he kills one man in cold blood, but not before making the victim watch as his wife and child are slaughtered. The players in the final showdown are somewhat unexpected, and the story is so gripping, you almost forget Clint Eastwood is the main star. Unbelievably good film — not only is it one of the best spaghetti westerns, it’s one of the best films ever.
Do you frequent the spaghetti western genre? What are your favorite films?