Here is the beginning of the Spaghetti Western genre and Sergio Leone’s (The Good, Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West) film was also a launching pad for the career of Clint Eastwood. Perfect casting happened when Eastwood was picked to play the steely eyed, man of few words mercenary who arrives in a border town at an interesting time.
A mercenary named Joe (Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) arrives in a dusty border town at a time when two rival gangs of smugglers are running rampant. They are taking advantage and controlling through fear of the citizens of the town. The citizens are poor and cannot really do anything about the gangs – the Rojos and Baxters. It is really a town being torn apart.
In order to get some leverage against the gangs, Joe decides to play them against each other. In doing so he knows that there is plenty of money to be made.
Being labelled as a Spaghetti Western was originally meant to be a put down. In the mid-1960s, when this film was released, the Leone/Eastwood film was the granddaddy of the genre. What Italian directors did was make films that portrayed the American West in a realistic rather than glamourizing way. Lots of people like the grittiness.
Unlike many Westerns the script is paid attention to. Though in the film Eastwood’s Joe does not talk very much when he does it is usually witty and funny. Some great lines in this film, so pay attention! Though the dialogue is good there is a real simplicity to the story. It really is more about the atmosphere that Leone has created and maintains throughout. He does this by thinking of every little thing.
Attention to detail is what Leone’s films are all about and this is no exception. Every little detail has been thought of here. Things like the score/sound (who doesn‘t recognize the whistling?), a look on a character’s face, the amount of dirt on clothes, and Eastwood’s sweat-stained serape all contribute to the tone of the film. And together the ton of little things add to making this a very natural yet stylized film. Leone has you in the palm of his hand from Eastwood’s first ride into the town.
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