Spaghetti WesternsOne of the most interesting genres within Western films is the Spaghetti Western. These films were made starting around 1960, and were filmed in Italy using Italian and sometimes American actors. The producers used the particular regions of Italy that were visually similar to the locations used by such filmmakers as Ford, Hawks, and Mann. Unlike the typical classical western, the films that were made in Italy offered a rougher, more pessimistic view of mankind and were often populated by anti-heroes.
These films were made on a much smaller budget than the American films that they emulated. Though they often used Italian actors, there were many that employed American actors. Some of these were actors that had been in TV Westerns, or had small parts in films. Chief among these actors was Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood had been an actor in televised western serials, but his breakout performance came as The Man with No Name for director Sergio Leone. He stared in a trilogy of films (A Fist Full of Dollars; For A Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) that have become synonymous with Spaghetti Westerns. These films exemplify the thematic concerns and the visual style that was shaped during the period when Italy was making this style of western.
The primary difference between the classical American Western and the Italian Spaghetti Western is in mood and tone. They are darker films that are inhabited by men who are either criminal, or have a past of dubious origin. The filmmakers during this period were looking to turn the conventional narrative upside down. Take for instance Once Upon A Time In The West (Leone, 1968). In this film the iconic America actor Henry Fonda was cast as the ruthless villain. Fonda was known in American westerns for playing Wyatt Earp and many other noble men; therefore it was a huge shock to use cast him against type in such a manner.
The chief storyline of wars with Native Americans, which dominated much of the American Western prior to 1960, was not common in the Spaghetti Westerns. Instead, the filmmakers preferred either to substitute Mexican border conflicts or else to focus on plots of greed and revenge, which became the dominant plotline.
Towards the end of the 1960’s the production of these films began to taper off. The demand for Westerns was beginning to wane and the actors and filmmakers moved on to other genres. Leone, for instance, went on and made Once Upon A Time in America (1984) which was a mob film set in New York in the early twentieth century.