A dusty, indistinct rider enters the small desert town. At the end of the main street, three seedy-looking men block the rider’s passage. Eye contact is established; tension builds. The rider gets off his horse, stands facing the trio, and sweeps back his poncho revealing his six-shooter. The men stand erect and ready. Suddenly, shots are fired. For just a second, nobody moves. Then, the three men crumple to the ground, dead. The rider, unharmed, shoulders his shooter.
This scene is one of many classic, cliched situations repeated from the first American westerns in the 1930s and 1940s up until today. In the early to mid-1960s, the Europeans, especially the Italians, showed a tremendous affinity for the American West and began to emulate westerns, putting their own spin on the genre. Italian directors such as Sergio Leone (“A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” among others) and Sergio Corbucci (“Django”) created an international sensation.
These Italian adaptations came to be called “spaghetti westerns” and were filmed largely in Almeria in southern Spain with mostly Italian actors and directors with the local population used as film personnel and extras in the movies. The heyday of spaghetti westerns reigned for about 15 years – 1963 or 1964 to about 1978 – and produced over 500 movies. Only about 50 or 60 are really worth the serious movie buff or collector’s time. The rest are victims of cheap sets, tawdry subject matter, and bad dubbing. Thomas Weisser’s Spaghetti Westerns: The Good, The Bad and the Violent… is probably the definitive guide to the genre. Weisser presents hundreds of spaghetti westerns with useful information on year of issue, casts, and interesting blurbs about each movie. Another work, Once Upon a Time in the Italian West… , provides in-depth analysis of the genre with emphasis on certain seminal movies.