Born in Rome on January 3, 1929, Sergio Leone is an Italian film director, producer, and writer whose name has become synonymous with that peculiar sub-genre of movies known as Spaghetti Westerns. His trio of films released during the sixties, known as the Dollars Trilogy, were not the first of the type but certainly defined it: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are the top of the heap of the more than 600 Spaghetti Westerns and are consistently listed among the best rated Westerns in general.
The term Spaghetti Western was coined by critics, particularly in the U.S., unable to accept the fact that the Old West had been co-opted by a bunch of pesky Italians, even though Americans had grown bored with its depiction. Although directed by Italians, the films were actually rather international; the actors and technical staff came from throughout Europe and the U.S. Although originally released in Italian, everything was dubbed since the actors spoke in a variety of languages and the whole enterprise had the sound of a food fight at the United Nations. A Hollywood has-been usually headed the cast, or in the case of the Dollars Trilogy, a yet to be recognized upstart such as Clint Eastwood.
Some argue that the first Spaghetti Western appeared way back in 1910 — Giacomo Puccini’s 1910 opera La fanciulla del West; the first Italian Western movie was La Vampira Indiana in 1913, a Western vampire flick, directed by Sergio Leone’s father. Throughout the following years, several movies fit the category, but it was Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars that established the Spaghetti Western standard for cinematic style, acting and evocative music. In it, an unlikely hero (bounty hunter is the favored occupation) enters a town ruled by two outlaw gangs, where ordinary social norms are non-existent. He cleverly plays the gangs against one another to fleece them of that titular fistful of dollars. His treachery is eventually exposed and he is beaten severely about the head, but he wins out in the end through his cunning and wit.
During the following years, the genre evolved (as genres will), and the Spaghetti Western legacy was transformed almost beyond recognition, giving way to overwrought action and low-brow comedy, a genre that might more appropriately be called Spaghetti-o Western.
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