It snowed here last weekend and so I found myself without plans and with a little pile of unwatched DVDs: time for an indulgent weekend of watching Westerns. Here is a little review of the seven(!) movies I watched:
A Fistful of Dollars
Clint Eastwood playing the classic western trope of a stranger in town. It an interesting movie in that it is, at least among the main characters, completely devoid of good guys. There are not even good guys that have bad sides to them. They’re all bad, even Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. The Rojos and Baxters are the Bad Guys battling it out for the town, but the Man With No Name is a Bad Guy who’s just so much more deviously bad than the other Bad Guys that he’s cool.
The Tall T
I didn’t want the whole weekend to be Spaghetti Westerns so I picked a couple of old Hollywood Westerns to mix it up. This one from 1957 is based on an Elmore Leonard story and has every cliché in the book. We meet a friendly family family in the opening sequence with a cute kid who asks the Good Guy to get him some candy from town. We know he’ll never get to eat that candy. The Good Guy is so good that he lets the Bad Guy get away rather than shoot him in the back. And of course he gets the girl.
This was a great antidote to the saccharine Hollywood Western. Lee Van Cleef plays a cowboy so exaggerated in his ability that he is able to shoot huge distances with pinpoint accuracy with a tiny derringer. Tongue-in-cheek, it has a lot in common with its contemporary Bond movies. In fact the Bad Guy, Stengel, really wouldn’t have been out of place as a Bond villain. It’s comic-book superhero stuff as Sabata and his little gang of misfits fight off a never-ending supply of henchmen. Great theme music too.
For A Few Dollars More
Oh, look, it’s Lee Van Cleef again. This time he’s a bounty hunter, teaming up with Clint Eastwood who is donning the same dirty poncho he wore in a Fistful Of Dollars (but not, apparently, playing the same character). A bit cleverer than the mayhem of Fistful Of Dollars, it’s a more entertaining movie because of it. The final scene as Clint Eastwood’s character struggles with his adding up is delightful.
Hollywood again. Joan Collins and Gregory Peck play the Good Guys in this one. Hang on, who’s that about to be hanged? Why, if it isn’t a young Lee Van Cleef. He gets everywhere. A dogged and deadly chase of the Bad Guys by the Good Guy is a bit too much for a 1958 Hollywood movie to handle so it ends in remorse and self-loathing and some incongruous church scenes. It feels like a good movie butchered into having a certain type of ending. It’s easy to see why Sergio Leone and Co. got frustrated by this rose-tinted view of the cowboy and wanted to make a more honest and brutal kind of film about the West.
Duck, You Sucker
The contrast with The Bravados is a bit stark. The opening sequence is Rod Steiger’s character taking a piss. Not exactly Hollywood! But then this 1971 Sergio Leone film isn’t really a Western in the normal form. It is set in Mexico in 1913 so we have a few trucks and motorcycles as well as the usual horses and pistols. And there’s lots of dynamite, which probably explains why it was renamed A Fistful of Dynamite. Personally I love the original title, it’s more in keeping with the spirit of the film which is something like Mad Max meets the Mexican Revolution.
It comes as no surprise, watching this film, to know that Quentin Tarrantino is a great fan of the Spaghetti Western. This film could easy be mistaken for an early Tarrantino, especially the way that it juxtaposes a crazy caper storyline with some jaw-dropping brutality. This was probably my favourite film of the weekend.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Saving the best until last. Lee Van Cleef again. And that dirty poncho again. Another level of cleverness over For a Few Dollars More and the music and direction make it a classic. It’s the best movie of the set, but as I’ve seen it before I wasn’t able to come at it with the freshness of the others. I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever seen it once before, but so many of the scenes are etched in my memory – testament to what a great piece of cinema that it is.
Still unwatched (because they didn’t arrive in time through the snow) I have The Mercenary and A Bullet For The General and The Great Silence in my stack of Spaghetti Western DVDs. That’s not quite enough for a another full weekend of being snowed in. Any suggestions of what else I might watch?