Best Spaghetti Westerns

Thursday, April 14 by Travis Petersen

The best spaghetti westerns, a series of westerns made by Italian directors with predominantly European casts and some American B-movie stars in the 1960's, turned the conventions of the traditional western on their ear by featuring anti-heroes instead of typical good guys in the lead. Often, in the best spaghetti westerns, the only law is violence and the anti-hero is only the figure the audience roots for because he is most compelling, not because he is good. While most of the best spaghetti westerns were directed by Sergio Leone, other directors contributed to the vast array of the best spaghetti westerns represented here.

  1. "For a Few Dollars More." The second film of the "Man With No Name" trilogy that made Clint Eastwood, its main character, into a star, is actually superior to the first film, "A Fistful of Dollars," a classic in its own right but not nearly the film "More" is. Directed by Sergio Leone, it pairs Clint's nameless, wandering gunslinger with a bounty hunter played by Lee Van Cleef as both men, for different reasons, seek to bring down a gang of Mexican bandits led by the villain of many of the best spaghetti westerns, Gian Maria Volonte. Gunplay, a classic Ennio Morricone score, and unique cinematography add up to a true classic, the best of the best spaghetti westerns.
  2. "Django." Perhaps the most surrealist of all the best spaghetti westerns is "Django," the story of the titular gunfighter, who drags his own coffin behind him as he wanders the West knowing his time will eventually come. Remarkably played by Franco Nero, Django is a truly unique anti-hero, and he fights Mexican bandits and the KKK in this spaghetti western from director Sergio Corbucci.
  3. "A Fistful of Dollars." The film that started it all, though not as good as its sequel, deserves a spot on any list of the best spaghetti westerns. Clint originated his Man With No Name persona in this homage to Akira Kurosawa's wandering samurai film, "Yojimbo." Here, the Man enters a town torn apart by warring factions, and with motivations known only to him, attempts to play all sides against the middle with bloody results. The final showdown, in which Clint reveals his secret to stopping his attacker's bullets, is a stone-cold classic.
  4. "Duck, You Sucker." The final film on our list of the best spaghetti westerns is also the silliest, an affair pairing an IRA explosives expert played by James Coburn with a Mexican bandit played by Rod Steiger. This may not be Sergio Leone's iconic films, but it is one of the best spaghetti westerns, offering dark heroes scheming with and against one another to come out ahead in a world of gunfights and explosions.