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The Top 10 Spaghetti Westerns of the 60’s

By Conor Walsh · February 10, 2015

Spaghetti Westerns, so called for their almost entirely Italian film crews and for the more often than not Italian/European locations, are imprinted in cult film culture. I admit, I get extremely jealous when I think about how exciting it must have been to watch Spaghetti Westerns back in the day. Even now in a world with CGI and choppy fight scenes, the visuals are still breathtaking, the fight sequences are still thrilling, the stories range from tragic and Shakespearean to stylish and cultist, and the viewer still can’t help but sit on the edge of their seat in awe of what they are watching. From the stern faced charm of the heroes and their out of sync speech, the beautiful scores from legends like Ennio Morricone, Riz Ortolani and Luis Bacalov, to the unbelievable sets and breathtaking landscapes, Spaghetti Westerns are an inspiration and a treat to all who indulge.

Others definitely worth watching (The Big GundownTexas, AdiosSabataA Bullet For The GeneralAce HighFace To FaceCemetery Without Crosses – God Forgives, I Don’tThe HellbendersIf You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death)

 

10. Death Rides a Horse (1967)

Giulio Petroni’s revenge Western sees a gang of outlaws storm the Meceita family ranch. Inside, they kill the man of the house and his wife and daughter. A little boy hides and watches his family die, keeping a close eye on those responsible. The house goes up in flames, but one of the outlaws spots the boy and saves his life before riding off with his gang. The boy, Bill Meceita (John Phillip Law), trains himself in the art of gun fighting and grows up with a terrible thirst for revenge. However, he has no leads as to where he can find the men who killed his family. That is until Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) walks into town, fresh out of a 15-year jail sentence. He and Bill realize their enemies are the same, but their intentions are different.

It’s always great fun watching Lee Van Cleef reign pain on his enemies; and although it’s not his greatest film, his performance is still a joy to behold as he puts the fear of God into those that had him put away.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMNBMTLYeGs]

 

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9.Navajo Joe (1966)

After Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his gang massacre the people of his tribe and his family, Navajo Joe (Burt Reynolds) will do whatever it takes to get his revenge. Unable to shake him off, Duncan and his crew resume their usual skullduggery. But Navajo Joe won’t let them have any moment’s peace till they’re dead.

A whole lot of fun, Corbucci’s Navajo Joe is sure to have you chuckle and cheer throughout. The best thing about it is definitely Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, but make no mistake, the film itself is worthy of its cult reputation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGcK_qyL9Ug]

 

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8. The Mercenary (1968)

Paco (Tony Musante), a young Mexican miner, forms a revolution amongst his colleagues and plans to expand throughout the country. However, he doesn’t know how to lead his people into battle with the rich and powerful. Enter the Polak (Franco Nero), a stylish gun for hire who bumps into Paco and his disciples on a job. Paco hires the Polak to teach him how to start a true revolution, but they gain a mutual enemy in Curly (Jack Palance), a wealthy crook and gambler who joins the government troops in the search for the rebels, as their cause grows stronger.

A brilliant romp through Mexico and the story of a revolution, Corbucci’s The Mercenary differs greatly from his others on the list. It’s funny and light in comparison, but what a journey it is. It’s a well written story which is interestingly shot at times, with eccentric and full of life characters, from the Calvin Candie like Curly, to Paco’s tough revolutionary wife Columba (Giovanna Ralli). For me, this is Corbucci’s equivalent to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbvUrq72T74]

 

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7. Day Of Anger (1967)

Scott is an outcast in a corrupt town, bullied by all but the stableman and treated as a slave. A gunman by the name of Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town and treats Scott with respect, causing many of the locals to feel uneasy. At the request of the young outcast, Talby teaches him the ways of the West through the eyes of a gunfighter, until Scott himself becomes the master of those who once troubled him. But there’s a difference between being feared, as Talby is, and respected, as Scott wants to be.

Lee Van Cleef is outstanding in this film. He acts almost as a guide not only to Scott, but also to us as viewers; how to survive in the West. The script is one of the best in the genre in terms of dialogue, and it probably boasts one of the most original and exciting duels in the genre as well, between Lee Van Cleef and a hired assassin as they ride toward each other joust-like on horseback.

A great film with a well-developed story that will have inspired a lot of filmmakers today.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UX6KMJd7Sw]

 

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6. Django (1966)

Not his masterpiece, but it’s undeniably a cult classic and probably his most recognized today. Corbucci’s Django is a drifter carrying only the clothes on his back, and a coffin behind him. He walks into a town caught up in a feud between the red-ragged KKK and some bawdy Mexican bandits, and of course a man dragging a coffin behind him catches the attention of both factions. Perhaps they’d all be better minding their own business.

An obvious source of influence for QT’s homage to the genre, Django Unchained (2012), with Franco Nero getting a brief and funny cameo, the original Django is almost as bloody as QT’s. The film being a cult success, Corbucci went of to make an official sequel in 1987. However, there are countless unofficial sequels to this movie if you want a good laugh and some late night movie material. None, however, can come close to the surreal brilliance of the original.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8Ge2hmSTbo]

 

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5. The Great Silence (1968)

It’s hard to put Corbucci’s best in order of greatness, but here it goes.

A mute they call Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) roams the West killing every bounty hunter in his sight. As a child his parents were promised fair trial for the crimes they committed, but were murdered in their home by bounty hunters. Silence avenges the common peoples’ wrongs, ‘and the bounty hunters sure do tremble when he appears.’ All except for Loco (Klaus Kinski), who won’t be falling for any tricks Silence has up his sleeves.

Sergio Corbucci’s Western in the snow is his masterpiece in terms of its visual aesthetic, that’s for sure. It’s beautifully shot and extremely engaging. Klaus Kinski, a man born with villainous looks I’m sure all will agree, is especially good as the bloodthirsty Loco and steals the show throughout. But Jean-Louis achieves something great in his turn as Silence, and that’s to have the audience root for him despite the fact he doesn’t say a word. A true Western hero.

Overall, It’s an interesting take on the revenge genre, in that Silence is not seeking to kill those who directly wronged he and his family. Instead he is going after all who practice their trade of bounty hunting. Kind of like the Batman of the West in a way. Seeking justice more than plotting revenge.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VMhLqSTvy0]

 

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4. For a Few Dollars More (1965)

After his escape from prison, a bounty is out on infamous outlaw Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) for $10,000, ‘Dead or Alive.’ Two bounty hunters, Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) and Manco (Clint Eastwood), partner up to kill Indio and his gang, but one of them wants it for more than just the money.

An ensemble cast in terms of familiar faces from the first of the Dollars Trilogy, this second installment is just as clever and Shakespearean as the rest. The mystery behind the characters, something extremely prevalent throughout the genre itself, is so effective in building tension and ironically reveals more about who these characters really are and the times they live in. Indio is a particularly complicated character; a villain who seems emotionally effected by the deaths he has caused, but at the same time drawn to the by some murderous lust within him.

Like the other two of the trilogy, this is a real winner from script to screen.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDRNEwFOttw]

 

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3. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964)

The first in the Dollars Trilogy sees a dangerous drifter ride through a deserted town on his travels. The owner of the town saloon tells him of the two warring families who own this town and run its people with fear, the Baxters and the Rojos. The intelligent Americano drifter sees that there’s money to be made in this town, by playing the rival families off of each other.

Clint Eastwood blesses the world with his presence for the first time in a Spaghetti Western, as one his many turns as a mystery man of the West. Sporting his famous poncho and biting his cigar, there’s no questioning how he became the cult and mainstream star that he is. His charm on screen is crystal clear in this intelligent narrative, as is Sergio Leone’s filmmaking talent.

Despite the obvious similarities between Fistful and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), Leone’s film set a precedent for all further Spaghetti Westerns, whether they came out of Europe or elsewhere.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X2DtiE7VLw]

 

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2. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Frank (Henry Fonda), a mean old outlaw with bigger ambitions, murders McBain and his entire family to free up land for Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti), a rich businessman developing the railroads. He makes the murder look like the work of Cheyenne (Jason Robards), a pretty quirky and friendly outlaw by all accounts, and his gang of bandits. However, this plan turns sour when Mrs. McBain (Claudia Cardinale), the young newlywed and ex-whore from New Orleans, shows up and claims the land for herself. As if that wasn’t enough of a problem for Frank, Charlie Bronson’s man with no name shows up to haunt him, and teams up with Cheyenne to protect the young Mrs. McBain and her land.

Once again Sergio Leone produces a beautifully shot movie with an epic and intricate plotline. The music by Ennio Maricone is spot on as always, with every character being given their own theme tune of sorts. Bronson’s harmonica tune is by far the most recognized I would assume.

It feels to me a bit like Far from the Madding Crowd for the American West. It’s novelistic and it’s definitely a more serious turn for Leone, in the sense that it’s not as fun as his previous Dollars trilogy. That’s not to say there aren’t some funny moments, but it has more substance to it than most Spaghetti Westerns. It’s the start of the American Frontier, and the start of the end of an era for gunfighters and drifters. The start of civilization.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNGQ1hUyx-k]

 

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1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

A mexican bandit and a bounty hunter team up in a bounty hunting scam in which Blondie (Clint Eastwood), The Good, turns Tuco (Eli Wallach), the Ugly, into the authorities, collects the bounty, then helps him escape. The partnership enters shaky grounds for a while, until they learn some hidden Confederate gold in Sad Hill Cemetery. However, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), the Bad, has his eyes on that gold as well, and it won’t be so easy to find it before he does.

Definitely the greatest achievement by any director in this era, and one of the greatest achievements in film of all time, Sergio Leone’s epic completes his Dollars Trilogy. If there’s one film that proves Sergio Leone’s powers of innovation in writing and directing film, not only of this genre but in general, it’d be this one. It solidified Leone’s status on the throne, and Once Upon a Time In The West (1968) ensured the crown sat firm on top of his head.

Normally when a film is considered the best of its genre it’s not hard to find a good few others that have been underrated and forgotten about due to the large shadow ‘the best’ has cast over them. However, in the case of Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and especially the final of the three, you’d reach a dead end trying to find something as ambitious and entertaining at epic proportions back then. With Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and the go to Mexican bandit of the time Eli Wallach, you cannot go wrong.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCN5JJY_wiA]

 

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