Spaghetti Westerns: Eastwood, Leone, Morricone Play Cowboys And Italians

By Jacob Shelton
Clint Eastwood in 'For a Few Dollars More.' Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

You may know what a "spaghetti western" is -- a western movie starring American actors (like Clint Eastwood) shot in Italy or Spain by an Italian director (like Sergio Leone). But why did spaghetti westerns come about? What was Sergio Leone doing making westerns and why did Clint Eastwood sign up for this crazy plan? 

In the early '60s, the American western was arguably played out. White hats, black hats, John Wayne, and the cookie cutter stories of big studio westerns just weren't doing it for audiences anymore. Viewers wanted something more visceral, they wanted to feel the dust from the desert in their teeth, they wanted to taste the sweat coming off the screen.

In 1964, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars gave audiences what they were looking for. Leone's film, starring a young Clint Eastwood, didn't just demystify the western, it held a mirror up to society. Leone's Dollars trilogy, Sergio Corbucci's Django, and myriad of Spaghetti Westerns from the same time reflected the moral ambiguity of the modern era while putting the aesthetics of the western into a new context.

Four years after Leone, Eastwood, and composer Ennio Morricone put their stamp on the western, the amorphous genre of the Italo-Western drifted away from what made it so popular, but in that short period of time some of the most fascinating films of the era were shot and released to an audience that was hungry for realism in their westerns. This is how a gringo and two Italians tapped into that desire and gave audiences something they'd never seen before.

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