10 Must-read Spaghetti Western Books - From Leone to the Genre’s Demise

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Spaghetti Western books

Name another film genre than the spaghetti western that has both such an illustrious history and that has also had such a profound impact on world cinema. It changed the way the wild west was portrayed forever. It influenced Martial Arts movies just like it did action movies of the 80s. It brought the biggest stars to fly into the dusty deserts of southern Spain, back then a military dictatorship, and that for a good decade long. Italy’s filmmakers churned out over five hundred of these films over the years until the genre hat run its course and Italy’s film industry collapsed along with it. The ascent of color television and video would dismantle Cinecitta as much as a lack of vision of the industry. The Spaghetti Western helped the hopelessly outdated Western genre of Hollywood to reinvent itself, but the Italian film industry itself failed to recover and innovate, it went kaboom. Read about how the Wild West captured the imagination of European filmmakers from the German Karl May movies to the comedy Spaghetti Westerns of the late 70s. These 10 books will help you study Spaghetti Westerns of all colors. Yes there are more than 10 books, but we believe these will give you the most profound knowledge, the rest will come from browsing the SWDb ;) Enjoy.

Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns by Kevin Grant

"Any Gun Can Play puts the phenomenon into perspective, exploring the films' wider reaches, their recurrent themes, characters, quirks and motifs. It examines Euro-Westerns in relation to their American ancestors and the mechanics of the Italian popular film industry, and spotlights the unsung actors, directors and other artists who subverted the 'code' of the Western and dragged it into the modern age. Based on years of research backed up by interviews with many of the genre's leading lights, Any Gun Can Play will satisfy both connoisseurs and the curious. Complete with a foreword by Euro-Western legend Franco Nero, this stunningly illustrated reference guide takes aim at the lingering notion that the genre has little to offer beyond the 'Dollars' films and a fistful of others, exposing the full, vibrant history of the Euro-Western. Any Gun Can Play is positioned to become the go-to source for everything any fan of Euro-Westerns could ever want to know." (Amazon)

Any Gun Can Play book

10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western by Alex Cox

"10,000 Ways To Die is, above all, an entertaining read. Cox has never been shy about voicing an opinion and this book is no exception. Shooting from the hip in true gunslinger style his critical tongue is as sharp as ever and he is far from a slavishly forgiving fan. He is equally enthusiastic whether praising or damning and this highly personal aspect of the book becomes one of its most enjoyable features. As fans, there is nothing we like better than a good argument over a film’s particular merits or faults and this book will provide plenty for everyone to agree or take umbrage with. This is all to the good and ensures that the book not only provides information but also discussion..." (continue reading)

Ways to die Alex Cox

Für ein paar Leichen mehr by Ulrich P. Bruckner

"Bruckner proves that he is an authority in the field by releasing an even better version of his encyclopedia. While it is truly not without flaws, the book is and will be for a long time, one of the prime examples of books on cinema that take their audience and their genre serious. The book is a great and entertaining read, offers great commentary on a huge number of films and is sprinkled with a truly impressive collection of picture material. There is no reason I can think of that would prevent a true fan of the genre from putting this thick paperback into their shelf, maybe next to the DVDs of all these great movies. "

Leichen mehr Ulrich Bruckner

Sergio Leone - Something to do with death by Christopher Frayling

  • "This book is of course very educational and informative. It is split into 12 chapters which delve into the most poignant and interesting periods in Il Maestro's lifetime." - Pete Roberts
  • "The reference book about Leone. This is the voluminous fruit of researching and interviewing Leone's life and work for a very long time. Once Upon A Time In Italy is Frayling's less encyclopedic and more picture orientated second use of the material. Something To Do With Death is the real deal, the other one an interesting side project." - Stanton
  • Related: Book review
  • Buy now: From Amazon.com | From Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | From Amazon.se
Leone something to do with death

Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics and Violence in Italian Cinema by Austin Fisher

"Through close readings of stylistic, ideological and narrative methodologies, Radical Frontiers demonstrates how and why Damiano Damiani, Sergio Sollima and Sergio Corbucci, in responding to international and national events, chose the Western genre as an apt vehicle for Far Left doctrine in the second half of the 1960s. By refocusing the Hollywood Western itself through the lens of Italy’s revolutionary Left in and around the events of 1968, Fisher shows how, in this new political context, the genre’s traditional focus on redemptive violence took on fresh meanings, and appealed to new audiences. As Horace Greeley did not quite say: “Go West, comrade!” "

Radical Frontiers

Spaghetti Westerns - Cowboys and Europeans. From Karl May to Sergio Leone by Christopher Frayling

"Spaghetti Westerns is the major critical exploration of the European Western. Christopher Frayling approaches the Westerns produced at Cinecitta Studios in Rome from a variety of perspectives, placing them in the Italian, social, political, industrial and cinematic contexts from which they evolved. Over 400 Spaghetti Westerns were produced during their 1960s peak period; Frayling deals with the most interesting examples, giving special attention to the films of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. (Amazon)"


Dizionario Del Western All'Italiana by Marco Giusti

The Spaghetti Western world in a single must-have volume for all film buffs. More than 800 entries with cast, credits, critical judgements and interviews with the actors, musicians, cinematographers and screenwriters that made the westerns all'italiana.

Over 700 pages of slavishly researched information compiled by critic, television writer and film maker Giusti, this is as close to a complete encyclopedia of the genre in existence. Only available in Italian sadly but still well worth owning for any true fan of European westerns keen to know as much as possible about these films. We all live in hope for an English language version one day.


Italian Western - The Opera of Violence by Laurence Staig & Tony Williams

"With 112 pages of black and white photos, and only 58 of text, you could easily think to dismiss this book. But, being published in 1975 (in Great Britain), and despite having a chapter called 'Aftermath' which talks of the genre directors moving on, we know in hindsight that the genre was not quite yet finished. This makes it a rare book, as contemporaneous with the genre as we are going to get. As with the title, it is written in two parts – Part 1 (5 chapters) deals primarily with context, history and themes, including chapters dedicated to 'The Ecstasy of Violence', 'Sergio Leone', and to 'The Political Western', and Part 2 (8 chapters) deals extensively with the integration of the music – with chapters such as 'You can be damn sure it's not Percy Faith' and 'When the chimes end... pick up your gun'. More than 50 genre films get a mention, but in such a small amount of text, some are relegated to just a passing sentence. The Leone's (of course) and 'My Name Is Nobody' (which seems to be a favourite of the authors), and others, get much more. This is a very readable and not overly academic book, that is particularly interesting for its unique discussion of the integration of music and visuals in the Italian Western... as “the opera of violence”."

  • "One of the first books written on the subject and one of the best. A terrific read without over-analysing the genre" - Fistfulofwesterns.com
  • Buy now: Amazon.com (out of print) | Amazon.co.uk
Opera of violence

Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoer's Guide to Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes

"Covering every Italian Spaghetti Western--mainly the good but also the bad and the ugly--this is an authoritative, entertaining and comprehensive companion to the implausible international fusion of producers, directors, actors and composers who created the mythical Spaghetti West under the most improbable circumstances. Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy led the field but many more major Spaghetti Westerns were made by important directors, including Sergio Corbucci's Navajo Joe, Carlo Lizzani's The Hills Run Red, Duccio Tessari's A Pistol for Ringo. Combining analysis, information and lively anecdotes, this popular guide explores all of these films through the biographies and filmographies of key personnel, stories of the films' making, their locations and sets, sources, musical scores, detailed cast information and many illustrations, including original posters and stills." (Amazon)

  • "Hughes has greatly expanded on his 'pocket essential' guide, giving in-depth discussion on twenty of the genres best entries. A welcome English language addition to the SW library. Illustrated in b+W." - Fistfulofwesterns.com
  • "Howard Hughes has written a well-researched, detailed, no-nonsense and above all enthusiastic guide to twenty of the best Italian Westerns from A Fistful of Dollars to My Name is Nobody. He has aimed for the heart, and unlike the bad guy in Fistful, he has hit it."--Christopher Frayling
  • Related reading: Howard Hughes' Top 20
  • From the same author: Spaghetti Westerns
  • Buy now: Amazon.com | Amazon.it | Amazon.co.uk
Once upon a time in the Italian west hughes

The Spaghetti Western: A Thematic Analysis by Bert Fridlund

This thematic analysis from Swedish academic Fridlund focuses on the construction of the stories presented in spaghetti westerns; examining their content using concepts borrowed from scholars studying pre-industrial narratives. Plot, the constellation of characters, their relationships to each other and their motives are studied while elements such as bounty hunters, the deprived hero, partnerships, betrayal and comedy are also probed. There is also an excellent appendix detailing the top grossing Italian westerns between 1964 and 1975. Academic in nature but very accessible and readable for anyone interested in the genre.

spaghetti westerns bert fridlund

Bonus mentions:

Once Upon a Time in Italy - The Westerns of Sergio Leone by Christopher Frayling

"Written by the preeminent Leone scholar, this is the first illustrated book to focus on his Westerns, illuminating his visual style, offbeat sense of humor, and sophisticated, elliptical way of telling stories. Augmenting the text are a wealth of visual materials, as well as interviews with Leone, Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Bernardo Bertolucci, composer Ennio Morricone, designer Carlo Simi, and others. The book accompanied an exhibition with the same title in July 2005 at the Autry National Center's Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. "

Once upon a time in italy frayling

Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes

"Spaghetti Westerns analyses the genre, from the most famous offerings - Once Upon a Time in the West and the Dollars trilogy - to offbeat fare, such as Cemetery Without Crosses and Django Kill. It charts the Spaghetti Western careers of Lee Van Cleef, Terence Hill and Klaus Kinski as they rode to international stardom. Maestro Ennio Morricone's groundbreaking Western scores are also appraised. In addition to an introduction to the genre, 34 of the best Spaghetti Westerns are analysed in detail, illustrated with rare colour posters and stills. There is also a multi-media reference section, listing essential books, websites, DVD releases and soundtracks." (Amazon)

Spaghetti westerns Howard Hughes

To continue, check out the rest in our Books corner. We also recommend you read our Introduction article. Many thanks for reading this list, do send us your feedback, subscribe to our Newsletter and follow us on the social channels. The SWDb relies on your support, so do consider a donation.

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