From The Spaghetti Western Database
Sure, there were Eurowesterns before Leone but these mostly were carbon copies of the standard Hollywood B-western. That is before Leone came. But he didn't just make westerns from only his mind, he was also greatly influenced by a few American westerns of the fifties. Those are....
A man is chased by his foster brothers for murder in self defence. The man's foster sister marries him with plans to kill him but soon falls in love with him.
This film is often cited as the first "adult" western. Meaning it is more mature and uninteresting to kids. It is also called the first noir western. It is famous for its great, experitmental, noirlike camera work. Also famous for having strong Fruedian overtones. Similar to Massacre Time. Luci Fulci cited this as somewhat as an influence for his film Massacre Time. It has mystery similar to MT and has highly visual night scenes. Also famous for having extreme close ups on actors faces to show emotional intensity similar to Leone and Robert Hossein's Cemetery Without Crosses.
Martin Scorsese paid for the film's DVD release. He recognized a brilliant yet forgotten film that needed to be revived.
Vera Cruz (1954)
Two American ex-patriots, working as mercenaries in French ruled Mexico, team up to escort a beautiful French countess to the port of Vera Cruz. These two, with their gang, have been hired by Maximillian to do this. But soon, the two discover that the coach escorting the countess holds more than just herself. It is full of gold. From then on, there are countless double crosses and killings.
Sergio Leone himself has cited this film as one of his main influences. Its main characters are not standard Hollywood heroes. There is some bad in them. Shades of grey. There is also the inclusion of the anti-hero's unrealistic gun abilities. While riding on horseback, Gary Cooper is able to shoot the gun out of the hand of one of his pursuers. Burt Lancaster is able to shoot two men even when shooting "backwards". This is obviously similar to the skills of the Man With No Name. There is the double crosses referenced in For a Few Dollars More as well as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Finally, there is the strange inclusion of black humour and violence. Lancaster grins with satifaction after thrusting a lance through his enemies throat. Also, the noted backward shooting. Another attribute to Lancaster's anti-hero image is his violence toward the countess. He slaps her quite often.
Because of the cynicism and violence within this film, it was not favored by American critics. They called it a noisy and violent piece of filth. However, the French critics put it near the top of their favorite American westerns list. An undoubted precursor to the Ialian Western.
Johnny Guitar (1954)
A saloon hostess harbors an outlaw in her saloon. Her old flame, Johnny Guitar, comes to town and they rekindle their romance. However, the outlaw she was harboring robs a bank and the hostess is blamed and her saloon burned. She escapes with Johnny and they eventually face the town's posse in a gun battle.
The main influence this film had was excess or strangeness. Not strange as in drug influenced but as in not normal. It was apparently meant to not be so mainstream. Called a hallucinatory western that owes a lot to Sigmund Freud. Also, an anti McCarthy western written by a soon to be blacklisted writer, Philip Yordan. It is different in its use of sexual symbolism and women gunfighters. Not something usually seen in a normal western. More suited to a spaghetti western. Filled with haunting imagery and symbolism possibly similar to Cemetery Without Crosses. Maybe not a direct influence to Leone himself but has Euro aspects to it. This film was the French critics favorite American western.
Forty Guns (1957)
A powerful ranchess rides through the territory with her forty hired guns. They all wear dusters and eat at a table long enough to seat them all. She gets into trouble with a marshal after she harbors her outlaw brother from the law.
Famous for an outstanding amount of sexual innuendo from the feeling of pistols to cleaning of guns. Filmed in an unheard of ten days. The forty guns of the title have often been claimed as the influence for the wild bunch in My Name Is Nobody. Dusters and all. Not to mention the code breaking aspect of the innuendo. Spaghettis also never followed the rules and were more than often cut to pieces by US distributors. Although this film may not be as much an influence, it has influenced some.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
A black clad gunfighter recruits seven hired guns to defend a small Mexican village from a large gang of Mexican Bandidos.
This film shows a large influence on the spaghetti westerns. Mainly for its violence. Also for its simplicity. But mainly, for plot. The very plot of this film has influenced several spaghetti westerns. Today We Kill...Tomorrow We Die, Five Man Army, Yankee etc. The Mexican setting is reportedly influenced by Vera Cruz. So the setting of these two films have influenced Leone, Corbucci, Sollima, and Baldi. A strong influence on the spaghetti westerns which were to appear later in the decade.
The Singer Not the Song (1961)
A priest and a leather clad gunfighter quarrel over the control of a samll village in 1930's Mexico.
This, along with Raoul Walsh's Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, was among the first westerns to be shot in Spain. It was made by a British company and Spain was cheaper to shoot in than Mexico. Again, it was the excess that made this influential. It is set in the 1930's for one. It also famously explores themes of homosexual attraction also explored in Django, Kill. Also bringing in the religious aspects. The battle between religon and sinners and the sinner's unacceptance of god. This is called by some to be one of the most unusual westerns. Slow moving with a strong focus on psychological battles instead of gunbattles.
Although the Spaghetti Westerns had a totally different feel than the films listed above, there is no denying that these films had an influence on the spaghetti westerns. I would suggest that we spaghetti western fans should at least examine these films to dissect the influences they had on the Italian Western.