Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns book review

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Review of Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns by Howard Hughes, 2004, I.B. Tauris, 266 pages


The task of deciding which Spaghetti Westerns to discuss can be a nerve wracking one with over 500 films to choose from in a fourteen year span (1963-1977). Thankfully, Howard Hughes (no not that one - he was the aviation obsessed billionaire) decided to discuss in detail twenty of the most influential films in his book,"Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns". While this may appear to gloss over the genre and omit plenty of the lesser known movies, Hughes incorporates them where appropriate.

In the section on Carlo Lizzani's The Hills Run Red, Hughes adds:

"Lizzani's other western was Requiescent (1967 - also called Kill And Pray and Let Them Rest). Here the pace, sentiment, and humour (sic) of Hills was gone, to be replaced with political philosophizing;..."

This approach worked nicely in this setting (I have yet to watch my copy of Kill and Pray). There was also some good background info on the genre (yes, there were westerns produced in Europe before Sergio Leone) with some mention of the Winnetou movies (a West German produced series) and Savage Guns (UK/Spanish production featuring US actors). From there, Hughes goes and tackles what would be the turning point in the genre: Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, which made a household name out of it's star and eventually its director and music composer. From there, Hughes goes and tackles the big guns in the genre giving excellent commentary on pre and post-production histories.

What did strike this reviewer as odd was the omission of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. Being that is now considered one of the all time greats, it is hard to imagine a book on Spaghetti westerns to not have a section on it. But conversely, there have been several books written on Leone and his movies that rehashing all of them here would be overkill.

Thankfully, the same cannot be said about the works of the other two "Sergios" - Corbucci and Sollima. Sergio Corbucci gets more of his work discussed than Leone (five versus three). The three of them together account for half of the book (Sollima got the other two). Corbucci is given the lion's share and exposure while being virtually unknown to so many people outside of the genre (well, Quentin Tarantino knew about him - re-watch Reservoir Dogs after watching Django).

The book also focuses on the big- named actors with Lee Van Cleef and Franco Nero getting their just desserts. Where would we be without them, honestly? I would have loved some discussion on a movie starring Gianni Garko or George Hilton but that's not a major beef of mine. The Hills Run Redand Django Kill...If You Live Shoot! (I still do not see the big to-do about Django Kill as I am not the huge Tomas Milian fan that many people are). But at least Hughes makes the discussion likely enough to not be bored with a movie such as this one.

by BJ

This article is part of the A Fistful of Pasta archive

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