As much as I love westerns, it’s important to note that the genre routinely mythologizes the colonialist history of the American West, glorifies Manifest Destiny, and systemically erases and misrepresents indigenous Americans. (For more on this, please watch the excellent 2009 documentary Reel Injun.)
That said, I don’t know why Italians decided to start making westerns in the 1960s, but the resulting subgenre is a bizarre caricature of a caricature—like Russian nesting dolls building increasingly falsified (but undeniably gripping) narratives off of each other. This weekend, the Hollywood Theatre is screening all three films in the Man with No Name Trilogy, from famed spaghetti western director Sergio Leone: 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, 1965’s For a Few Dollars More, and 1966’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. All are scored by the great Ennio Morricone, and all dubbed into English.
Though Leone’s films address many of the same issues as American westerns, their complex drama feels relevant in any time or place: A Fistful of Dollars (which ripped off Yojimbo, Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai masterpiece) centers on greed and family rivalry. The core of For a Few Dollars More is its villain, the musical pocketwatch-toting gang leader Indio (Gian Maria Volontè), whose psychopathy seems like it could be the inspiration for Blue Velvet’s similarly childlike and volatile Frank Booth. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly toys with the subjectivity of morality against the backdrop of the American Civil War.
Throughout all three films, Clint Eastwood’s iconic Man with No Name is quietly cunning, constantly sunburned, chain-smoking cigarillos, lightning-quick with his equalizer (which he hides under a sweet-ass poncho), and committed to his own (often convoluted) sense of justice. Eastwood’s stoic and vengeful gunfighter probably wasn’t the best role model for young men—feel your feelings, my dudes—but more than 50 years later, the mystery shrouding his character still captivates.