Man with No Name Trilogy
Since American audiences were among the very first in the world to embrace motion pictures as a major form of entertainment it was only natural that most film genres got their start here. That doesn’t mean that they remained an American construct for long. Most have found their way to the four corners of the world embraced by virtually every conceivable culture. One of the first genres to take on a new nationalistic flavor was one that was in many ways the most identified with the United States, the western. Other counties have maintained thriving cattle ranching but there has always been something about the Old American West that firmly placed it on our shores. That is until the mid sixties when Italian film maker Sergio Leone introduced the world to a new genre that would quickly become known as the ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. As with most genres transplant to foreign soil it took the elements of the distinctively American Western and blended in a look and feel unique to this new approach to this new genre. There is something that goes a little deeper with transplanted genres such as this. It offers us here in the States a bit of insight as to how our culture is viewed in different societies. Some regard Spaghetti Westerns as a cheap knock off but that is not fair to the film makers that strove to create something new in the movies. the most popular films in this type of movie has become known as the ‘Dollars trilogy’ consisting of ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a Few Dollars More’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. While they have been available on video tape and DVD for quite some time MGM has now come up with all three in a Blu-ray box set. Even if you have a previous version of any or all of these films it is well worth the investment in this high definition edition.
Sergio Leone wrote and directed these three films altering the cinematic landscape in the process. This not only affected how westerns would be made and perceived but many of the stylistic innovations would branch out to influence an entire generation of film makers across the entire spectrum of the art form. Leone did have an excellent background to make such an artistic leap. Much of his early work was in the sword and sandal variety providing a venue for plenty of blood soaked action. He was one of the primary influences in the career of Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriquez. He would become known for his juxtaposition of extreme close-ups with broad vista shots pulling the setting in as an active participant in the story. One on Leone’s most significant contributions to film making is hoe he moved away from the disinfected image of the west that was fostered by the clean cut cowboys exemplified by American icons such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Matt Dillon. The American West was characterized by unkempt men with a predilection towards extreme acts of violence and cruelty. There were not the clean cut cowboys made popular in the fifties singing to their horses and tipping their hats to the ladies. Leone brought gritty realism to the western changing the expectations of the fans forever.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Clint Eastward had already made a mark in the Western genre with his role as cattle drover Rowdy Yates in the popular television series ‘Rawhide’. Donning a dirty poncho and chomping on a short cigar butt he created the rough persona of the ‘Man with No Name’. He blows into a small border town where he discovers that there is an ongoing feud between the two families viding for control of the town. The Rojo brothers, consist of Don Miguel (Antonio Prieto), the older and more authoritative, the strong willed Esteban (Sieghardt Rupp) and the calculating Ramón (Gian Maria Volontè) are sworn enemies to Sheriff John Baxter (Wolfgang) and his family. The stranger doesn’t want to bring peace and security to the town; he has the far less noble idea of playing one side against the other in order to make a quick score. His opportunity comes when he witnesses the Rojo gang waylaying a military gold convoy dressed as American cow boys. This was one on the first ‘anti-hero’ movies with Eastward blending gangster, thug and gunslinger into a man that is more an anonymous forces that person. For once it was impossible to define a character in absolute terms; good guys with white hats or villains in black. Everything that Leone depicts is morally ambiguous shades of dingy grey.
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
As usual the incredible success of the first movie makes a sequel inevitable. In this film another western stereotype is taken on, the bounty hunter. Here one such bounty hunter, Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), doesn’t give much thought to the legality of the methods he employs to collect the $1,000 bounty Calloway (José Terrón) shooting him down from a fairly unusual distance. The body is barely cold when Mortimer sets his sights on Red "Baby" Cavanagh (José Marco carrying a $2,000 price on his head. Mortimer is not the only one gunning for Cavanagh; the Man with no Name (Eastwood) gets to him first. Eventually the two have to team up to bring down the heinous murderer "El Indio" (Gian Maria Volontè). For Mortimer the chase is personal, the criminal raped his sister. This film contains something not often seen in any western, a hunchback, played by famed horror film actor Klaus Kinski.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Bandit Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez (Eli Wallach), is the ‘Ugly’ on the run after shoot his way past three determined bounty hunter killing two of them in the process. The ‘Bad’ is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) roughly interrogates a former soldier to obtain the location of a horde of Confederate gold setting out to retrieve it. Finally the bad is the man with no name here referred to as ‘Blondie’ is the ‘Good’ if only in terms relative to the other two. With plenty of action to go around Leone gives the audiences on of film’s most famous ‘Mexican standoff’ as the three find themselves facing each other.
The Blu-ray version is the best I have ever seen or heard these movies presented. All three films have been meticulously restored providing a brilliant video and audio that makes the famous sound track amazing.