Sergio Leone made four Westerns in the 1960s that revolutionized that well-established genre and earned these Italian productions their own nickname. Unlike the numerous “spaghetti Westerns” that followed, these films are far more than a saucy spin on Hollywood classics. Leone employed widescreen cinematography, a parched dusty palette, and unprecedented onscreen violence to effectively reframe the West. Moving beyond good-vs.-evil binaries, these four films explore the moral ambivalence behind the brutality of Leone’s mercenary characters as they navigate the killing fields of Manifest Destiny. Although set in the US, they are as influenced by the Italian experience of oppressive dictatorship and the horror, death, and destruction of World War II and its aftermath as they are by a mythical Southwest. Leone’s unshaven, sunburned killers are disillusioned archetypes motivated by survival, fear, greed, and vengeance: kindness and generosity are an afterthought in this blighted landscape where innocence is doomed or a distant memory. Replete with tableaux that resemble Goya’s etchings depicting disasters of war, Leone’s signature style owes almost as much to the deep space perspective in the paintings of Dalí and de Chirico as it does to the films of John Ford or Howard Hawks. Ennio Morricone’s innovative scores combine sound effects, unconventional instrumentation, and symphonic power to add depth and texture to Leone’s violent vistas. Although these groundbreaking films are continually excerpted, imitated, and referenced, opportunities to see them on the big screen are all too rare: now is your chance.
Kate MacKay, Associate Film Curator