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Spaghetti Western is a broad sub-genre of Western films that emerged in the mid-1960s in the wake of Sergio Leone's film-making style and international box-office success. The term was used by critics in USA and other countries because most of these Westerns were produced and directed by Italians.
It was Sergio Leone who defined the look and attitude of the genre with his first western and the two that soon were to follow:For a Few Dollars more (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Together these films are called ‘The Dollars Trilogy’. Leone’s West was a dusty wasteland of whitewashed villages, howling winds, scraggy dogs and cynical heroes, as unshaven as the villains.
All three films were scored by Ennio Morricone, and his music was as unusual as Leone’s visuals: not only did he use instruments like the trumpet, the harp or the electric guitar, he also added whistle, cracking whips and gunshots to the concoction, described by a critic as a ‘rattlesnake in a drumkit’. Morricone went on to score over 30 Italian westerns and was a key factor in the genre's success.
In general spaghetti westerns are more action oriented than their American counterparts. Dialogue is sparse and some critics have pointed out that they are constructed as operas, using the music as an illustrative ingredient of the narrative. For the time of making many spaghetti westerns were quite violent, and several of them met with censorship problems, causing them to be cut or even banned in certain markets. Many spaghetti westerns have an American-Mexican border setting and feature loud and sadistic Mexican bandits. The Civil War and its aftermath is a recurrent background. Instead of regular names the heroes often have bizarre names like Ringo, Sartana, Sabata, Johnny Oro, Arizona Colt or Django. The genre is unmistakably a catholic genre (some other names in use are Hallelujah, Cemetery, Trinity or Holy Water Joe!), with a visual style strongly influenced by the catholic iconography of, for instance, the crucifixion, the last supper or the ecce homo. The surreal extravanganza Django Kill! (Se sei vivo, spara, 1967), by Giulio Questi, former assistant of Fellini (!) has a resurrected hero who witnesses a reflection of Judgment Day in a dusty western town.