Oops, I somehow missed all these replies. ???
Wow, thanks so much for the incredibly insightful and helpful reply, scherpschutter (et al)! That's precisely the kind of info I was looking for. I'm not new to westerns, but I've never really "studied" the genre or done much research about it until recently. Your answer also helps me put my finger on the elements of SWs that I prefer to American westerns (and their figureheads, like John Wayne). The cynical, often bleak and downbeat nature of SW themes and characters just appeals to me more. I enjoy the mystery factor of the "men with no names." You're never quite sure what they'll do, why they'll do it, or who to root for, if anyone. This ambiguity appeals to me a lot more than the preachy, heavy-handed nature of so many of our films here, which tell you what to think and usually wrap things up nicely by the end, letting audiences off the hook without a challenge. Before I went on my SW-watching spree, I was on a film noir kick, and I've noticed quite a few similarities between that genre and both spaghetti and American westerns. While a lot of the protagonists fit scherpschutter's description of those from American westerns, their motivations were often greed and/or revenge. They were certainly outcasts who rarely thought much of authority figures. I think a lot of film noir characters would've fit right in with those of the SWs I've seen, given a wardrobe change and some target practice.