LOL at one point I made myself somewhat unwelcome at the ClintEastwood.net discussion forums (where I used to post under the unfortunate name “Squonko”) by disparaging HANG 'EM HIGH! as a misguided attempt by a Hollywood organization to ape a spaghetti western. At the time I despised it but my feelings about the film have mellowed over the years, it’s not bad it’s just sort of a bit much in spots. The music especially is so overblown & melodramatic as to sort of be parodic, though later I found an appreciation for some of the horror movie elements thrown in (the big climax showdown at the house is actually quite creepy) and any movie with The Skipper, L.Q. Jones AND Ed Begley can’t be all that bad. But the Clint Squad wasn’t too amused.
It’s actually natural to look at Clint’s post-Leone productions and think about spaghetti westerns. I’ve always felt that HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER was an effective distillation of everything that Clint learned while working in Italy, JOE KIDD and PALE RIDER also have qualities to them that are more typical of what you see in Italo westerns than Hollywood productions, even though JOE KIDD (which I think is very under-appreciated) is a John Sturgis film. I like the part in JOE KIDD where Clint cleans the guy’s clock by swinging a water jug, a sort of elaborate killing device that would have been right at home in a spaghetti. THE UNFORGIVEN also has moments that seem lifted from the spaghetti traditions, specifically the emphasis on torture/ordeal segments. Clint even seems to conjure up visions of cheap, lurid B westerns with his reminiscence upon past events, like the delirium monologue where he remembers shooting some guy and having the poor bastard’s teeth blown out of the back of his head.
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER will always be my favorite Eastwood western (though the very American OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is probably his best) and it was definitely inspired at least in part by THE STRANGER’S GUNDOWN/DJANGO THE BASTARD, with Anthony Steffen playing a spectral vision of a gunfighter from beyond the grave. He also got the soundtrack right on that one with that freaked out Dee Barton electronic/vocal score. There are also the torture/ordeal sequences, the ironic gunplay, the establishment of overtly sexual/adult themes, a totally artificial location, a cast made up entirely of despicable ant-heroic slobs, and a midget who isn’t just comic relief. He appears to have tried to revisit the approach with PALE RIDER though I don’t find that to be as successful of an effort, with Clint playing a would be Preacher ala Halleluja or Reverend Colt.
But Clint is the obvious choice. I think Sam Peckinpah was responding in part to spaghetti westerns with THE WILD BUNCH, or maybe more accurately he had been freed from the yoke of Hollywood convention by the spaghetti approach, and responded with a revolutionary western that used the revolution themes of stuff like TEPAPA and KILLER KID into a framework upon which he wove his tale of cowboys outliving the wild west. PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID also has a sort of duality to the relationship between its leads that is evocative of some of the “buddy” spaghettis where the two leads’ friendship defines their personal conflict. The inexplicable walk-on “Alias” role by Bob Dylan has always reminded me as a parody of sorts on the name brand actor imported from the States to give the film box office draw.
The later period existentialist/downer westerns also have a lot of spaghetti influence in them, a favorite of mine is DOC with Stacey Keach, which has the brutal beatings, graphic violence, adult themes, sexuality, sparse set decoration and duality of character in the lead roles. Another one would be DIRTY LITTLE BILLY with Michael J. Pollard, more than half of which is staged entirely within a single saloon set that looks like a Demofilo Fidani creation.
Then there are those “Apache Revenge” movies that seem to have been inspired by SOLDIER BLUE – a movie I despise – all of which were dirt-cheap, morally ambiguous sleaze films masquerading as westerns: APACHE BLOOD, CRY BLOOD APACHE and a particularly nasty little one I found under the title APACHE MASSACRE with a bit part for Harry Dean Stanton. There’s even an Italo-western version of the formula, APACHE WOMAN with Al Cliver, and of course Bruno Mattei’s WHITE APACHE and SCALPS, both of which continue the themes of Apaches getting their revenge on the white bastards via one of their own. And the form itself seems to have drawn it’s grim themes from NAVAJO JOE.
God I hate SOLDIER BLUE …