10,000 Ways To Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western

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Click for availability and more information 10,000 Ways To Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, by Alex Cox
Cult film director Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy; Walker) originally wrote this collection of reviews of specific Italian-made ("spaghetti") westerns of the 60s & 70s thirty years ago. But, after much revision, Cox finally got the book published this year. And it was worth the wait. In this informative and very opinionated tome, Cox critically dissects over fifty films produced in the spaghetti western genre from 1963 to 1977, pointing out their virtues and flaws as well as historical backstories. (The films were produced to pick up the slack in the domestic and overseas film market left by the declining Hercules film series and other musclemen warrior flicks of the time.) Yes, the more well known Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood collaborations (Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) are covered, with Cox snidely noting that nothing Eastwood's done since those films has been as artistically rewarding. (Cox is not a Eastwood fan.) But Cox also gives critical overviews on many other obscure entries in the genre, including writer/director Sergio Corbucci's Django, Navajo Joe and the downbeat The Big Silence, as well as other directors' efforts like The Big Gundown, Django Kill, Death Rides A Horse, Sabata and They Call Me Trinity. (If I ever find a copy, based on Cox's review, I gotta watch Tepepa with Tomas Milian and Orson Welles!) Not all of these films get a thumbs-up however; Cox sarcastically rips the dialogue scenes in Leone's Once Upon A Time in the West ("Who wrote this rubbish?") and figuratively shakes his head at the attempts of adapting Shakespeare's plays within the spaghetti western genre (1968's Johnny Hamlet, with a tacked-on happy ending!). And the questions he raises about Lee Van Cleef's character in For A Few Dollars More (it's in that film's flashback sequences) have me looking at that movie in a much different light. Cox covers the exciting beginnings of these westerns, which allowed once-big American stars like Van Heflin, Van Johnson, Jack Palance and Gilbert Roland a chance to become leading men (or just gainfully employed) again for a brief period, as well as making international stars out of Eastwood, Bronson and Van Cleef, and how it boosted not just Italy's studios but the whole European film industry. The films also made international stars, thanks to multinational co-production deals, out of such diverse European-based actors as George Hilton, Klaus Kinski, the aformentioned Tomas Milian (who was actually a Cuban-American expatriate), and Franco Nero. Cox also painfully notes the artistic slide into inoffensive comedy westerns such as the Trinity films with clownish mugging actors like Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, and a brief flitation with kung fu (To Kill or Die, AKA The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe), resulting in the genre's eventual demise. Altogether, a great and often entertainingly nasty collection of essays, with a small but welcome eight page section of film stills.

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This page contains a single entry published on November 23, 2009 9:16 PM.

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