Spaghetti Western

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The spaghetti westerns (also Spaghetti Western or Euro Western is called) one created in in the 1960s subgenre of Westerns . It made its way into European films in the early 1960s and was soon dominated by Italian productions.

Particularly striking were the special style and the subjects of the author and director Sergio Leone , the European and particularly Italian perspective on the Wild West - Myth showed.

Spaghetti Westerns celebrated great box office successes for years. In the heyday of the genre, however, the market was flooded with low-budget films. In the course of the first half of the 1970s, the spaghetti western wave gradually ebbed away or it went into comedies, but also serious films with some "American" themes.


The American western film was first seriously taken up by spaghetti westerns and modified progressively and experimentally into the naive-fantastic genre. Through Sergio Leone (including various epigones ) the genre then swiveled over to self-deprecating Western satiricals. The naive fantastic, which is not interested in genuinely American history, but in entertaining effects and novel narrative styles, has always remained a stylistic feature.

The Spaghetti Western is often dominated by pithy antiheroes in front of an often dirty, shabby backdrop. A sense of justice and selfless action, which up until then had usually characterized the heroes of the American westerns, can either just be guessed at in the heroic character or give way entirely to greed and self-interest. The hero of the spaghetti western is often driven by revenge or the pursuit of money and stays out of morally motivated conflicts. These characters are a swan song for the US western heroes in a double sense: In the film plot they are portrayed as late protagonists of the Wild West ; real is the genre that elucidates the entire western era.

In place of moralizing and traditional (American) Western motives such as sincerity , decency and altruism , the spaghetti western set antiheroes who rebel against bourgeois conventions and norms of behavior. Social grievances were also discussed, which shows the genuinely European motif of the Spaghetti Western. In spaghetti westerns, American is something exotic. "Unlimited possibilities" here often stand for absurd inventions and excesses, presented with a hitherto unknown (pseudo) "authenticity", which on the one hand affects the external, primarily furnishings, buildings, props and cloakroom (in contrast to the often incredibly clean The protagonists of the spaghetti western seemed "more realistic" to the actors of the conventional US western: dirty, unshaven, sweaty, in a tattered gown), on the other hand, the "badness" of western people supposedly relentlessly demonstrates, but much more imaginatively fictitious as the superhuman " Decency ”of the typical western hero up until then. Another motif of the Spaghetti Western is the depiction of excessive violence, sometimes for the sole purpose of sensationalism.

The thematically similar, the morally clearer westerns of the 1930s to 1960s, mainly US American late wests, and the spaghetti westerns influenced each other to some extent. The Spaghetti Western did not shake off the one-sided oversubscription, while the late Western allowed himself more differentiated storytelling in at least some works in the course of the 1970s, for example in the films of Clint Eastwood .

The representation of the Indians and the problematic American settlement history is not a relevant topic in European westerns. Native American themes with the racist and degrading history distortions of the earlier American westerns do not appear as such. Instead, it is not uncommon for Mexicans to take on leading roles as the southern counterpart to the “white” Americans.

Style features

Visually, the spaghetti western is characterized by the use of extreme close-up to detailed shots. Close-up shots of faces that go as far as the Italian setting , in which only one person's eyes fill the screen, intensified, among other things, the depiction of the pistol duel in the Italo-Western; especially Sergio Leone staged it in his films as an inevitable showdown . It is the quick cut between faces, hands and pistols, accompanied by the typical music of the spaghetti western, which today is considered the style-forming sequence of a western, but was only founded here. Sergio Leone was also influenced by Japanese samurai films (especially those of Akira Kurosawa ). His style-setting western For a Handful of Dollars (1964) is a remake of the film Yojimbo - The Bodyguard, only three years older .

In addition to close-ups and detailed shots, super totals are also genre-typical elements. In the films by Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, these often noticeably long shots are used to stage the western topos of the vast prairie. The super totals can appear as suspenseful still lifes or represent the contrast between man and nature through barely recognizable movements of carriages or riders. In Leones For a Few Dollars More , the whole opening sequence consists of a single super total. In Leone's next film, Two Glorious Scoundrels , on the other hand, the opening sequence consists of an exciting alternation of super long shots and close-ups.

The second most important stylistic device with Sergio Leone is the music, which is rarely really “film music” here (see below). In many moments the relationship between film music and music-film changes.

Similar to the American western, the spaghetti westerns shot fast, and apart from the main characters, the scoundrels had no personal relationship with one another, were "shot down like flies" and fell to the ground instantly in the older films. Almost all films show dozens of shootings in the course of the plot. From the mid-1960s onwards, the Spaghetti Western took up international developments to portray death more and more realistically and brutally. If those hit by pistol shots initially fell to the ground without any bullet holes, death was quickly shown more brutally.

Not infrequently, with the spaghetti westerns, rather unusual crossings of film genres found their way onto the screen, for example with the horror film ( Satan of Vengeance ), with classic drama (Hamlet: Django - The gravedigger are already waiting ; Carmen: Death came with Django ) or detective film ( $ 1,000 bounty ) .


It is not an exaggeration to describe music as one of the most important stylistic devices of the Spaghetti Western. Ennio Morricone's music has a very important, melodramatic role in Sergio Leone's films . Here it is only rarely subconsciously supportive (see film music ), but often becomes the central content of the film, where the rhythm of the images creates a framework for it. Both are then equally important there. Morricone's works come to mind there, are memorable and popular, i.e. exactly the opposite of film music in its usual role up to then and also today. Accordingly, Ennio Morricone's music with distinctive themes and experimental arrangements became the trademark of the spaghetti western. Morricone's soundtracks also stood out through the use of exotic instruments and noises ( e.g. ocarina , electric guitar , human sounds such as whistles or screams, whips, synthesizers, oboe or bassoon solo).

With his soundtracks to the two Spaghetti Western classics Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod and Zwei glorrich Malunken , Ennio Morricone created signature melodies not only for the sub-genre but also for western films themselves, which are often used in quotes and film parodies of the genre and whose popularity is probably only equal to Elmer Bernstein's theme from the film The Magnificent Seven .

In addition, Bruno Nicolai , Luis Bacalov , Carlo Savina , Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and others have written the film music for many spaghetti westerns.

Outdoor shots and sets

The landscape and outdoor shots for a large number of spaghetti westerns were shot in Spain on the Cabo de Gata peninsula or north of Almería (both in Andalusia ), mostly in or near the Tabernas desert . There the landscape is very similar to the southwest of the USA ( Arizona , New Mexico ). Filming locations with a more European appearance ( karst landscapes ), which were regularly used, are in the area around Madrid (among others La Pedriza , Manzanares el Real , Hoyo de Manzanares ). However, Italian locations were almost always used, mostly for reasons of film funding, such as Gran Sasso in Abruzzo . An estimated 70 percent of all spaghetti westerns were shot rather quickly than staged in Italian studios ( e.g. Elios studios ), sets (e.g. Villa Mussolini) and often cheap-looking landscapes - mostly around Rome. Often gravel pits and quarry ponds served as substitutes for real locations, which promoted the trash character of the films in today's reception . For example, Giuliano Carnimeo, who is represented with 13 films, with the exception of a short sequence in Sartana, made his rather extensive contribution to the subgenre exclusively in Italy. Most of Corbucci's Django was also created there.

Outdoor shots in western towns (streets etc.) were filmed both in backdrops towns near Almería and - especially indoor shots ( saloon , hotel, prison etc.) - in the western sets of the Roman film studios (Elios studios, Laurentiis studios or Cinecittà ).

Today these film sets near Almería as well as a number of other buildings that were built there for spaghetti westerns or their remains can be viewed (for example the ranch for Spiel mir das Lied von Tod, the so-called Rancho Leone) .


Almost all Italowestern were inexpensive Techniscope - film format produced, whose aspect ratio is approximately that of Cinemascope corresponds to (1: 2.35). Converted 35 mm film cameras were used for the recordings (mostly Arriflex II, also Mitchell ), the perforation step of which is only two instead of four perforation holes.

Many of the typical stylistic features of the spaghetti westerns - such as the distortion-free close - ups (the so-called "Italian") or the high depth of field - are due to the Techniscope format.


After its success, especially at the European box office, the spaghetti western slowly gained appreciation from critics and film historians. Despite the assembly line character of the production, film classics were made that went down in film history as important artistic and aesthetic films beyond the western genre: Leones Play Me the Song of Death and Two Glorious Scoundrels , Corbucci's corpses pave his way and Django or Castellaris Keoma - The Song of Death belong to a group of cult films that stand out from the abundance of spaghetti westerns. In addition to the innovative staging of Leone and the music of Morricone (the composer of three of the films mentioned above), strategic narrative experiments, as in corpses pave his way, also play a role in the ongoing enthusiasm of film fans and critics.

German title

Figures like Django, Ringo or Sabata became icons of the sub-genre, which regularly experienced a return on the screen (as in the title). Few of the film series drafted comprehensive, consistent narratives or even formed a binding staff. On the contrary, entire series were first brought into being by German film distributors using falsified synchronization and misleading titles in order to improve the balance at the box office by drawing on particularly successful key films: As a result, it happened that with a successful title often already in the next few weeks a supposed sequel with the popular title hero appeared. The most famous example is the Django series, which was only raised to the status of such on the German market by means of misleading titles (example here: Django the avenger ; in the Italian version of the film the name Django is not pronounced once, the main actor Franco Instead, Nero is called Burt Sullivan). Sergio Corbucci's classic with Franco Nero in the lead role was officially the only sequel to date in 1987 .

Persiflage by Bud Spencer and Terence Hill

Like many other temporarily popular genres, the spaghetti westerns also experienced a phase of ironization and a shift towards comedy after practicing the conventions. Especially the duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill appeared together in a series of western films with humorous success, in which there was extensive eating and fighting. But this should not hide the fact that both independently of one another have quite serious westerns in their filmographies. Above all, Terence Hill appeared as a figure reminiscent of the great silent anti-heroes of the Spaghetti Western, whereas Bud Spencer's attempts were mostly sabotaged by a mercilessly “puzzling” German synchronization with corresponding results. Terence Hill is remembered above all as the late Western figure Nobody , who in its first (and actually only - here, too, the second part only became a sequel through the German dubbing) incarnation - co-directed by Sergio Leone - despite its comedic orientation knew how to put some melancholy accents in the genre. In 1991 he was unable to build on his old successes in a real-life adaptation of the comic Lucky Luke , like the Spaghetti Westerns.

Bud Spencer and Terence Hill also made some non-Western films together, but they often alluded to spaghetti westerns.

See also


  • Alice Goetz, Helmut W. Banz: Aspects of Italian Films II - The Italo-Western - An Overview. Association of German Film Clubs V., Mannheim 1969 [1]
  • Christopher Frayling: Spaghetti Westerns. Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone. IBTauris, London / New York 1998, ISBN 978-1-84511-207-3 .
  • Christian Kessler: Welcome to Hell. An overview of the spaghetti westerns. Terror Verlag, Gütersloh 2002, ISBN 3-00-009290-0 .
  • Ulrich P. Bruckner: For a few more corpses. The spaghetti western from its beginnings until today. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Berlin 2002 (new edition: 2006), ISBN 3-89602-705-0 .
  • Christian Heger: The right and left hand of the parody: Bud Spencer, Terence Hill and their films. Schüren Verlag, Marburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-89472-664-5 .
  • Harald Steinwender: Sergio Leone. Once upon a time in Europe. Bertz + Fischer Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-86505-308-4 .
  • Uwe Killing: Dirty Spaghetti - The Glorious History of the Spaghetti Western. Hannibal Verlag, Höfen 2012, ISBN 978-3-85445-382-6 .
  • Michael Striss: Grace speaks God - Amen my Colt. Motifs, symbolism and religious references in the Spaghetti Western. Büchner-Verlag, Marburg 2018, 670 pp. ISBN 978-3-96317-123-9 .
  • Roberto Curti: His name is Tonino Valerii: director of Spaghetti Westerns, Giallo and more. Reinhard Weber specialist publisher for film literature, Landshut 2018, 224 pages, ISBN 978-3-94312-707-2

Web links

Wiktionary: Italo-Western  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations