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Why I really like Sergio Leone's western films

I'm not a big movie person. I'll watch the occasional new film. I'll watch some classics from time to time, as well. In recent years, I've started to watch more westerns, as it was a genre that I had never really touched. And after a stint of watching only John Wayne movies and High Noon, I started to branch out and that's what lead me to Sergio Leone.

Leone is the one who made famous the "spaghetti western"--westerns that were primarily shot in Italy. Leone's five westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Duck, You Sucker!) have really grabbed me and made me start to see movies in a bit of a different way. And at the same time, I've been trying to encourage friends and family who haven't seen any of them to actually give them a shot. The Dollars trilogy (Fistful of Dollars, Few Dollars More, & Good, Bad, Ugly) are all incredible, and are some of the best Clint Eastwood westerns. Once Upon a Time in the West is probably the best movie I've ever seen. And Duck, You Sucker! feels very different from the others and is criminally underrated.

These are some of the reasons why I've fallen for these films...

Why I really like Sergio Leone's western films

    1. They're gritty

    Compare them to the westerns of the 40s and 50s and they feel completely different. In the classics, the good guys are cleaned up and well-groomed, and the bad guys tend to skew in that direction. In Leone's films, everyone looks like they've been without a decent bath in days, wearing dirt or blood on their faces. The characters who are well-groomed and clean tend to be the ones with money and status.

    2. The music is outstanding

    Ennio Morricone did the music for all of Leone's westerns, and just about every single piece is wonderful. The opening credits sequence from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is probably the best known, but far from the only great piece of music.

    3. They're all standalone movies

    In today's Marvel-filled landscape of tons of movies and TV shows all connecting with one another, it's nice to go back and grab a film that requires no real background knowledge. Even the Dollars trilogy isn't interconnected (Eastwood may play the same character, I don't know, but it's not really important one way or another).

    4. The plot moves along without too much action...

    There's action, but gunfights and riding scenes don't overstay their welcome. In reality, two men probably aren't going to be shooting at each other for ten minutes. Instead, once shots are fired, things are going to end relatively quickly, and that seems to be the way Leone approached his westerns. They're not action movies, but the action that's there feels meaningful and important.

    5. ...nor too much talking

    I get the hunch that Leone hated dialogue. All of the films have their share of chatter (especially some great scenes in Duck, You Sucker!, but a lot of the time, things move along with characters not saying a word. It sometimes feels as if nothing is happening, until you look at it and realize just how much has went down with little-to-no speaking.

    6. Good and evil are mostly shades of grey

    There are some bad guys who are clearly bad, but other than them, you see a lot of people trying to do good but do a lot of bad things along the way. Even the protagonists are not squeaky clean. I wouldn't want that to be a thing in all films, but having a good guy not be completely good really stands out compared to other westerns. As an aside, I think that's also why I love the original True Grit.

    7. They all hold up very well alongside today's films

    A lot of movies from decades past show their age in many...not-so-great ways. But Leone's westerns hold up incredibly well. Folks who are mostly attracted to the action-heavy films of current cinema may have an adjustment period, but Leone has such a lasting influence on films that's fun to see first-hand.

    8. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" is a frequently referenced film

    Just the title and the theme alone are referenced as much as any other film, it seems. And it's one of those movies that may be easy to put off watching because you've seen so many references to it. But on the whole, it's so much more expansive than you'd expect.

    9. They're easy to come by

    When I first saw the Dollars trilogy, they were all free (officially) on YouTube, same with Duck, You Sucker!. And Once Upon a Time in the West was on Paramount+. I didn't have to go out of my way to pay for any extra service to watch them, which is impressive, given how few services I use (typically no more than 2 paid ones at once) and how many there are.

    10. The dubbing is mostly...not too terrible

    I had to mention the dubbing at some point--if you've seen any of these films, you'll get what I mean. Being "spaghetti westerns", these films were mostly shot in Italy, and some of the actors didn't speak English, meaning their lines were spoken in Italian (or other native tongues) and dubbed over in post. Most of the major characters are fine, but when there's a bad dub job, it's really bad. I can't say any of it kills the experience, however.

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