Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

A genre within a genre – the spaghetti western

The Western has been a classic movie genre for decades, but in the 1960s, a sub-genre emerged that went on to inspire a generation of filmmakers. From Clint Eastwood to Quentin Tarantino, the influences of Italy’s so called ‘spaghetti westerns’ have spread far and wide. 
With Westerns all the rage following the success of Sergio Leone’s ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ in 1964, there was big demand for cowboy films that Hollywood alone couldn’t meet. So Italian filmmakers stepped in with a style of Western that was fast-paced, action-packed and utterly distinctive. Stepping in as substitutes for the Arizona desert were arid European locations such as Spain’s Tabernas desert and Lazio in Italy.
A key component of the spaghetti western’s success was their striking soundtracks. The most innovative composer of which was Ennio Morricone, who set a benchmark with his use of unusual instruments and sound effects to create suspense. The music was just as important as the dialogue, which was often sparse, as it drove the narrative and built tension and excitement that the gunshots would pierce. 
Affordable and popular, spaghetti westerns were a smash hit with audiences, but by the end of the decade, the format became so familiar that they started to become a parody of themselves. This is where the genre evolved into comedy westerns, which rose in popularity in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the end of that decade that westerns got serious again and became much darker, but it was too late for the genre and the lights soon faded on the famous spaghetti western as the world knew it.