Birth of the Spaghetti Western

Sergio Leone's ripoff of Kurosawa's Yojimbo is pretty much what launched his career. And a ripoff it was, for Kurosawa sued and won over it. But whether Leone borrowed too heavily from Kurosawa or not, he established himself with this expressive and deliberate style that defined his body of work.

The story has Clint Eastwood, as the Man with No Name, come to a Mexican town, near the border. Instead of one dominant family ruling the place, there are two, close enough in strength that neither can seize control, but they snipe and bait each other continually. Eastwood promptly puts himself between the two sides, playing them off each other, and using their scheming to his advantage.

The plotting is clever, but of course borrowed. What I am most drawn to is the camera. Every shot is composed beautifully, from the extreme close ups preceding a gunfight, to revealing camera moves, and larger compositions, especially when Eastwood is injured and hiding in one part of the frame, while his pursuers are oblivious in the remainder. Leone, from the beginning, knew not to rush the process, and had an eye not just for giving us information, but for making us feel the information as well.

Sure, we can see moments of poor dubbing into English, and often the blood doesn't look right - of course, I haven't witnessed the sort bloodbath seen here, but I am making the assumption the realism of such details is getting better in recent years. The thing is, this is a movie that defined a genre (the Spaghetti Western), and the little imperfections are not so much annoying as endearing, because all the important pieces were simply nailed.

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