Though not really surprised, I found the critics’ reaction to the Dollars trilogy pretty interesting. I’m not sure what the critics expected to see; if they went into a film that was shot in Italy with an Italian director but still expected to see a typical American film then I have trouble understanding how they got so far in the film critic business. Of course it was going to be different but to dislike it because it’s a foreign take on an American genre seems a little closed minded. It somehow annoyed me when McClain stated that “for Americans Leone’s films represented the true beginning of the Italian invasion of their privileged cultural form,” (Page 52). It made me feel the critics really needed to get over themselves. If the films were bad I would understand the “hate” but these films ended up being some of the most popular westerns films to this date. Hell, I don’t even watch westerns but I know all about “the man with no name” and his cigar and poncho. It seems to me Leone only helped the western.
Another (perhaps more understandable) complaint that was commonly made was to do with the amount of violence in the film. It seems that back then westerns weren’t so violent which is a weird thought considering that nowadays we would usually think of westerns to be violent films. McClain discussed the idea of violence increasing in western films throughout that period and described A fistful of Dollars to be “the film that helped inspire [other violent western films].”
It was also interesting to see how the film was marketed. I enjoyed very much how McClain exposed the “Bondian” aspects of the film especially the marketing techniques. He mentions how the marketing focused on the “flashy violence, cosmopolitan flair, and of course, a fashion-plate hero defined by a hyper-masculine personal style” (Page 55) which was pretty much the same technique used for the bond film. I caught myself chuckling when I read about the James Bond Handbook with all of its information on “the super-sleuth’s preferences – i.e., his women, his liquor, his arsenal, his clothes, and so on” and how the same technique was applied to the A Fistful of Dollars with a program that described how “this short cigar belongs to a man with no name … this poncho belongs to a man with no name… this long gun belongs to a man with no name” (McClain, Page 55). Nowadays too we have books containing lots of interesting facts and background information about popular films (I remember I had a little Starwars one growing up) but it does seem strange to me that these books were made with such focus on glorifying the main character as opposed to just giving general background information. I remember my Starwars book had information about all the ships and the weapons and the planets as well as the characters and I guess it almost seems childish in in modern times to so openly glorify the protagonist. It seemed to work though as McClain later mentions that “the few positive reviews of Leone’s films generally compared them favorably to Bond” (Page 55).
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have much (if any) experience with western films, especially the “classic” films which Leone’s films challenged. Reading McClain’s text made me want to check them out for no real reason besides the fact that I want to see the transition between the pre-Leone films and the more modern view of the western. I couldn’t quite get my head around what problems the critics had with the films and really the only way to understand would be to watch it from their perspective: watch a couple of pre-Leone classics and only then move on to the Dollar series.
1) Does the Idea of a western film being made in Italy (or any country outside of North America) change the way you see the film? Do you still see it as a “Western?”
2) Can you think of any other examples where something similar has happened? Any films stereotypical of a certain culture or genre that have been produced in a different county/culture?