It is hard to imagine that a film such as The Good and The Bad and The Ugly was initially shot down by the people it was intended for. For many people when they look back to classic Western movies it’s hard to ignore any of Sergio Leones work. However, the release of his Dollars trilogy was met by opposition by those who saw it tearing away at a true American staple; Western movies. William McClain in his examination into Sergio Leone and his films’ impact on the Western image, points out how critics during the time saw these movies as cynical, unoriginal and bearing no resemblance to American Western Classics. For many people the violence depicted in these movies was meaningless and served no purpose. The Man With No Name, played by Clint Eastwood, was vastly different than any character played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart. These men portrayed characters full of good values and virtues and made morally correct choices. McClain notes how the image of West has been engraved into the American mythos “Americans have always regarded the cowboy as a national symbol and the movies have made him so all around the world” (104.) It’s easy to understand why this is so when you consider the sheer amount of Western movies that was made during the first half of the 1900s. Images of a noble cowboy rescuing a beautiful woman from danger or valiantly fighting off a mob of Indians quickly come to mind. It seems that the Dollars trilogy was making a mockery out of this sacred Western image. Additionally, the Western genre had evolved into a way of thinking based on questions of the frontier, “the role of the individual in society, the (dis)continuity of contemporary American society with its mythological past, and of course the morals, meaning, and consequences of just versus unjust violence” (McClain 60). Leone’s films do not engage these social and moral ideas in any way shape or form. Instead of paying homage to past Western Sergio Leone destroys this traditional school of thought and replaces it with a world full of unanswered questions and immoral choices. In my opinion this is where Leone sets himself apart from the rest of the Western genre because he tears away at an iconic “American” image and makes it his own by adding elements of nihilism and violence. Despite the critiques Sergio Leones movies has been absorbed by the Western genre and become American movies classics.
This sort of permutation brings up an interesting point regarding America and their xenophobic past their initial reaction to “new” things. America’s history if riddled with examples of initial fear followed by acceptance or tolerance. The best example of this seen by the American fear of the Roman Catholic Church and their perceived encroachment on American values. Sharon Davies of the L.A Times illustrates that American were genuinely frightened by the perceived religious threat of the Roman Catholic Church and the suspected imperialistic intentions of its leader, the pope. Such an idea seems laughable now but groups such as the KKK and politicians alike work feverishly to try to keep Catholics from voting, holding jobs or living comfortably. This anti-Catholic sentiment was alive and well up until John F. Kennedy was elected president, who was the first Catholic president elected into office. Nowadays Catholics are fully integrated into our society and virtually no one fears a Papal coupe on our government. Nonetheless, this mind set seems all too familiar when you consider McClain’s work but even more so when you take into account todays anti-Islamic sediment.
1. Given Americans history of xenophobia, can you think of any other examples where initial fear was eventually met by acceptance?
2. Is the American myth of the noble cowboy just that, a myth?