What is a Spaghetti Western?

Basically a Spaghetti Western is an Italian produced Western, or commonly an Italian-Spanish co-production - Italian financed with the principle cast and crew being for the most part Italian - although these films in fact attracted stars of all nationalities.

While much of the filming was done in the Italy, usually at the Cinecittà or Elios studios in Rome, the movies were primarily filmed in the Andalucia region of Spain and, because of this, many of the supporting cast and extras where Spanish. Andalucia was used (in particular the Tabernas desert around Almeria) due to its striking resemblance to the Mexican border, even down to the whitewashed villages. This is also regularly reflected in the film story lines, usually featuring Gringos and Mexicans, but rarely the Native American Indians associated with the western plains.

Due to the international cast, and on-set language barriers, the films where usually dubbed afterwards regardless of the language of distribution.

It is because the films are primarily of Italian origin that the critics adopted the phrase 'Spaghetti Westerns', initially as an expression of derision. But the name has stuck and is now used by fans as a term of endearment. Today the film industry regards the movies with more respect - the influence of these films is still apparent, as major Hollywood directors continue to pay homage to the genre.

In their native Italy the term 'Western All'Italiana' (Italian Style Western) is used. The Japanese refer to the movies as 'Macaroni Westerns', and sometimes the term 'Paella Western' is used for predominately Spanish productions.

It is now common to expand the definition of a Spaghetti Western to envelop all Westerns produced on the continent, including earlier West German movies and westerns from other European countries that followed the Italian boom. The term 'Euro-Westerns' is also adopted to capture all these films under the one umbrella.

So why did the Italians produce so many of these movies? Well, basically the Italians love their westerns and with the import of American westerns drying up by the early sixties, Italian film makers started to produce their own home-grown product - initially the true roots of the films disguised with the use of Anglicised names for cast and crew. But, as was the case with many Italian film genres, once the ball started rolling and the commercial possibilities realised, many other film-makers jumped on the bandwagon, with the result that close to 600 Spaghetti Westerns were made - the majority of these in the mid to late 60s. The Italian Western boom also gave many up-and-coming young film-makers, who had previously worked as assistant directors on the earlier 'Sword and Sandal' epics, their first opportunity to take full artistic control of a movie.

The term Spaghetti Western also brings to mind the unique style of these films. More violent than the traditional western, and with the morality of the American west less clear-cut - many of the heroes of the Italian Western are in fact 'anti-heroes'. And it is not uncommon for the all the principle characters to be completely annihilated by the end of the movie.

The Italians drew inspiration for their westerns from such diverse sources as the Japanese Samurai movies, classical Greek literature, Sicilian morality plays, and their own operatic traditions. And perhaps not surprisingly for the product of a strongly Catholic society, the films are often rich in religious allegory.

The influence of the Spaghetti Western was also incorporated back into many American-made westerns - for example Clint Eastwood's post-Leone westerns and Sam Peckinpah's ultra-violent 'The Wild Bunch'.

And one other important aspect of a Spaghetti Western - the soundtrack. Never before or since has a film genre been so closely associated with its music.