The Hills Run Red: Italian Westerns, Leone and Beyond

Jan 19, 2013 1435

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive of the University of California recently presented the new film series centered on the great Italian directors of Western movies, "The Hills Run Red: Italian Westerns, Leone and Beyond."

The Series, running through January 27th, presents six classics by Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Damiano Damiani, and others, many featuring music by the maestro of the genre, Ennio Morricone.

The so-called Spaghetti Westerns, or "western all'Italiana", were filmed during the mid 1960's in the rugged landscapes of Italy and Spain, starring famous American actors such as Lee Van Cleef, Burt Reynolds, James Coburn, and Jack Palance, sometimes fading Hollywood stars and sometimes a rising one like the young Clint Eastwood in three of Sergio Leone's films (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).

The term "spaghetti western" was used by critics in USA and other countries because most of these Westerns were produced and directed by Italians, originally released in Italian even without an official language, because of the multilingual casts used.

As Quentin Tarantino's recently released Django Unchained confirms, these legendary movies have had a long-lasting influence on filmmaking, and represented a new beginning of the most American genre. Indeed Django is a 1966 Italian western film directed by Sergio Corbucci, starring the great Franco Nero in the eponymous role.

The film series "The Hills Run Red" by video curator Steve Seid began last Thursday, January 10, 2013, with the film Duck, You Sucker, Sergio Leone (Italy/Spain, 1971), score by Ennio Morricone. In torrid Mexico, just in time for the undoing of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship, we find the bandito Juan (Rod Steiger, sputtering in Spanglish). Juan teams up with nitroglycerin expert Sean Mallory (James Coburn) to make a few holes with the "holy water." Leone's creates the strangest combination of high camp, booming ordinance, and radical zeal.

Two days after was the turn of The Mercenary, a film by Sergio Corbucci (Italy/Spain, 1968) with a score by Ennio Morricone. The revolution will not be narcotized in Corbucci's rabble-rousing rebellion, which follows a Mexican peasant leader Paco Roman (Tony Musante), a taciturn mercenary (Franco Nero), and oppressed silver miners as they battle businessman and a psychotic thug (Jack Palance).

A Bullet for the General, by Damiano Damiani (Italy, 1966) follows on January 17th. In this film, the Italian actor Gian Maria Volontè plays El Chucho, a badass bandit bent on exploiting the revolution, whose brother is the demented priest El Santo (the feral one, Klaus Kinski). The action is packed in this compressed concentrate about deceitful perversion and political conversion.

Next Saturday, January 19th, China 9, Liberty 37 will screen, directed by Monte Hellman (Italy/Spain, 1978). The director of such acid westerns starring Jack Nicholson as The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind samples the spicy red concoction of Spaghetti for this latter-day western, starring Warren Oates and Fabio Testi as two gunslingers setting their sights on railroading moguls, and their freight car full of hired thugs.

Director Sergio Corbucci and the music of Ennio Morricone will be again the protagonist with Navajo Joe (Italy/Spain, 1966), on Friday, January 25th. A pre-stardom Burt Reynolds is Navajo Joe, who's on the war path after his wife is killed. Part of Ennio Morricone's score, complete with embedded screams, was lifted for Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

Last but not least, will be the film Sabata on Sunday January 27th, by Italian director Gianfranco Parolini (Italy/Spain, 1969). In this film, spaghetti western stalwart Lee Van Cleef glares his way across a town of "upstanding citizens"—and takes them all on—in this brutal western. A character's concealed "banjo gun" was later lifted by El Mariachi.

Even though several had already preceded it, Italian westerns broke ground with the arrival of Maestro Sergio Leone, who with his unique style, brought the genre to international acclaim and success.
Since his 1964's Per un pugno di Dollari (A Fistful of Dollars), he permanently established westerns in the world of movies while becoming, together with his movies, a public cult figure that will be recognized forever in Italy, United States, and the rest of the world.

Thanks to the wonderful cultural activity of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, we have the possibility to savor and enjoy again these masterpieces of cinematography.

For complete information visit

by Roberto Natalini

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