Choosing a favorite western movie is an almost impossible task, because there are just so many that vie for attention in my memory. Yet I have to admit that the group that I love the most are Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns that came out in the sixties.
I saw them all and read the novels. In my mind The Dollars Trilogy - A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) belong to my school days, when I was studying for my O' Levels and A' Levels, the qualifications I needed to get to go to University and medical school. They were my diversion from science and they spurred me to read more in the genre.
I know that the spaghetti Westerns divide opinions. The fact that they were shot in Italy and Spain, with different fauna and flora from the southwest puts a lot of people off. Yet for others they served to create the mythic west. And the characters were all larger than life. Who could not be enthused by actors like Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach?
Lee Van Cleef smoked an amber stemmed meerschaum pipe in For a Few Dollars More. With his sharp features, gimlet eyes and blue smoke curling from that pipe, he probably did wonders for pipe sales around the world. Indeed, check on the Internet and you'll find that you can get a LVC style meerschaum.
Yet, that meerschaum pipe somehow got into my psyche, I think, for Logan Munro, the Wolf Creek town doctor smokes one exactly like it.
And of course, Clint Eastwood's cigars are excellent and integral parts of his persona.
Oh heck, why not have a listen and a look at some great stills. It is haunting and stirring.
The plot is classic Western. Blondie (the good) played by Clint Eastwood, Angel Eyes (the bad) played by Lee Van Cleef and Tuco (the Ugly) played by Eli Wallach are involved in a lethal triangle and a chase to find the buried stash of gold, which Bill Carson, the last survivor of a horse carriage loaded with dead bodies tells Blondie and Tuco about. Tuco gets the name of the cemetery where the gold is buried, but Blondie has the name of the grave marker, so Tuco has to keep Blondie alive. Three men, all deadly and buried gold. Terrific!
Last year my wife, Rachel, and I went on a long distance walk in Almeria, where they filmed a lot of the spaghetti Westerns. We walked through the scenery used in the movie. And here is a picture of the farmhouse and chapel of El Cortijo del Fraile in Nijar, Almeria, which is used in the movie. Excuse the French Foreign Legion hat!
Out of interest, this was also the scene of real life murder of a local girl called Paca Canadas in 1928. A marriage had been arranged for her in the chapel,but she was 'kidnapped' by her lover, who lost his life in an 'honor' killing. The playwright Federico Garcia Lorca based his play, Blood Wedding, upon the case.
And how is this for a bit of film trivia:
Lee Van Cleef claimed to be faster on the draw than Clint Eastwood. So, they put it to the test.
Eastwood could draw, cock and fire in 0.45 of a second.
Van Cleef took only 0.125 second.
See: Once Upon a Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns, Page 46