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“The Man with No Name” Westerns

November 3rd, 2009 by Mark Forbes Senior Content Partner Manager

When I was 10 years old, I sat down to watch a movie with my dad that he referred to as a “classic spaghetti Western”. I had never heard of anything like that, or even that Italians made Westerns, but it clearly wasn’t like any other movie that I had seen before.

The movie was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And from the iconographic opening credits to the tense final showdown, the movie proved to live up to its title. And yet despite its name, this Western had no clearly defined “good guy” or “bad guy”. There was no cavalry riding in to save the day, no Indian enemies, no settlers to save. Just three men, hardened by the day to day in a rugged west, trying to make a few dollars and the best of several rapidly deteriorating situations.

Even watching this now, I’m still amazed at the long stretches between dialogue, which really gives you the sense of the barren loneliness in the early western desert when often only your horse, canteen and a revolver stood between you and death.

I was hooked. It was a few years later that I learned it was actually the third in a series of westerns starring the enigmatic Clint Eastwood as “the Man with No Name”.

The first movie, A Fistful of Dollars, is still is one of my favorites. While new to most of the American audience at the time, it is actually a credited remake of an Akira Kurosawa movie, Yojimbo (starring Toshiro Mifune) and was later remade as Last Man Standing (starring Bruce Willis and Christopher Walken). One of my favorite things about Fistful movie is how easily a classic story has been translated from and mimicked in these other periods.

Far grittier than other Westerns that had preceded it, A Fistful of Dollars introduced Eastwood as the new Western hero, or more appropriately, the anti-hero. Establishing Eastwood’s character from the opening scene, director Sergio Leone follows the enigmatic traveler to a well, where he stops for a drink of water, and is then begrudgingly dragged into a small-town gang war. Playing on the gangster’s fear and greed, Eastwood quickly manages to turn the tables on them by playing both sides against each other. Besides the classic storytelling, Eastwood’s cool character is a deadly shot and you can’t help but cheer him on against the gangs.

For a Few Dollars More introduces Lee van Cleef’s tough-as-nails character Mortimer while he’s on a bounty hunt. Through clever flashbacks, we learn that Mortimer’s sister had been killed by the fugitive El Indio and Mortimer is tracking him for the reward. Enter Eastwood’s character, who is also tracking El Indio, but for far less than revenge. Eventually, Eastwood’s character orchestrates a duel between Mortimer and El Indio, and surprisingly in character, makes sure it’s a fair fight. Although this was another atypical western for the 1960’s, Eastwood’s character eventually rides off into the sunset with his questionable moral standing intact.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the most brutal of the three. Looking for buried Confederate gold, it juxtaposes three hardened men against each other with a backdrop of greed and loose, shifting alliances between our anti-heroes. This is an emotional movie where you’re meant to identify with each of the characters, even though you may not like what you see. If you haven’t seen it yet, the Mexican standoff at the end is worth it alone.

The greatest thing about these movies is that they’re not a typical trilogy – you can watch one movie without feeling like you’re missing something from the other two. But fortunately for you, Hulu is able to provide all three of these classic westerns for the month of November. So throw on your poncho, strap on a six-shooter and get ready for a wild ride.

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