A Beginner’s Guide to Spaghetti Westerns

Next week marks the DVD and Blu-ray debut of Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning tribute to his favorite of all cinematic subgenres, the Spaghetti Western. Ah yes, you might nod, unafraid to ask the follow-up question: And what, exactly, is a Spaghetti Western? The short answer — if you’re willing to allow the use of the term, which some of those who made these films take as a slam — is an Italian-made western made roughly between 1964-1973 (there were about 500 of them, give or take a few). But if you’d care to sound a little more informed than that at your next film-geek gathering (shut up, we occasionally gather), or if you’d like to use Django as a jumping-off point for a deeper exploration of these popular works, we offer another of our helpful Beginner’s Guides, this one giving you a brief overview of the practitioners and practices of the Spaghetti Western.

The Western Falls…

In order to understand where the Italian Western came from, you first have to understand where the American Western was at. From the 1930s through the early 1960s, the oater was one of the American cinema’s most durable genres; studios big and small cranked them out on a weekly basis. But by the late ‘50s, they’d made the transition to television, and with so many Westerns on the box at home for free (26 in primetime by 1959), studio production started to slack off. However, Westerns were just as popular overseas, and with television still not widely available in Europe, there was a void to be filled. And thus enter the Italian filmmakers.