Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Clint Eastwood Westerns – by James L. Neibaur

Review by Steve D. Stones

Although I was not alive in the 1960s when Sergio Leone's Italian westerns came to the United States, I'll never forget seeing A Fistful of Dollars (1964) for the first time in the early 1990s. I was completely mesmerized by the stylized qualities of the film, the more violent approach to depicting the old American West and the iconic poncho worn by Eastwood's character. Leone's view of the American West was far removed from anything I had seen in a John Ford or Howard Hawks western. This excited me and made me thirst for more of these films.

In his 2015 book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), (link is here) author James L. Neibaur sheds light on many details of Eastwood's acting and directing careers in western films. It is a pleasure to read not only because it goes into details about the Italian westerns Eastwood did with Leone, but the book also covers Eastwood's early TV career as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, as well as projects Eastwood accomplished between his western films, such as the iconic Dirty Harry films.

Neibaur points out the many similarities of Eastwood's “Man With No Name” in the Italian westerns to many of his later screen roles, such as Dirty Harry (1971), and even his early Don Siegel collaboration – Coogan's Bluff (1968), in which Eastwood plays a simple Arizona lawman in pursuit of a criminal tracked to New York City.

In Coogan's Bluff, Eastwood lays the foundation for many of the character traits found in his Dirty Harry Callahan character. He is a cynical outsider who works within the system, but hates all the rules and protocols of the system itself. In in sense, he is a cowboy of the past placed into the metropolis of our modern world.

As a fan of the Italian westerns, I often wondered why Eastwood's character in the three westerns he made with Leone were all named differently. I assumed all three characters were supposed to be the same man. Neibaur points out why the character had a different name for each film. Eastwood is a loner in the first film (A Fistful of Dollars), and duo in the second film (For A Few Dollars More) and part of a trio in the third film (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). In A Fistful of Dollars, he is referred to as “Joe” by the town coffin maker. In A Few Dollars More, he is called “Manco.” He is known simply as “Blondie” in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Neibaur points out that A Fistful of Dollars was produced by Jolly Films. This company had a falling out with director Leone and did not become involved with the sequel – For A Few Dollars More. Jolly Films sued, claiming rights to the “Joe” character in A Fistful of Dollars. It was decided in court that a unknown gunfighter, bounty killer character, such as “Joe,” cannot be copyrighted, so therefore he exists in the public domain. Giving Eastwood the “Manco” name in For A Few Dollars More may have been a way to try and not connect the two characters in any way.

Although the Italian westerns of Leone and Eastwood were a box office smash worldwide, their relationship was quite strained by the time The Good, The Bad & The Ugly wrapped up production in 1966, as Neibaur points out in the book. So strained, in fact, that when Eastwood was offered the Harmonica role (later given to Charles Bronson) in Once Upon A Time In The West (1969), Eastwood turned it down after a meeting with Leone that went poorly.

The book would not be complete without placing some focus on Eastwood's great accomplishments as an American director. As with his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood became a master of his directing craft, and went on to direct some of the greatest westerns in cinema history, such as High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which many consider his greatest directed western, Pale Rider (1985) and the crown of his western film achievements – Unforgiven (1992), in which he won a Best Director Oscar. The American Film Institute has listed Unforgiven as the fourth greatest western in cinema history, right after The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953).

If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood westerns, I recommend James L. Neibaur's book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns. Happy reading.

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