With A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) Italian director Sergio Leone at once shook up and revitalized an ailing film genre: the western. At a time when audiences were getting bored with cowboys and Indians Leone’s westerns broke box office records worldwide. Over the years, the films also demonstrated an enduring influence with their utter lack of sentiment (Quentin Tarantino), unflinching violence (Brian DePalma) and unsavory characters (Martin Scorsese).
Initially, however, critics dubbed Leone’s films “spaghetti westerns,” implying that these films were less authentic than homegrown American westerns because they were directed by an Italian.
Well, the critics said one thing, and the audience another: theatergoers worldwide ate up Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy. In large part this was because the films were like no westerns before them. Leone and his screenwriters created cowboys that didn’t pick up guitars and sing by the campfire, fall in-love with bonneted frontierswomen or help townsfolk without there being something in it for them. These elements made the “Dollars” trilogy “revisionist westerns” — movies that shook up the way people looked back at the Wild West.
The Man With No Name
Gone was the noble, moral cowboy of American movies. In his place was the wry-witted, quick-drawing Man with No Name played by Clint Eastwood. This cowboy was slow to anger, but once spurred, he took no prisoners. Somebody was going to get killed – and how! Both American- and European-produced revisionist westerns to follow would feature mounting body counts and a “hero” who was as cold-blooded as the “bad guys.”
Similarly Leone’s depiction of the Wild West was groundbreaking. Gone was the American myth that the Wild West symbolized the battle between civilisation (European-Americans and the city/town) versus savagery (the Native American and a nomadic/tribal life). Leone’s Wild West had no Indians, and his cast of gringos seemed more like mercenaries and thieves than, say, settlers or frontiersmen.
Since their release from 1964 to 1966, the “Dollars” trilogy has been pored over by film historians and critics who’ve cast an almost mythical aura to what in essence are three cowboy flicks. Leone has been called a genius, the films groundbreaking and their legacy is said to include debunking Manifest Destiny, the idea that America must expand to spread civilization across the continent. This begs the question: Did Leone and company set out to rewrite history and change filmmaking forever?
That Leone had anti-establishment views is beyond question. He lived under the repressive Mussolini years, and like many Europeans was skeptical about the government line, including “official” accounts of history. To some extent, he did intend to challenge America’s story of how the West was won. However since Leone’s death in 1989, several of his collaborators, including screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, have implied that the success of the three westerns had as much to do with dumb luck as good filmmaking. Leone, Vincenzoni and others wanted to make money, and making an entertaining Western was one way of doing this. It is no secret that Leone adapted For a Few Dollars More almost scene for scene from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), about a stoic avenging samurai very similar in spirit to the Man with No Name. It does seem a stretch to say I intended to rewrite history and debunk myths by copying somebody else’s movie.
Whatever the truth, the “Dollars” trilogy has had a profound effect on film. Could there have been a Popeye Doyle, the rogue cop of The French Connection (1971) without Leone’s rogue cowboy, Clint Eastwood? Arguably not. And Leone was a technical pioneer – the haunting, absurd musical score of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with its hoof beats and yodel-like vocalizations, remains perhaps the most recognized theme in film history. And freeze-frame credits and close-ups of actor’s gritty faces are just two of his stylistic signatures that filmmakers still emulate today.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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