Category: Actors and Actresses
The glory days of the spaghetti western were the 60’s; with classics such as Savage Guns (1961) Fistful of Dollars (1964), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) helping make Clint Eastwood and the Italian director Sergio Leone household names. They are known as spaghetti westerns because for the most part they were produced by Italian film companies and featured European talents such as Leone and Morricone. While the term spaghetti might make you think they were filmed outside of Rome somewhere, they were actually filmed in Spain, which featured a topography that was very similar to the American West.
While they covered the same general Wild West themes (cowboys, Indians, Horses, guns) as the earlier John Ford and John Wayne westerns, Spaghetti Westerns differed greatly in their tone and storytelling style. The cowboys in the great Spaghetti Westerns were more flawed than their idealized counter parts and the story lines were darker and many times more violent. Many spaghetti westerns are featured around the civil war era, allowing for the perfect backdrop for tales of moral ambiguity and violence.
While the spaghetti western phase finally went the way of the Steam Engine by the mid seventies, many of the popular elements it introduced to mainstream movie culture continued to be kicked around for decades after even showing up on the Oscar podium in 1992 with Clint Eastwood’s tribute filled masterpiece Unforgiven. Aside from the making the careers for the likes of Clint, Bronson, and Lee Van Cleef, we can thank the spaghetti western for bringing us the shifty eyed close up shot, great musical scores, and tight gun battles. We can also thank the spaghetti western for making Zorro (1975) starring Alain Delon possible.
Alain Delon is perhaps the most famous French actor whose name is not Gerard Depardieu. Alain Delon was born in 1935 in Sceaux (a suburb of Paris). He was considered a bit unruly and bounced around from boarding school to boarding school before quitting at 14 to work in his father’s butcher shop. At 17 he joined the Navy, before being dishonorably discharged four years later. After working various odd jobs to get by, Alain found himself at Cannes where his good looks landed him a screen test and a contract with an American film producer. He later broke this contract after meeting with French director Yves Allegret and stayed in France to make a number of popular movies with various French directors.
Delon went on to blaze a trail on both stage and screen garnering awards, starting his own production company (Adel) and even segued into a singing career (Parole, parole). By the mid 70’s Delon was the one of the most famous actors in all of Europe and primed to play one of the most famous action heroes of the time: Zorro.
Zorro is a masked hero created by writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 who wrote a five part serial about the fictional outlaw hero for a popular pulp magazine. Zorro is the masked identity of Spanish nobleman Don Diego, who defends the common people from the tyranny of certain Spanish officials. Full of cunning and charm, Zorro easily outwits his enemies and wins over the people for whom he fights for. An expert at both sword and horses, Zorro easily defeats and even humiliates those that he is opposed to, oftentimes leaving a quickly cut Z into their clothing as a warning.
A year after appearing in All Story weekly, the masked avenger made it to the big screen as The Mark Of Zorro (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks. The movie was a huge and lead to more stories, more movies and even a popular Disney produced television show in the 1950’s. After more than decade away from the silver screen, Zorro was ready for a comeback with Alain Delon taking the lead of the masked avenger. Partly because of the popularity of the spaghetti westerns the decade before, the film was shot in Italy and directed by Italian film maker Duccio Tessari.
The character of Zorro was updated, with Diego becoming less of a nobleman and more of a soldier in guise of a dandy fop. The location of the story is also moved from colonial California to South America. However, the core story of Zorro defending the common people against the tyranny of the Spanish overlords remains with a few spaghetti western elements thrown in. The action sequences maintain a grisly rawness that is in juxtaposition of the earlier swash buckling Zorro films and the soundtrack is most definitely influenced by the westerns that came before it.
While a Zorro meets spaghetti western might sound like a lost cause to some, the film actually proved to extremely popular becoming a success worldwide and even making it into China where 70 million people went to see it. The film also inspired the producer IIya Salkind that more hero movies needed to be made spurring him to purchase the rights to Superman and bring the super hero back to the big screen.
So there you have. While Spaghetti Westerns will still undoubtedly bring up images of a Cigar chomping Clint Eastwood, now you can also think about the famous French actor Alain Delon and his portrayal of the famous masked avenger Zorro!