Clint Eastwood should have thanked Italy's film industry when accepting his second Best Director Oscar for this year's critically acclaimed Million Dollar Baby, because without advent of Italian-born Spaghetti Western in 1960s, Eastwood wouldn't have a career. Italians didn't invent Western, but they took an American staple and made it their own. By 1960, US film production companies had exhausted good-guy-fighting-for-justice storyline, and film sales dwindled. Italian filmmakers capitalized on lucrative American market by tweaking conventional plot, adding a few crucial stylistic elements (including memorable musical scores) and selling them back to Americans.
It was golden age of Italian Cinema (1956-1971) and between years 1963 and 1973, over 400 Italian-style Westerns (dubbed "Spaghetti Westerns" by American audiences) were made.
Italian Western director Sergio Leone got tumbleweed rolling. He was first to make a huge impact in United States, with quintessential Spaghetti Western The Good, Bad, and Ugly, making a star out of a young, relatively unknown (but incredibly handsome) American TV actor named Clint Eastwood.
The graphic violence attributed to series of films that Leone would complete may have had something to do with Vietnam War, which took place during this phenomenon.
Leone's first film, 1964's breakthrough hit A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari) was based on Akira Kurosawa's samurai epic Yojimbo. Leone was a postmodern mannerist, exaggerating artistic elements of a film to make a profound impact on viewer, like close-up shots that would fill up entire screen and exceedingly slow movements.
In contrast to Spaghetti Western genre, American Westerns abided by an unwritten ethical code called Hays Code, which prevented shooter and victim from being in same frame together (so if frame was focused on victim, shot would come from off-screen for example). But with an eye for arresting violence, Leone had a different view on censorship. The Roman director once said: "My representation of death is moral as well as intellectual."
Take psychedelic opening sequence for A Fistful of Dollars: It begins with a hazy white spot on a blood-red screen, accompanied by sound of gunshots combined with Ennio Morricone's unique music. Morricone became instantly famous for his one of a kind musical scores - The Good, Bad and Ugly theme is most familiar of these.