(1930– )
   Clint Eastwood is unquestionably one of the most important figures in the history of cinema Westerns. On numerous levels, his Man with No Name character in Sergio Leone’s 1960s Dollars Trilogy forever changed the concept of the Western cowboy hero and the myth of the West. In the 1970s and 1980s, a series of important films continued to redefine the Western genre. Unforgiven (1992), for which he received his first Academy Award as director, is arguably the best Western film ever. His story has become Hollywood legend. Clint Eastwood came from a working-class family in San Francisco, California. After a series of common jobs and a stint in the army, he was signed by Universal, primarily based on his athletic build and good looks. Aseries of bit parts throughout the 1950s eventually led to the role of Rowdy Yates in the popular television Western Rawhide, which ran for seven seasons. At the time, Westerns were the most popular genre on television, and Rawhide consistently led the ratings. Rowdy Yates was a young daredevil ramrod to the older and wiser trail boss, Gil Favor. For the 1950s, the Yates character had immense sex appeal, and Eastwood became a popular American cowboy star in the classic Westerntradition. In retrospect, Eastwood’s dissatisfaction with his television acting career was inevitable since he had already worked behind the scenes in scriptwriting and directing. However, CBS held a rigid contract with its actors and did not want to lose a top-draw series star to the movies. Through a few threats of walking out and other moves, Eastwood persuaded executives to allow him to spend time in Europe with Cinecitta Studios making cheap Italian movies. CBS most likely reasoned that these movies would be so bad that they would be a short-lived venture for Eastwood and would never be seen in the United States anyway.
   Quite the opposite happened, however. Eastwood teamed up with Sergio Leone to make a series of three Westerns that would change Westerns permanently. The three films, known collectively as the Dollars Trilogy were Per un pugno di dollari (1964) ; Per qualche dollaro in piu (1965) ; and Buono,il brutto,il cattivo,Il(1966) —later released in the United States as A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The films were so successful in Europe that Cinecitta sought American distribution. All three films came out in one year. Reactions to the films were immediate and strong. A Fistful of Dollarswas released in January 1967; For a Few Dollars More in May 1967; and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in December 1967. Critics scornfully dismissed these films made in Italy (actually Spain) as “spaghetti Westerns.” Many felt that these popular movies would destroy the Western genre, coming only a decade after the embarrassing (to them) B Westerns had finally faded away. The most severe criticism of these films focused on Eastwood’s character. All the usual stereotypes were overturned with this Man with No Name. Other than being a man of few words, Eastwood’s character bore no resemblance to cowboys played by such stars as Randolph Scott or John Wayne. In A Fistful of Dollars, the Man with No Name enters town, backed by Ennio Morricone’s innovative soundtrack, riding a donkey, wearing a flat-brimmed hat and a serape, and chewing on a cigarillo. He bears loyalty to no one save himself, he ignores traditional morality, and he shuns legal authority as simply irrelevant or as part of the problem to be eliminated. The violencethat ensued in these films was far in excess of anything from the Rawhidetelevision series (to which Eastwood returned after filming in Italy) or other classic Westerns; a violence that might purify but it did not regenerate. When the Man with No Name stared down his victim and then squeezed the trigger, his stare turned from hatred to pleasure. With the Dollars Trilogy, the classic era of Westerns effectively ended. The new era would bring forth a spate of antimyth Westerns.
   For Eastwood, the release of the Dollars Trilogy was timed perfectly. The children who had grown up watching Hopalong Cassidy and Roy RogersWesterns now rejected the values of their parents and were ready to embrace anything that reinforced their new values. In the spaghetti Westerns, an old cultural artifact became new and reenergized, and Clint Eastwood became the hero for a new generation. After the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood returned to the United States and made an American spaghetti Western–style film, Hang ’Em High (1968) —a solid Western similar to the Dollars films except that this time Eastwood played a lawman.
   Then he began a series of non-Western characters, notably Dirty Harry, who simply brought Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name up to date. Eastwood then worked with Lee Marvin on a musical Western, Paint Your Wagon (1969; directed by Joshua Logan), which, while a curiosity, nevertheless is probably the best Western musical to date. In the 1970s Eastwood returned to more classic Westerns, first with Joe Kidd(1972) directed by John Sturges, who had directed the classic Western The Magnificent Seven(1960). While for Eastwood this Western was a reconnection with real American Westerns, for Sturges it proved quite a departure. The following year Eastwood directed his first Western, High Plains Drifter (1973), a film that owes much to William S. Hart’s Hell’s Hinges (1916). He directed again in The Outlaw Josey Wales(1976), perhaps his most savagely violent film to that point. In 1985 Eastwood directed Pale Rider and played the Preacher, a man who lulls a ruthless mining baron and his thugs into complacency reminiscent of Destry Rides Again (1939).
   For the 1992 film Unforgiven, Eastwood won his first Academy Award for best director and the film won best picture. In this film Eastwood seemingly overturns his Man with No Name persona, playing a simple farmer who is trying to honor his deceased wife’s request that he forsake his guns and bring up his small children correctly. In the end, however, he must take up his guns again. Since the end of the classic Western era, fans and critics have debated the future of Westerns. Who knows whether Clint Eastwood will return to Westerns, but it is clear that throughout the post–classic Western era—the post–John Wayneera—he has been developing some of the best Westerns ever produced. The inevitable comparisons to Wayne persist. What Eastwood has done that John Wayne could never do was receive critical acclaim from the film industry, seen in his numerous Academy Awards, and also from academic film critics. Eastwood brought artistic respectability to the Western.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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