A Book Review by Tony Williams.

By using “Euro-Westerns” Grant reveals his respect for the genre, his refusal to acquiesce in previous terminology and his dedication to writing what is the most definite study of the genre it has ever received.”

Although European Westerns and their Mexican counterparts influenced the key movement of the Italian Westerns, it is nearly fifty years since the appearance of the one film that stylistically and thematically puts its brand on what would become a distinctive genre during the `1960s and 70s – Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Critically despised and vilified on initial appearance the film and its successors attracted the attention of a small band of enthusiasts such as Tim Ferrante and Tom Betts in the United States whose early publication Westerns… a’Il Italiana (now continuing as a valuable internet blog) paved the way for more serious critical attention. Other enthusiasts existed in Europe, all countless to name with their contemporary descendants, Mike Hauss, publisher and editor of the valuable Spaghetti Westerns Digest and Sebastian Hasselbeck of the internet Spaghetti Western. We must not forget both Koch Media DVD in Germany and the now sadly defunct New York’s Wild East DVD Company that constantly issued new restored editions of films that have often been overlooked. Also The Spaghetti Western podcast hosted by Tom Betts and Jay Jennings on youtube; broadcast every Saturday at high noon Californian time, it is gradually reaching its centenary issue with valuable surveys provided by both hosts every Saturday with occasional guest contributions by veterans such as Brett Halsey and Robert Woods as well as contemporary critics such as Kevin Grant himself, stimulating interest from those who are coming new to the field. Sebastian lists it as number one in his list of ten essential books devoted to this genre and Phil H.’s review of the first edition hails its status as the most authoritative and definitive book written on this field.

Any Gun Can Play (large format hardback) (PRE-ORDER)

This new edition from FAB Press by Kevin Grant (with a Foreword by Franco Nero) differs little from the original comprehensive version only in listing some new films and recently discovered information that appeared since its initial publication. The new edition also notes the passing of time taking familiar (Giuliano Gemma, Craig Hill, George Hilton, Robert Hossein, Tomas Milian, Bud Spencer) and unfamiliar names such as Jose Terron (1939-2019) forever immortalized as Colonel Mortimer’s first victim in For A Few Dollars More (1965) away from us. One of the Betts/Jennings podcasts featured the Terron family of stuntmen who benefitted from the guidance of Hollywood veteran Yakima Canutt (1895-1986) when working on Spanish locations for Samuel Bronsten epics in the early 60s. As Phil H. notes in his SWDB review, this is the most authoritative, definitive, and readable book of its kind, aided also by the fact that its author does not inhabit the toxic atmosphere of academia but writes clearly for a popular audience. (1) This was his first book and he has every reason to be proud of his achievement.

As Phil H. later notes, the book is light on Leone because he has received so much coverage elsewhere. What was needed was more attention on neglected films, actors, and directors that tended to be overlooked and overshadowed by the attention given to someone hideously vilified in his own time but now redeemed decades later. Grant has spoken to actors such as Richard Harrison and Robert Woods, seen everything possible, conscious of the fact that many “stinkers” (as Mike Hauss terms them) appeared but does not lose sight of the broader canvas.

Light on Leone because he has received so much coverage elsewhere…[with] more attention on neglected films, actors, and directors….”

Copiously illustrated by photos, lobby cards, and stills, the book opens with a large photo of the one actor who is recognized for this genre though he did other work in Italian cinema, wisely avoiding creative imprisonment in Hollywood, and the labelling of “Franco Zero” that jackanapes David Hemmings coins in his mischievous autobiography, Blow Up and Other Exaggerations (2016). In retrospect, Franco made the right decision to concentrate on his own national cinema avoiding the temptations of Guinness, Brandy, and philandering that finally made Hemmings virtually unrecognizable in his final films, as a glance at All the Way (2003) starring Dennis Hooper as a passable Frank Sinatra, shows. Franco provides a warm forward to this book followed by Grant’s 28-page introduction followed by footnotes. Each chapter contains very informative footnotes. Eight well-documented stimulating chapters are all exemplary in their content covering the genre from its infancy to decline, such as  “Target Practice” dealing with early Euro-westerns including those that question the unique status of Fistful, the broadening and maturing of generic horizons, a very different treatment of family and religion from Hollywood westerns, the emphasis on betrayal, political westerns, the Trinity/Django/Sartana/Sabata series of films, hybrid westerns including those that merged Gothic horror into the brew such as Antonio Margheriti’s Vengeance (1968), And God Said to Cain (1970; see top image) as well as the problematic insertion of comedy, and finally, the last brief sparks of the genre before decline such as Keoma (1977), Manneja (1977), and California (1977). The book concludes with a biographical Who’s Who in Euro-Westerns, filmography, bibliography, and index, in a work running 480 pages.

Franco Nero e Woody Strode - keoma | Movie stars, Spaghetti western, Actors
Keoma (Enzo G. Castellari, 1976)

One pleasing trait of the book is its use of the non-disparaging neutral term “Euro-western” rather than its popular, originally demeaning, term that has become fixed in critical and popular parlance. When listening to interviews with figures such as Ennio Morricone and Sergio Sollima one notes they reject the despised English term and always refer to the genre as “Westerns all ’Italiana”. By using “Euro-Westerns” Grant reveals his respect for the genre, his refusal to acquiesce in previous terminology and his dedication to writing what is the most definite study of the genre it has ever received.

My review copy is hardback, and I’m sure a paperback edition will appear as with the first publication. However, I advise anyone interested to buy a copy for Christmas and if not purchasing dynamite as the liberated El Chuncho (Gian Maria Volonte) does at the end of Quien Sabe? (1966) then put on your Fernando Sancho sombrero, practice your version of the genre’s distinctive bandido laugh, and hold up your nearest bank teller at gunpoint. This is all fantasy, of course, but if it leads to purchasing this excellent volume, then use “whatever means possible” at your disposal.


1. https://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Any_Gun_Can_Play_-_Book_Review     

Tony Williams is an independent film critic, a contributing editor to Film international, and co-author of the first English language study of the genre, Italian Western: Opera of Violence (1975).

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