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Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads: Studies in Relocation, Transition and Appropriation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016). Edited by Austin Fisher.

Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads

As its title suggests, the chapters featured in this timely edited volume all focus on Spaghetti Westerns in one way or another. The many intriguing and original topics that the book’s contributors engage with include the representation of Irish characters in Italian Westerns, political Spaghetti Westerns, the Spaghetti Western’s links to a variety of Asian cinemas and the Italian Western’s influence on the comic book Western.

Lee Broughton’s chapter titled ‘Emancipation all’Italiana: Giuseppe Colizzi and the Representation of African Americans in Italian Westerns’ highlights the groundbreaking nature of the African American gunslingers that appeared in Spaghetti Westerns during the late 1960s. Lee uses Giuseppe Colizzi’s previously overlooked films – Ace High (I quattro dell’Ave Maria, 1968) starring Brock Peters and Boot Hill (La collina degli stivali, 1969) starring Woody Strode – as his primary case studies here.

A handful of Hollywood Westerns from the 1960s – such as Ralph Nelson’s Duel at Diablo (1966) which starred Sidney Poitier and Richard Brooks’ The Professionals (1966) which starred Woody Strode – had attempted to reflect the changing times by including major African American characters who were active and assertive when compared to the more stereotypically marginal, static and placid African American characters who had appeared in earlier American “B” Westerns. However, the African American characters who appeared in Hollywood’s Westerns during the 1960s remained highly constrained at a narrative level: they could only shoot at demonised “Others” (Native Americans, Mexicans and foreign soldiers) and were denied the chance of romance or a family life. By contrast, Lee reveals that the active and assertive African American gunslingers found in Colizzi’s Italian Westerns were free to shoot at any character who wronged them while also being free to marry and act in a paternal manner.

As well as close readings of the films, Lee’s chapter uncovers and examines a number of local cultural, political and socio-historical circumstances which he argues played a part in Italian filmmakers being able to include such groundbreaking depictions of African Americans in their Westerns. Indeed, Lee argues that the strikingly active and assertive African American gunmen found in Colizzi’s films – and the sense of independence and narrative agency that they enjoy – prefigured the similarly coded but more widely acknowledged and celebrated African American gunslingers who appeared in American Blaxploitation Westerns during the early 1970s. As such – in terms of the ongoing representation of African Americans out West – the findings of Lee’s chapter ultimately serve to upset and problematise the Western’s received evolutionary model.

A much expanded version of Lee’s chapter from Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads appears in his book The Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film (I.B. Tauris, 2016). In The Euro-Western, Lee adds crucial discussions regarding the representation of African American females in Italian Westerns and the Western genre more generally. The further films that he offers close readings of include Siro Marcellini’s Lola Colt (1967), which stars Lola Falana, and Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968), which stars Vonetta McGee.