When I read Alex Cox' line "...full of half-assed semiotics and other attenuated academic nonsense," it brought a smile to my face, since it reminded me of Christopher Frayling's book. This book is so much better. The juvenile anti-Americanism, trendy academic junk and communism/marxism of Frayling is largely absent here. But never fear-- instead you get at least 100 references to "racism" and sexism. After all, there is a pervasive misogyny in these Italowesterns and Mexicans, in particular, are usually portrayed as outrageously vile bandits or incredibly stupid and passive peones. As a result of reading these books it would seem that the Italian directors, who had to put up with censorship and cuts in the '60s because of torture and excessive violence, would have bigger problems today with charges of "racism" and "sexism."
The chapters in this book are organized by the year the movies came out. 51 films are highlighted, but many more are covered in the transition paragraphs between the featured movies. I have found Cox' comments useful and enlightening. Of course he is opinionated, but that's what we want in a book of this type.
Frayling's book was filled with silliness, such as his insistence that John Ford, the godfather of the Western movie, was not really an American at all, but rather an Irishman. Ford was a second-generation American, as am I, but nobody has ever told me that I'm not a real American, that I'm actually a German. The silliest comment from Cox comes on page 285, where he writes that British politicans and media people who insist on a special relationship with the US should ponder that a Hollywood studio financed a film (Sergio Leone's "Giu la Testa") which featured an Irish revolutionary played by an American actor who kills 2 British soldiers in the province of Ireland. This is absurd on the face of it-- as if movies should determine foreign policy. All the more so when one remembers just how many Italowesterns treat the subject of American intervention in the Third World. Ireland, you know...
I want to mention a few things about his review of "The Return of Ringo," one of my favorite Italowesterns. Cox does a good job discussing why most heroes wore the blue during the Civil War [but see the discussion for a refutation] and clearly likes Tessari's direction, but the strange political comments come on page 79. Ringo appears to Paco Fuentes in a dust storm, finally decked-out in his spotless US Cavalry uniform. Cox wonders: "Is this fantastical scene racist? Maybe." Paco is dressed in his aristocratic Mexican finery and Ringo is dressed in the best he can do at the time. Surely (maybe not) Cox can see that Ringo has a legitimate problem with Paco-- he has killed his father, a US senator, taken over the family estate and now is forcing his wife Hally into marriage? But Ringo should worry about being "racist" to Paco? Maybe not, to Cox, as he continues, because "...Paco is a low-down child-threatener, and by the Rainbow-of-Diversity Coalition which Ringo has assembled to defeat the foe..." Politically correct CYA, it would seem. I suppose that Cox thinks that whites should never engage in conflict or competition with "people of color" lest they be considered "racist."
Cox is very squeamish about women being beaten (The Big Gundown/La Resa dei Conti) and Blacks beaten ("The Price of Power"), but he laments the fact that the massacre of Christians in "Four of the Apocalypse" occurs off-screen and he didn't get to see it. He also loves it when "capitalists" get whacked. It makes me think that he would have been a good Chekist and perhaps an enthusiastic agitprop film-maker.
Despite the political silliness I like this book and recommend it to all who love these films.