Sergio Leone, born in 1929 in Rome, son of silent film director Vincenzo Leone, is best known for the creation of the spaghetti westerns. After making and writing several sword and sandal epics Leone decided to adapt Yojimbo, a samurai film by Akira Kurosawa. Leone turned it into the western A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, starring an unknown Clint Eastwood. Leone got much of his style, both in the complicated mise-en-scene and the use of Ennio Morricone's music from Yojimbo (but not the trademark Kurosawa wipe edit). A Fistful of Dollars created the spaghetti western genre which encompassed more than 200 films, sharing the features of being created in Italy, frequently being filmed in Spain, featuring self-assured killers with no names, scores either by Ennio Morricone, or in his style, and, of course, the shootout.
Leone's style grew from imitating Kurasawa to his own style, which uses editing in combination with Morricone's scores to create incredible emotional peaks, dramatic camera movements, and, his trademark, the extreme close-up of the eyes of the characters. After A Fistful of Dollars came For A Few Dollars More, and finally, the ultra-classic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. These are considered a series, since the main character is always Clint Eastwood, and he always lacks a name.
The next Leone film was made in 1968. Once Upon a Time in the West is a significant departure from Leone's earlier westerns. This film is stylistically a spaghetti western, yet Leone directs this film with incredible care and beauty, matched only by Morricone's classic score. Once Upon a Time in the West represents a quantum leap forward in film-making for Leone. The scenes are slow, beautiful, and powerful. The movie is a homage to the simplicity and honesty of the old west, doomed from the beginning of the movie to death by progress. This film, even more than the others, needs to be viewed in wide-screen (letterbox) format, since the atrocious pans and scans during crucial moments ruin the mood. This film is perfect, and needs to be seen in the perfect format.
After Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone made a different type of spaghetti western, one that deals with mercenaries and revolution: A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker). The genre is called a "Zapata Western", and although Leone did not create it, A Fistful of Dynamite is one of the genre's most memorable films. Another great example of the Zapata Western is Burn! (aka Quemada!), starring Marlon Brando, which is also essentially a film of this type, even though it is set on an isle off of South America in the 1700's.
Finally, Leone in 1984 created his second masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America, starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. The film is nearly four hours long, and was badly butchered for American release. The American version for some strange reason is still shown on A&E occasionally (strange because the American version is neither as artistic, nor as entertaining as the true version). The film is quite a departure for Leone, since it deals with Jewish gangsters in New York City's Lower East Side. The film's direction is slow, deliberate, impeccable, and intense. Of all Leone's films, this film has the best plot, portraying the lifelong struggle of a mobster wrestling with his criminal side.
Sergio Leone died in 1989.
He made some of the best movies ever made i.m.o. His whole style of making movies, filming, writing, he was a genious. Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are my favorites. No American Western can match his spaghetti westerns.