Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy reviewed.

The joy of blockbusters.
June 27 2007 12:47 PM

The Original Tarantino

How Sergio Leone ushered in our borderless pop culture.

Read more from Slate's Summer Movies.

(Continued from Page 1)

Leone conceived of his movies as operas of violence, the standoff his aria. By the time it gets to the impossibly distended climax, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly reaches a delirium that borders on self-parody. With Ennio Morricone's score building to a crescendo, Leone ratchets up the suspense with an accelerating montage of ever-tighter close-ups, unleashing the expressive potential of a timeworn movie ritual, the gunfight.

Coming after that, Duck, You Sucker can't help but be a letdown. Set during the Mexican Revolution, Leone's most explicitly political movie plays like a relic of its time (it even opens with a Chairman Mao epigraph). Although the leftist Leone had always meant his movies as critiques of capitalist America, the politics were submerged in visceral pleasures. With its chic radicalism and sober violence, Duck, You Sucker is much too mired in the real world. Gone is the intoxicating, movie-mad artifice of the "Dollars" trilogy.


It figures that Duck, You Sucker is a failure. Leone's best movies, be it the Westerns (his masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West, deserves mention here) or his gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, were pastiches that elevated sensation over substance. Working on the premise of movies as a lingua franca, Leone appropriated the icons and idioms of Hollywood and used them as raw material for his febrile art.

Though the "Dollars" movies are now justly regarded as classics—they were critically dismissed at the time as sadistic trash—Leone has never quite received his due as the progenitor of a new kind of movie. In speaking of 1960s European cinema, critics sing the praises of Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Antonioni, and Bergman—and yet Leone, whose influence matches any of those filmmakers', barely gets a mention. Introducing a cinephilic sensibility to mass audiences, his movies prefigured our borderless pop culture and served as a key text for future filmmakers, from Martin Scorsese to John Woo to Quentin Tarantino. To watch the "Dollars" movies now isn't just to behold the reinvention of a genre—it's to be transported to the birth of a pop aesthetic.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.