The Twilight of the Western Towns

California (1977, Michele Lupo) is one of the best examples of a short cycle of westerns called The Twilight Spaghetti Westerns. They were produced in the second half of the Seventies, roughly a decade after the glory years of the spaghetti western genre. The entire production of Italian genre movies was in decline and the recession had turned the western towns of the Roman Studios into ghost towns.

California is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The West that once was Wild, has become a Waste land. The legendary set designer Carlo Simi used the ramshackle western town of the Elios Studios to create an atmosphere of decay and despair. In an early scene of the movie, Giuliano Gemma and Miguel Bose ride into town; they’re both Confederate soldiers, prisoners of war who were released after the Confederacy had surrendered. The town is in ruins, the town street full of trash, the saloon a dusty place, once full of life, now deserted. The two - sitting on one horse - ride into the saloon, alongside the bar, turn around, and return to the town street. The horse they’re riding, was stolen, and the next moment, Bose will be shot in the back by the owner and subsequently hanged in the town street.

Gemma and Bose in the town street of the Elios western town

And in the saloon where once Django was king 

A second ghost town used by Carlo Simi, was Mini Hollywood in Almeria, created in 1965 for Sergio leone’s For a Few Dollars More. A storm had almost completely swept away the town and its facades and buildings. Simi’s famous Bank of El Paso ('the bank only a madman would try to rob') was one of the few buildings that had survived. With some additional debris to complete the image of a town in ruins, the set proved to be the perfect picture to symbolize a society and an industry in trouble. A Twilight Western, shot in Twilight Western towns: with movies like California and Keoma (1976, Enzo G. Castellari) the Italian western had its last upswing. It wasn’t a boom, like boom of the Sixties, but those latter-day westerns were excellent pieces of film-making.

Mini Hollywood 1977, after the storm ...

The bank of El Paso even weathered the storm 


THE MOVIE: CALIFORNIA (1977, Michele Lupo)

(from the review on Spaghetti Western Database:)
The inmates of a Unionist prison camp are given a week to find work or leave the state. A young officer, Willy Preston, who wants to walk all the way home to Georgia, imposes himself on a veteran called Michael Random, a man with no particular place to go. The two steal a horse but ...
- Continue reading here: California - Movie Review


Mini Hollywood, Wikipedia Page
Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die, p. 314-318


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