Western Week

Western Week: The Man With No Name

In which we celebrate the archetypal character: The Man With No Name

Gunslinger. Outlaw. Bounty Hunter. Anti-hero. These are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the Man With No Name. Best personified in Sergio Leone’s classic Dollars Trilogy, Clint Eastwood is the most recognized and emulated figure as the character.

Clint Eastwood in A Fistfull of Dollars

Unlike traditional, good guy cowboys (the John Wayne types), the Man With No Name is an outsider, shrouded in mystery. He plays by his own rules, and makes decisions that will benefit himself, according to his own views of justice or questionable morals. Although the line between right and wrong is blurred for this man, he will surprise occasionally by showing his soft spot for the helpless and downtrod…but at the same time is a bounty hunter that partakes in less than lawful activities.

Clint Eastwood’s role as the nameless gunslinger in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy–A Fistfull of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly–is probably the most easily recognized character of the Spaghetti (read: Italian made) Western *cue Ennio Morricone music*. Although it is debateable as to whether or not Eastwood’s character was the same man in all three movies, he is the central figure of the trilogy, wearing the same clothes, and going about his business.

Toshiro Mifune as Kuwabatake Sanjuro in Yojimbo

Although Sergio Leone’s version of the Man With No Name is the most iconic, the original inspiration for Eastwood’s character is rooted in Japanese cinema (just as other classic westerns, such as the to be reviewed The Magnificent Seven, pay homage to Japanese cinema and vice versa–as kind of an organic, dynamic relationship). Akira Kurosawa, Japanese director extraordinaire, made a movie in 1961 called Yojimbo, which in turn was inspired by American westerns. However, instead of the usual moral hero tale, Kurosawa’s hero remains nameless, and refers to himself as Kuwabatake Sanjuro, or Mulberry Field 30 Year old, who is a lone samurai (a ronin). Sergio Leone’s A Fistfull of Dollars (the first of the Dollars Trilogy) is actually a remake of Yojimbo.

In the Japanese movie, Sanjuro is a wandering samurai that chances upon a dry, small town. He is startled by the bad condition of the town (chancing upon a dog with a human hand in its mouth), and seeks out more information, only to discover hooligans who don’t like outsiders. Sanjuro finds that two rival ganglords have control of the town, and hires his services as a bodyguard out to one of the gangs (after dispatching of a few men), and manages to slowly outwit both gangs through subtle tactics, leading to the eventual annihilation and spilling of blood for both sides. In A Fistfull of Dollars, the plot is mirrored to the letter, substituting the southwest for Feudal Japan, and pistols for samurai katanas. (It is in this Leone film that the infamous boiler plate under the serape as body armor is used to beat Ramon Rojo in a pistol-rifle fight).

Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi in Desperado

Since Clint Eastwood, the archetype has grown. In other westerns, the Man with No Name is further explored in later Clint Eastwood films as “The Stranger” in High Plains Drifter, or in the later Sergio Leone film Once Upon A Time in the West with Charles Bronson as “Harmonica”. In the most recent remake of A Fistfull of Dollars and Yojimbo, Bruce Willis starred as “John Smith” in Last Man Standing. In modern, popular western movies, the archetype is revisited in Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) as the nameless man is “the Mariachi”.

Mel Gibson as the titled Mad Max; Jeremy Bulloch as Boba Fett

The Man With No Name, however, is not merely confined to Westerns–the archetype has also spread across genres and media. In the science fiction arena, the Mad Max movies, starring Mel Gibson, showcase the Road Warrior travelling across a post-apocalypse Earth. In Star Wars, Boba Fett is introduced as the bounty hunter sent after Han Solo in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back–and remains nameless until Return of the Jedi.

In literature, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series main character and anti-hero Roland Deschain is modeled after Clint Eastwood’s role. In comic book format, there is an upcoming release of the continuation of the Man With No Name (as portrayed by Clint Eastwood) early this year.

As classic heroes as pilars of virtue, honesty, friendship, truth, etc get extremely tiresome and make me want to gag, the anti-hero, as an inherently ‘bad’ character is much more my style. Clint Eastwood will always be cooler to me than John Wayne. Batman has always been my go-to guy over do-gooder suckup Superman. Sawyer totally rules; and Jack sucks.

Where do you fall on the spectrum?

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5 Comments

  • Kim
    March 31, 2008 at 11:17 am

    I gotta say I love the anti-hero too. The one you love to hate and hate to love at the same time. I loved Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma. Russell Crowe and The Man with No Name would never hold your purse when you go to try on something in the dressing room….gotta respect that. 🙂

  • Katie(babs)
    March 31, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    I was drooling the whole time I watched Antonio in Desperado. Drool, drool, drool…

  • Kristie (J)
    March 31, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Oh definitely anti-hero fan here! Mad Max before Mel went Mad – Yummm

  • Thea
    March 31, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Kim–I loved Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma as well. Sure he was a murderer, a thief and in general a Bad Man–but those small flashes of humanity and redemption despite everything makes the anti-hero completely worth it.

    And you definitely gotta respect the non-purse holding cowboy! 🙂

    Katie–I think this is a common affliction in Antonio Banderas movies 😉

    The Mexico Trilogy is brilliant–I especially love how characters that ‘die’ in a previous installment are alive and kicking (as completely new characters) in the next film.

  • Thea
    March 31, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Oh definitely anti-hero fan here! Mad Max before Mel went Mad

    Kristie, LOL!

    Oh and randomly, if anyone is into the Mad Max movies, Neil Marshall’s new film Doomsday is supposed to be a more modern take on the post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie. 🙂 I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks promising. Plus, Neil Marshall is solid.

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