By the early '60s, it was impossible to look at a tumbleweed blowing through a John Wayne film and not think that his brand of stoic heroism was dead. But two unlikely figures were about to come riding to the rescue: Italian director Sergio Leone and a young TV actor named Clint Eastwood. The three spaghetti Westerns that they made between 1964 and 1966 were brutal and operatic, and turned Eastwood into a squinting, badass icon. Now all three are available in gorgeously restored two-disc editions, packaged with fistfuls of extras, in The Sergio Leone Anthology.
Better known to spaghetti Western aficionados as ''The Man With No Name Trilogy,'' the saga kicks off with A Fistful of Dollars, an Old West riff on Kurosawa's Yojimbo, with Eastwood as the cheroot-chomping gunslinger playing two feuding clans against one another. For a Few Dollars More introduces Lee Van Cleef as a reptilian bounty hunter and ends with a bravura three-way shoot-out. But it's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly where Leone indulges his sweet tooth for gonzo excess. It's almost rococo, mixing haunting long shots right out of The Searchers with supertight close-ups of its characters' sweaty faces.
As a bonus, there's also Leone's little-seen 1972 spaghetti Western, Duck, You Sucker, which features Rod Steiger's raunchy Mexican bandito and James Coburn's IRA explosives expert serving up a pair of hambone accents. It's a three-star dessert after a four-star meal. The Eastwood films: A; Duck: B+