Sinister Cinema: What Ever Happened to Lee Van Cleef?

van cleefOkay, you keystroke the term Spaghetti Western, you’re pretty much going to start thinking about Lee Van Cleef. How could you not?

After prepping the post about La Cuidad Maldita, Van Cleef’s image drifted to mind, one thing led to another, and I watched the 1962 John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance —  not one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t argue about the classic status. Some great shots here and there, nice bits of acting, but in general I remembered it as slow and ham-handed, and after a refresher viewing, yep, slow and ham-handed.

It’s been decades since I last saw it, and I was interested in giving it another shot mostly to watch Lee Marvin as the bad guy, and because a mention on the web reminded me that I had forgotten completely about Strother Martin acting as assistant bad guy — and what the hell, Lee Van Cleef as the other assistant bad guy! Ford didn’t quite make the most of the possibilities, but you’ve got to give him major points for iconic casting. Yeah, Marvin gets to chew the scenery and spit it out, but Martin and Van Cleef don’t get enough action to equal some of their better lesser roles.

Doing some quick surfing into Van Cleef’s career, it is hard to believe that when he shot Valance he was at a low ebb in his career, kind of forgotten. When Sergio Leone sought to cast his Spaghetti Westerns, he apparently wanted Charles Bronson, but got Clint Eastwood — he wanted Lee Marvin, but fell back on Van Cleef. And the rest is the history of cinema.

All of which reminded me that I made a note about one day featuring a song on the blog — “Lee Van Cleef” by Primus — which I happened to hear on the radio awhile back and liked. I notice other blogs use songs (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine features a new song each and every day, which I consider excessive in the sense that I wouldn’t want to blog that hard, even on my most enthusiastic days). And here’s Primus:

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