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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Top Ten Western Actors No 8 - Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef certainly belongs on this list - his first film role was in the classic, High Noon. He was also in The Man who Shot Liberty Vallance and had an uncredited part as one of the river pirates in How the West Was Won.

At the height of his success Van Cleef was involved in a very serious car accident that meant he had to retire from acting for some time. When he returned to acting he found that the roles just weren't coming and he was stuck with small supporting roles. In fact when his big break came with Sergio Leone's, For a Few Dollars more he was actually making a living as a painter.

When Van Cleef was cast alongside Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More  the actor found himself in great demand, particularly with European directors who wanted to cast the man they called, "Snake Eyes" in their westerns. Van Cleef appeared again with Eastwood in the awesome, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and afterwards he made a string of spaghetti westerns that, although not allowing him to be taken seriously by Hollywood, did keep him firmly in the public eye. And whilst it is true that many of his European westerns are forgettable it is also fact that several are classics of the genre - Death Rides a Horse, The Big Gundown, Sabata and God's Gun are all excellent westerns.

Later in life Van Cleef found himself once again in demand in Hollywood and he had a supporting role in John Carpenter's classic Escape from New York and in the 80's he starred in the short lived television series, The Master. In all Van Cleef took 90 movie roles as well as well over a hundred television parts in his thirty eight year career.

The majority of Van Cleef's westerns were made when the genre wasn't really in vogue and as such he deserves his placing in a list such as this. He had the looks and manner than enabled him to play the anti-hero with ease as well as a downright villain. And several of his films are classics of the spaghetti western genre.


Randy Johnson said...

A favorite of mine, all those westerns you mentioned are among my top westerns.

G said...

Can't forget that he got his start on the small screen in shows like "Gunsmoke".

Ron Scheer said...

He shows up over and over in Hollywood westerns - he didn't need much makeup to look like a bad guy. He gets put away early in GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL by Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. Thanks for the bio.

Oscar said...

Can't say that I disagree with Mr. van Cleef, good choice.

Chris said...

New English Library Original Publications of editions of George G. Gilman's "Edge" series has classic cover art with Edge looking exactly like Lee Van Cleef. As far as I know these stories were never made into movies but it looks like Van Cleef at least made it onto these great covers. Stories are pretty good too.