Red Westerns

Sergio Leone famously filmed Westerns in Italy and Spain, creating the genre known as the Spaghetti Western. But Soviet bloc countries had their own version too: the Red Westerns.

Red Western
Aleksandr Chazov [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The picture above looks like a classic Western setting, no? It’s actually the Manpupuner rock formations in the Ural Mountains. From the 1960s onwards, Western films were made in the USSR, East Germany, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. They came in roughly two types: films that were set in the United States but filmed in the Soviet bloc, and films that were set in the Soviet bloc but filmed in the style of a Western.

A good example of the first type is a trilogy of films shot in Romania, about Romanian immigrants in the Wild West:

  • The Prophet, the Gold and the Transylvanians
  • The Actress, the Dollars and the Transylvanians
  • The Oil, the Baby and the Transylvanians

Great titles, by the way. You can see a clip from the first one below.

The term sometimes used to describe these films is “Ostern” (an East Western). Perhaps the most famous is the 1966 East German The Sons of the Great Bear. It flipped the traditional Western on its head by making the Native Americans the protagonists and the US army the bad guys. As you can imagine, this went down very well with Communist audiences during the Cold War.

(A side note: Germany has a long and often culturally-appropriative relationship with Native Americans through the works of Karl May, so an East German Western is not a surprise.)

The other branch of Red Westerns were Western-style films set and filmed in the Soviet bloc. For example, The Elusive Avengers is set during the Russian Civil War, but used Western tropes (heck, the heroes even ride off into the sunset at the end of the film!).

[Thanks to David S. for suggesting this topic.]

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