Any Gun Can Play by Kevin Grant


This was something I put together last year for FAB Press but the book has only been published in the past month. The design was little more than an assembly job on my part, with Harvey at FAB requesting a montage of the three poster-art gunmen plus suitable Western typography. We went through a number of generic fonts then I added a little creative touch with the background for the title type which was a sheet of paper scorched and stained using tap water, a tea bag and a gas-ring. Forget Photoshop filters, you still can’t beat the trusty tea bag for random stains.

Cynical and stylish, bloody and baroque, Euro-westerns replaced straight-shooting sheriffs and courageous cowboys with amoral adventurers, whose murderous methods would shock the heroes of Hollywood Westerns. These films became box-office sensations around the world, and their influence can still be felt today.

Any Gun Can Play puts the phenomenon into perspective, exploring the films’ wider reaches, their recurrent themes, characters, quirks and motifs. It examines Euro-westerns in relation to their American ancestors and the mechanics of the Italian popular film industry, and spotlights the unsung actors, directors and other artists who subverted the ‘code’ of the Western and dragged it into the modern age.

Based on years of research backed up by interviews with many of the genre’s leading lights, including actors Franco Nero, Giuliano Gemma and Gianni Garko, writer Sergio Donati, and directors Sergio Sollima and Giuliano Carnimeo, Any Gun Can Play will satisfy both connoisseurs and the curious.

Despite my minimal contribution, this is a very handsome volume to be connected to. I’ve had Christopher Frayling’s Spaghetti Westerns (1981) book for years so I’m already disposed towards the subject. Frayling’s book is a semi-academic analysis which for a long time was the only serious study of the subgenre. Additional studies by Frayling and others have followed but Kevin Grant’s book, subtitled The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns, looks like a tough one to beat: 480 pages, detailed analyses, a who’s who section, filmography, and a huge quantity of photos and poster graphics, many in colour. There’s also a foreword by actor Franco Nero, threatening everyone on the cover in his Django guise. To test the author’s thoroughness I looked up Se sei vivo spara (1967) (If You Live, Shoot!), a film also known as Django Kill! even though it’s nothing to do with the Django series. Giulio Questi’s film is a very bizarre (and occasionally inept) blend of Spaghetti tropes and horror-style scenes of graphic gore, featuring (among other things) a crucified hero, a vampire bat, and a band of black-clad homosexual cowboys. Frayling’s book devotes a few paragraphs to the film while Grant gives it two-and-a-half pages plus pictures. IMDB may tell us the facts about a film’s production but the barely-literate reviews and troll-filled discussion boards on that site are useless. For authoritative review and analysis you still need a book like this. Any Gun Can Play can be ordered direct from FAB Press where they’re selling a limited number signed by Franco Nero and the author.

10 thoughts on “Any Gun Can Play by Kevin Grant”

  1. Thanks, Anne. It’s the poster art that makes it, really. I would have credited the artists if I could find the details somewhere. Clint and Klaus are from a For A Few Dollars More poster, Franco Nero is from a film called Massacre Time which I see now isn’t a Django film at all…

    The tea bag trick was something I used to do as a kid when making fake pirate maps. I think my mother may have suggested it. She’d been an art student and I remember her helping me make at least one map doing the burned edges thing.

  2. Gabriel: Spaghetti, of course. In the Frayling book he goes to some lengths to classify other European Westerns according to local dishes, so Spanish ones are Paella Westerns, Russian ones are Borscht Westerns, etc. I don’t think Carry On Cowboy gets a mention which is a good job since that would have to be a Spotted Dick Western.

  3. In the same way thsat you can’t beat a tea bag,the best way to get the ‘Knackered Old Typewriter’ font is to use a knackerded old typewriter.

    I quite often run things through a fax a couple of times to give it that ‘fucked up’ look…

  4. This looks great. There’s so much genuine bizarreness and oddness in the genre when you dig in a bit.

    Frayling you mention also wrote a great biography on Leone, I think it came out in the late 90s. Does it cover ‘The Big Silence’ starring Kinski, probably one of the most downbeat, nihilistic movies I’ve ever seen, but in a truthful way, if that makes any sense.

    I can appreciate that it’s hard to stay away from the stylistic trappings and signposts of the genre when designing for something like this.

    Actually, I just tried out the old teabag stain trick last week, very mixed results though, one of those things that can give you either happy or unhappy accidents.

    Nick Hydra, should that not be ‘faxed up’? Ho, ho. ho

  5. Gabriel: Straight to Hell receives passing mention in the end chapter where he’s listing parodies and films influenced by the Westerns. And there’s a lot about Trinity and Terence Hill.

    Nick: Another old trick is to photocopy a picture over and over so the edges degrade and the flaws get exaggerated.

    Alfie: Yes, the Kinski film is there under the name The Great Silence which I think is a more accurate translation, Silence being the lead character and all. I’ve only seen it the once but I remember it being a good one. Kinski was in more Westerns than I thought although I doubt many of them are as good as the Leone and Corbucci ones. As for Frayling, I don’t read many biographies so I didn’t get his Leone book. There’s also his Once Upon a Time in Italy: The Westerns of Sergio Leone.

  6. Just for the record: I’ve written an e-book on the subject in 2010, it’s called A MAN, A HORSE AND A GUN – THE SPAGHETTI WESTERNS, ITS BEGINNING & IT’S INFLUENCES. It’s written in Portuguese, but if anyone understands thE language, it’s available on and the Portuguese title is UM HOMEM, UM CAVALO, UMA PISTOLA – O SPAGHETTI WESTERN, SEUS PRIMÓRDIOS & SUA HERANÇA.

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