"Even in the greatest Westerns, the woman is imposed on the action, as a star, and is generally destined to be “had” by the male lead. But she does not exist as a woman. If you cut her out of the film, in a version which you can imagine, the film becomes much better. In the desert, the essential problem was to survive. Women were an obstacle to survival! Usually, the woman not only holds up the story, but she has no real character, no reality. She is a symbol. She is there without having any reason to be there, simply because one must have a woman, and because the hero must prove, in some way or another, that he has "sex-appeal.""
Sergio Leone (1929-1989)
"My films are often characterized by the lack of women present in them, except for this last one [Once Upon a Time in America]. Would you like to know why I create the women as I do? Well, because I think women have always been considered objects, especially in the genre of westerns. And especially in gangster films, with the gangster’s moll—she would always be more or less of an object. And I’m not convinced of this theory. Because I think even gangsters’ women have brains. They think and even, as we say, have balls.
Virginia Woolf was one example. She was called the “Lover of 100 Gangsters.” Which is why, in the context of westerns, when I used a woman in my films or wrote a woman into my film, I wanted her to be a central point and a motivating point or a catalyst to function in the film. I didn’t want her just to be a woman standing at the window, waving hello and goodbye to men as they came and went in the world that they were struggling through. I wanted her to have a true function.
When I used Claudia [Cardinale] for example, in Once Upon a Time in the West, she represented the birth of American matriarchy. Because women had enormous weight in America. And they still have. Because they are truly the padrone [owners, masters] of America. Therefore, when they are put into a film, I think they have to be put in for a distinct purpose and have a reason to exist. Not as some superficial or gratuitous presence. You see in Once Upon a Time in the West the whole film moves around her [Cardinale]. If you take her out, there’s no more film. She’s the central motor of the entire happening. It’s the same for Deborah [Elizabeth McGovern] and for Carol [Tuesday Weld] [in Once Upon a Time in America]."
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