A longtime screenwriter and director, Sergio Sollima was active in Italian cinema circles from the 1950s through the 1990s, working in a multitude of genres -- it was as a maker of westerns in the mid-1960s, however, that he emerged to international fame. Born in Rome in 1921, Sollima's earliest formal movie credit was as the screenwriter on Luigi Comencini's 1951 drama Behind Closed Shutters, which co-starred Giulietta Massina. His film work in the 1950s was confined to the writing of screenplays, stories, and dialogue. By the early 1960s, he'd moved into the then booming field of sword-and-sandal action film, writing the scripts for such pictures as Ursus and Goliath Against the Giants. By the dawn of the mid-1960s, that cycle of action films had run its course, and Sollima had moved on, along with much of the rest of the Italian movie industry, to working on spy films, the latest craze of the period -- but this time he was in the director's chair.
In 1966, he turned his attention to the western, and it was with this setting that he would achieve international recognition, based on his three movies in the genre: La Resa Dei Conti (aka The Big Gundown) (1966), Facia a facia (aka Face to Face) (1967), and Corri Uomo Corri (aka Run, Man, Run) (1968). Sollima brought a distinctive style to all three movies -- which he also co-authored -- mixing a wry, sardonic wit with a keen sense of action and violence, and the rhythms, visual and otherwise, to maximize their impact. Additionally, the three films displayed a remarkable appreciation for subtleties about the American character, elements that had been lost in homegrown U.S. westerns over the previous decade or more. The Big Gundown, in particular, gave Lee Van Cleef one of his meatiest and most complex action-film roles, as a bounty hunter who, while tracking down a wanted man into Mexico, discovers that the "respectable" and powerful people around him may be far more dangerous than many of the men he's been pursuing; and Face to Face has, buried in its action-filled screenplay, a fascinating psychological and morality play (and it also owes a tiny bit, seemingly, to the real-life relationship between William Clarke Quantrill and renegade Cherokee war chief (and Confederate sympathizer) Joel B. Mayes). Sollima's three westerns never achieved mass exposure in America of the sort enjoyed by Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" films starring Clint Eastwood, but critics embraced them as the equal of Leone's work. Alas, the genre had run its course by the end of the 1960s, and Sollima moved on to other categories of movie, having seemingly said what he needed to in the western. He continued working Italy right into the end of the 1990s, more often as a screenwriter than a director, and by the outset of the twenty-first century was retired. Sollima died in 2015, at age 94.