A few, sort of forgotten Westerns that I really like that have a Spaghetti Western picaresque feel to them are
Viva Villa (1934)
Perhaps the touchstone grand-daddy of "Zapata" Westerns was MGM's 1934 "Viva Villa" (Black & White) starring Wallace Beery, directed by Jack Conway & Howard Hawks. Its a fictionalized account of Pancho Villa's life, but it does hit some of the major plot points of the real life Villa, however it doesn't even mention Villa's invasion and bank robbery of Columbus, New Mexico and the subsequent unsuccessful pursuit by General John Pershing into Mexico. Its shot partially in Mexico and in actuality only about 15 years after the events portrayed. This film in parts has a very SW feel to it.
A little sample from the beginning:
A decree is posted on a tree a priest reads it to the peons, their land is being taken over by the local Don, the peons ask the priest what can they do, the priest says "pray".
A boy watches his peon father get whipped to death for questioning the take over of the peons land by a wealthy Don. In a dark alley the boy stabs the whip man in the back and scrambles up into the hills. Thirty some odd years later he rides down as badit chief Pancho Villa.
The following scene is indicative of the tone of the film.
We see a courtroom, on a bench six peon prisoners, one is picking his nose, lol, his finger must be up to the second knuckle, lol.
Into the courtroom enters Don Pablo he goes up to the judge and gives him a mirror and with a wink & a nod tells him to look at the back which must hold a risque' image, (signifying the decadence of the aristocracy no doubt, lol). The Judge thanks the Don and proceeds to say that we don't need to clutter up the day with a trial these men are guilty. The six are then strung up on a gallows outside.
We see a shot of peons looking at the dead men whose feet swing in the foreground, we then hear shots and cut to a bandit army overthrowing the town. Pancho Villa rides up bandoleer over one shoulder (Beery resembles the real Villa, contemporary describers of Berry have described him as looking like an overstuffed laundry bag, lol), and we get a close up of Berry as he looks at the dead men and growls "cut them down".
We cut back to the courtroom, in burst Villa's men and his right hand man Sierra (Leo Carrillo who's character is probably based on the butcher Fierro) takes a bead on Don Miguel, and shoots him as he stands huddled with the rest of the officials on the dias. Sierra then shoots down Don Pablo. Villa runs into the courtroom and yells out "Sierra, you wait!"
Pancho turns back towards the outside he yells "bring them in". We see peons caring the hanged men into the courtroom. Villa, "put on the bench", cut to Villa standing alongside the bodies sitting on the bench "straighten them up"
Villa looks admiringly over the dead men, he smiles then shakes his head as he turns to the officials, "now everybody shut up," he first gestures lovingly to the dead men, then with an angry look at the officials states "we're going to have a trial".
Judge, runs up to a railing "I'm a government official and I demand to be heard"
Pancho, "well, ah fine, you go head and talk....., there is the jury" gesturing to the dead men.
Judge, "I was only doing my duty..."
Pancho interrupts "DUTY!," Pancho turns and he talks to the jury, "jury, did you hear, he was just doing his duty" he chuckles.
Judge "these men were sent to me by Don Miguel for the crimes they committed."
Pancho "crimes what crimes?"
Another official hands Pancho a piece of paper saying "they are wrote out in full".
Pancho exaggerates opening the paper looking at it turning it over, and showing it to the jury, he chuckles again and shrugs "sorry I ... I do not read," he hands the paper to the judge, "perhaps you should read it to the jury they have ears same as you have but..." and his voice changes into a growl, "perhaps they DON"T HEAR SO GOOD NOW!, so read LOUD, LOUD!"
Judge, "but this is outrageous, I demand Justice, Justice!"
BANG the judge is shot in the back by Sierra.
Pancho sarcastically, "Sierra now why didn't you let him finish," Pancho gestures to the jury, "now you spoiled the trial."
Sierra, "I do not like, it take too long."
Pancho, "Well then we'll hurry, now this is the law of Pancho Villa's court, TWO FOR ONE, understand, for every peon killed I will kill two major domos or the best that I can find".
Sierra starts to go for his gun, Pancho stops him, "one moment Sierra.." Pancho turns to the jury "any objections from the jury?" he elaborately gestures as he walks along the jury line bending toward them and cupping his hand to his ear, straining to hear, "no?", he turns back and shrugs his shoulders to Sierra "no objections from the jury". Pancho points his thumb over his shoulder as he orders Sierra "you finish", then Villa walks out of the frame as Sierra and his men execute the rest of the officials.
Anytime Beery is on, its a scream, just hilarious, his portrayal of Villa is as memorable and as lovable as Eli Wallach's Tuco. Beery portrayed the lovable rascal/rogue, in most of his films and its a pitty that a lot of his work is unavailable or hard to find. He should have won an oscar for this role. Another sad factor is most all of his work was in B&W, so you may catch one of his performances occasionally on cable on TMC, if you are lucky.
It has a side story with an American reporter Johnny Skyes (Stuart Erwin(obviously base on real American Reporter Reed)) that is also humorous in the way Villa and the reporter interact. Fay Wray makes an appearance as a possible love interest that goes fatally wrong which culminates in a major plot point Other love interests plots are kept to a minimum thankfully, and there is a running gag on all the women Pancho has married (one in every town and village) in order to get in the sack with them.
Its a typical Hollywood vehicle with a twist but its a hoot. The fact that it was a western about Villa freed it somewhat from the typical manifest destiny theme and Hollywood melodramatic moralizing.
The Texas Rangers (1936)
"The Texas Rangers" directed by King Vidor so I watched this film tonight. I wasn't sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It has a nice picaresque start to it.
Jack Oakie a great comedian and character actor who has all but been forgotten plays Henry B. 'Wahoo' Jones and we see him driving a stagecoach against a backdrop of Texas prairie. After he has a funny bit of conversation with his shotgun rider the stage is held up by Jim Hawkins played by Fred MacMurray and Sam 'Polka Dot' McGee played by Lloyd Nolan who is equally great in this film.
The stage hold up is very picaresque with Oakie providing most of the humor, there is a sequence where he is crying crocodile tears when the bandits ask for his watch and he tells then that it was a memento from his father, a fade to black reveals, in the next scene around a campfire, that Whaoo, Hawkins, and McGee are all in cahoots and they split the loot and Oakie gets his watch back. After a short interval a voice calls out of the dark that they are surrounded and to get their hands up, and Hawkins kicks out the campfire and we get another fade to black with shots ringing out.
We next cut to Wahoo again driving a stage for what we expect is a repeat of the con. This time however the shotgun is a Texas Ranger and at a water stop another comedic display from Wahoo warns Hawkins minus a missing McGee who is planning to rob the stage not to attempt the con. The two outlaws decide that since the Rangers are a tough outfit to go up against maybe they should join them for wages rather than fight them. They get an assignment to track down cattle rustlers and discover their old partner in crime McGee driving a stolen heard with some Mexican vaqueros and they decide that they can con the Rangers using their inside information on money shipments with McGee doing the dirty work.
Anyway a love interest and a kid that they rescue from marauding Indians gums up the works and basically Wahoo & Hawkins get "religion".
As I started watching this as soon as I heard the name Wahoo a switch clicked and I realised that I saw a remake of this that was called "The Streets Of Laredo" (1949) with William Holden, and William Bendix as "Reuben Whaoo Jones" with a Brooklyn accent. That remake palled in comparison to "The Texas Rangers" the unrepentant bad guy in Laredo sucked compared to Loyd Nolan.
Also making a cameo is George "Gabby" Hays as a judge, all in all "The Texas Rangers" in Black & white and even with the predictable Hays Code redemptive moral ending is superior to the remake. Worth a look if you are interested.
20 Mule Team (1940)
Director: Richard Thorpe with Stars: Wallace Beery, Leo Carrillo, Marjorie Rambeau, Douglas Fowley, Noah Beery Jr., Berton Churchill, Arthur Hohl, Clem Bevans, a surprisingly great little Western the back and forth between Skinner Bill (Beery) and Paiute Pete (Carrillo) is priceless, and you get great Death Valley locations needs a DVD release 8/10