Sergio Corbucci was far from an unknown quantity when he decided to direct Le Spécialiste (The Specialist) in 1968. Ever since Django (1966) – the feature film that plucked the Italian filmmaker from obscurity after a difficult start to his career – he had nothing to prove when directing westerns. One year earlier, Corbucci had completed The Great Silence, probably his greatest cinematic triumph despite its dark overtones.
This time, the Italian director wanted a deeper and more baroque western, a far cry from the exuberance and violence of his previous films. He looked for a figure who could lend his persona to the rollcall of heroes in Italian westerns. Johnny Hallyday – a huge star at the time – was chosen against all the odds. The "teenage idol" played Hud Dixon, a wistful and brooding cowboy who decides to avenge his brother.
The film was shot in the Abruzzo region of Italy, in the same cold and rocky landscapes used as a backdrop for The Great Silence, and on set both men got on famously. Hallyday, who was looking for a role to match his fame, was especially fond of Corbucci's earthy personality and keen sense of humour.
Le Spécialiste (The Specialist) once again featured the director's favourite characters – from the excessively naive sheriff to Mexican bandits – and his macabre vision of the city, which he liked to portray as rife with corruption. Far removed from the humdrum and conformist westerns of US cinema, with this feature film Sergio Corbucci produced a Spaghetti Western that served as a counter-current to the classics of the genre created by Sergio Leone. As with The Great Silence, Le spécialiste (The Specialist) received mixed reviews when it was released in 1969. But the film went on to earn its spurs over time.