Movie Project #27: A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]
Director: Sergio Leone
Genre: Western
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonté and Marianne Koch
Runtime: 99 minutes

Let’s get this out of the way first: A Fistful of Dollars is an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s legendary Yojimbo. The similarities are undeniable — essentially the swords are swapped for guns, and the setting is moved from Feudal Japan to the Old West. If you can get over that bit of information, you will find a badass western with Clint Eastwood at the top of his game.

A Fistful of Dollars jumpstarted the popularity of the Spaghetti Western genre, and it began the classic Dollars Trilogy (which also includes For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Eastwood is the lead in all three films, playing a character commonly known as “The Man With No Name”.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

In Fistful, he is also known as “Joe”, a gunfighter who enters a small border town and begins to play two feuding families against each other. On one side are the Rojo brothers led by the crazy Ramon (Gian Maria Volonté); the other, the Baxters, led by town sheriff John (Wolfgang Lukschy). Seeing their rivalry as a way to get rich, Joe sets up shop at the local saloon. The saloonkeeper, Silvanito (Jose Calvo), reaffirms his thoughts by remarking that everyone here either ends up very rich or very dead.

Watching Joe manipulate the two factions is a thing of beauty. Eastwood makes this character a total badass, a man who is in control of every situation, even in towns unknown to him. The lead character is now iconic — who can forget his poncho, the cigar chomping or constant squinting? The rest of the cast do well in their roles, but their audio is dubbed over since the actors were all speaking their lines in different languages. This disconnection is a bit jarring at first, but I was so entranced by the action on screen that it didn’t bother me as much as it might for others.

A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

A Fistful of Dollars could perhaps best be described as “bite size” Leone. The film has many of the same techniques that he would perfect in his later westerns (i.e. wide screen camera angles and extreme closeups), but it is significantly shorter than the three hour epics of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Once Upon a Time in the West. Thus, it would be much easier to take in one sitting.

Fistful holds up remarkably well today, and Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is just as fantastic as ever. I had a lot of fun watching this film, and I will happily give this one a high recommendation.

9/10

28 thoughts on “Movie Project #27: A Fistful of Dollars [1964]

    • Eric says:

      Hey thanks, Scott! This project has been really enlightening, and I am having a blast with it so far. I already have plans for a part three. :D

    • Eric says:

      I think Last Man Standing was the first Yojimbo spinoff I saw, unfortunately. Although now after having seen both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, I am a little curious to revisit that…

  1. MikesFilmTalk says:

    I remember finding out that this was a remake of Yojimbo. I had never seen it so I rushed down to the local video store and checked it out. I like it…but, it was much more verbal. The lead character had a machine gun mouth compared to Leone’s film. I know, I’ve heard the post apocryphal stories of Eastwood ripping up reams of his dialogue. I did help though. As much as I am a fan of Yojimbo as well, it suffers from the Japanese preoccupation with huge amounts of dialogue. Great look at the film and the genre. Aw Leone we hardly knew ye.

    • Eric says:

      I planned on watching For a Few Dollars More right after, but my copy was screwed up. I did see The Good, The Bad and The Ugly years ago and really liked it, though. Can’t wait to revisit it.

  2. pgcooper1939 says:

    I loved a Fistful of Dollars when I first saw it, but then I saw the far superior Yojimbo, and AFoD didn’t look so good by comparison. I still like it, but I would so both For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are much better.

    • Eric says:

      Interesting. Now I’m even more excited to see For a Few Dollars More. I should revisit Yojimbo as well, now that I have seen both.

  3. ruth says:

    I still need to see this one, most of the Westerns I’ve seen have been Gregory Peck’s ;) I did like Clint in Paint Your Wagon, I think that’s a Western?? Not sure, but he sang in it.

  4. Chris says:

    Considering that I loved The Good The Bad And The Ugly (1966), I ought to give the rest of the trilogy a watch!

    Never saw Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, so I guess being similar movies won’t bother me. Eastwood’s poncho looks pretty heavy and warm to wear in the hot sun! For nighttime I suppose ( :

    • Eric says:

      I hear ya Chris, that’s why I ended up adding the first two Dollars films to my project. I saw The Good, The Bad & The Ugly years ago and enjoyed it but never got around to seeing the whole trilogy. Hope you’re able to see A Fistful of Dollars sometime soon — it has held up quite well, I think.

  5. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Eric and company:

    I gave the Eastwood/Leone Trilogy to a buddy of mine in the State Dept. before a six month assignment to Liberia years ago. He played the hell out of it before the locals tried to take the Embassy there.

    ‘The Good The Bad And The Ugly’ has one of the best, maybe only three way showdowns on film. Very nice take on ‘Yojimbo’. Thjough, ‘Last Man Standing’ is much more Dashiell Hammett’s ‘Red Harvest’ than ‘Yojimbo’.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Jack, that’s pretty awesome about your buddy. I’m with you on that final showdown in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — very few, if any, can top that. Didn’t know that about Last Man Standing, but I am curious to read Hammett’s novel. It must be a great read if it has had so many adaptations.

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