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.


Movie Project #13: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]
Directors: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English/Russian
Country: UK

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”

I would like to think of myself as a fairly big Stanley Kubrick fan. Everything I have seen by him has captivated me in some way — whether it is the hallucinatory brilliance of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the insane adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, to name a couple. Because I have enjoyed his work so greatly, it pains me to admit that it has taken me this long to finally see Dr. Strangelove. In terms of his filmography, this one ranks near the top on so many lists. It was due time that I saw this.

Set during the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove offers a satirical look at the omnipresent threat of nuclear war. After psychopathic US Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides on his own to initiate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, all hell breaks loose. He orders his B-52s to fly into Russian airspace, leaving the United States President (Peter Sellers) to frantically find a way to cease the attack. He calls a meeting in the War Room with his military commanders, which includes General Turgidson (a hilarious George C. Scott). The Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) is also invited to the discussion, which Turgidson and others immediately object to. This situation leads to the absolutely classic line referenced at the beginning of this post. Desperate to solve this dilemma, the President calls upon a weapons expert, Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, once again), who is also a former Nazi.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

Meanwhile, back at the army base, General Ripper and his unwilling Group Captain, Lionel Mandrake (Sellers, again) are holed up against oncoming US Army troops who are sent to arrest the General. There is a slight problem, however: Ripper has warned his men that the enemy would attack disguised as American soldiers, so they open fire on their fellow countrymen.

Needless to say, this is all pretty fucking wild. There’s so much going on, and everything is done such in a cartoonish way that the satire bleeds through the performances. Folks, this is black comedy at its finest, and there are loads of hilarious moments.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

It all starts with the cast, who were clearly having a great time on set. Hayden, who I mentioned I was becoming a big fan of, is hilarious as the deliriously paranoid Ripper. George C. Scott is just plain awesome as the Commie-hating Turgidson, and I also rather enjoyed Slim Pickens’ delightfully over-the-top role as a cowboy piloting one of the B-52s. But, of course, it is Peter Sellers who dominates this picture with his trifecta of performances. Dr. Strangelove, the eponymous character, is full of great lines, and has a hilarious bit at the end that I can’t help but laugh just thinking about.

I was a little worried about the movie during its early stages. The slow beginning turned me off a little bit, but by the time we were taken to the War Room, I got hooked. I am happy to have finally seen Dr. Strangelove and its brilliant, sarcastic tone, and writing this post has just made me eager to watch it again. Fantastic.