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